What is jealousy?

Rather than letting jealousy affect your relationship with others, use its appearance as a reason to work on yourself and to understand the fears that drive it.

Why does competition bring out the worse in people? Over the last few months my sons have been showing livestock and participating in sports. In these worlds of competition we have seen some very jealous parents who can go as far as crush children’s dreams if they feel something is just a little “unfair.”

What is jealousy?

Jealousy can occur in the context of competitive situations, such as showing livestock or sports. Jealousy is not a rare emotion––many people feel it now and then. Jealousy can bring you down and even pull apart a relationship; it can also be a signal to you that it’s time to change something in your life that will allow you to move on to the next stage of your emotional growth. Rather than letting jealousy affect your relationship with others, use its appearance as a reason to work on yourself and to understand the fears that drive it.

Michigan State University Extension has a few steps that adults can practice to learn how to handle jealousy:

  1. Understand the emotion of jealousy. Jealousy is a combination of fear and anger. Fear of losing someone or something, and anger that someone else is “moving in” on the person or situation that is personally of value to you. It’s a very destructive emotion and nothing good can come of it, so recognizing this feeling is your number one self-defense. If you’re the parent of a child that displays jealousy, teaching your child to recognize that they are jealous and talking about those feelings is a great way to help them so they don’t grow to be a jealous adult.
  2. Deconstruct why you feel jealous. Figure out why you are jealous. Often jealousy is about reliving a past experience of failure that continues to impact your level of trust (lack of) toward people in the present, even though current conditions may be different. Other motivators for feeling jealous include: A high level of insecurity, anger toward yourself, fear of abandonment or vulnerability. “If people are not honest with themselves, jealousy will take the best of them.” At the same time you may feel threatened, afraid of being abandoned or that you cannot trust the other person, regardless of how little basis your motive has.
  3. Take a good look at the effect your jealous behavior has on other people. It can be easy to justify your suspicious mind by viewing the defensive responses of others as confirmation of your suspicions. However, defense is a natural response to people who are placed under pressure to justify their actions, whereabouts and thoughts. Adults should ask themselves “What kind of effect am I having on this child?” When parents show jealous behavior because their child did not win the showmanship class or wasn’t picked to be quarterback, what is that behavior telling the child that did win? It’s leading them to believe that they shouldn’t have received that award.
  4. Tackle your feelings now. Adults should question their jealousy every time it emerges. Some questions to ask yourself:
    1. Why am I jealous over this?
    2. What is making me jealous?
    3. What am I trying to keep?
    4. Why do I feel threatened?
  5. Change any false beliefs that might be fueling your jealousy. There are often false, baseless beliefs that underlie reactions of jealousy. Such as “he is quarterback because his dad is the coach,” or “he shows livestock at other shows so he has an unfair advantage.” When the reality of the situation is: What if the child has extraordinary talent and deserves to be quarterback, whether or not his father is the coach? Also, all children can go to other livestock shows other than their county fair – it’s whether they want to put the time and money into doing-so.
  6. Apologize. Before doing anything else, make the other person feel better if you’ve gone far enough to expose your jealous emotions to him or her.

Jealousy can tear family and friends apart. The next time you begin to feel jealous about what someone else has or can do, try these six steps before the jealousy gets out of control.

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