We’ve all been there before: we hear about something great happening to a friend, like a big promotion at work or an exciting new relationship, and we really want to be happy for them, but instead we feel jealous. This is usually followed by self recrimination for having less than benevolent feelings for our friend’s big news. But experts say, those feelings of jealousy aren’t always bad.
WATCH BELOW: Why jealousy isn’t always bad
“Jealousy generally has a negative connotation but emotions can be very helpful, informative and educational. It all depends on what you do with them and how you move forward,” says Dr. Katy Kamkar, a psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
It’s also determined by how these feelings affect you.
“If the jealousy evokes negative emotions, you want to explore it, understand it and then let it go. If it evokes positive emotions, it’s likely linked to a healthy view of ourselves, determination and appreciation of our positive characteristics,” Kamkar says.
A study conducted at the Tilberg Institute in the Netherlands found that jealousy could be very beneficial for people who were looking to change aspects of their lives. Researchers conducted four different tests, and determined that feelings of jealousy motivated participants to study more and inspired better performance when people felt self-improvement was attainable. This is what experts call benign jealousy, versus malicious jealousy, which can cause feelings of resentment.
“Jealousy can help focus your goals,” says Dr. Michelle Foster, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the Toronto Psychology & Wellness Group. “If you’re jealous of a colleague, for instance, it can help you understand that they have something you desire and it’s something that you can work towards. Speak to your colleague about it, ask them how they achieved it, and that could work to inspire you to accomplish the same things.”
These feelings can also help you develop awareness about things you might want to address in your life, like a stagnant career or a lacklustre love life. When applied to your romantic relationship, it can help you identify the behaviours (in both you and your partner) that trigger your feelings of jealousy.
At the core of working through your feelings of jealousy is effective communication and an empathetic perspective.
“The first thing you want to do is bring awareness to why you’re feeling this way: what caused these feelings of jealousy and when did they start? That’s the only way you can address it head-on,” Foster says. “Because if you sit on jealousy and don’t do anything about it, it can grow and fester and become worse. Jealousy can be layered and it builds up over time.”
She says when approaching a romantic partner with feelings of jealousy to prepare for their reaction and go into the conversation with empathy and understanding.
“You want to be validating their feelings to reduce defensiveness so that the conversation doesn’t sound accusatory.” This will create an effective and constructive conversation that will help you identify what’s at the root of your feelings of jealousy, and how to work through them.
“It’s also really important to check the facts, because sometimes when we feel jealous, we ruminate on those feelings and blow things out of proportion. Ask yourself: what is your interpretation of the facts versus the actual facts. This will help reduce jealousy and guide you through a more effective conversation.”
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