What Is The Difference Between Being Envious Vs. Jealous?
Updated November 15, 2019
Reviewer Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,
If you go up to five different people and ask them what it means to be jealous, chances are that everyone will give you a different answer. Ask them next what it meant to be envious, and those five people might look at you puzzled, wondering, "Well, what is the meaning of envy if it's not the same as jealousy?" If you are having trouble figuring out exactly what the difference is between being envious and being jealous, you are not alone.
Depending on who you ask, envy and jealousy can have very similar meanings, but in reality, some factors make them two distinct feelings. In this article, you will learn about the differences between being envious vs. jealous and what can be done to keep these emotions under control.
Are Envy and Jealousy Healthy and Normal?
Everyone has experienced being envious or jealous at some point in their lives. However, a certain degree of these emotions can be healthy and productive. For example, they can help drive a person to improve themselves or be protective of his or her relationships. It's essential to know the difference between these two feelings because, while they can be helpful, in excess, they can be equally as destructive.
What Is Envy?
Envy occurs when we desire something someone else has. For example, this can be a desire for a promotion that someone else just got or a longing for the type of marriage your friend has with their spouse. You might also envy your sibling's good looks or your best friend's academic ability, anything that you don't currently have but want.
When it comes to envy, the only two people involved are you and the person who has what you desire. Envy is an internal reaction when we see that we lack something desirable someone else has.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Envy as:
- painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage
- obsolete: malice
- an object of envious notice or feeling
- His new car made him the envy of his friends
What Is Jealousy?
Jealousy occurs when something that you already do have is threatened by someone else. This is most commonly applied to relationships. The emotions you feel when your significant other dances with someone else in a bar are jealousy. If your ex-spouse marries someone else and that person starts becoming close to your children, the emotions you may feel in that situation are jealousy.
Jealousy differs from envy in that jealousy always involves three parties - you, what you have, and an outside force that poses a threat to what you have. Jealousy will always have an external presence that is influencing your emotions.
The Problems With The Terms
The semantic ambiguity of the word jealousy is the reason many people do not understand the difference. Many times, when someone is describing a time when they felt jealous, they're actually talking about an instance where they felt envious.
Envious is a little less ambiguous and is usually used in the correct context. However, the term jealousy has made understanding the difference between the two rather difficult. The fact that both feelings biologically feel quite similar also makes it hard for people to distinguish between jealousy and envy.
Jealousy and envy can also be experienced simultaneously. When someone attractive is dancing with your partner, you might feel as though they pose a threat to your relationship because they have better traits. You may also find yourself desiring those traits as well.
Another way of explaining the differences and problems with using jealousy and envy together can be shown in this situation:
Jealousy is when you want to keep what belongs to you. Envy is when you want something that belongs to someone else. For example, envy is when a wife wants to sleep with someone else's husband. She wants what someone else has. Jealousy is when that same wife does not want her husband sleeping with anyone else. She wants to keep what belongs to her and might be jealous of anyone that poses a threat to her marriage.
Jealousy and Envy Can Affect Your Health
Feelings of jealousy and envy can be very reasonable in certain situations when they are based on facts and can be resolved through communication. However, some people have pathological jealousy, which can be very dangerous.
Pathological jealousy can occur in people who have emotional imbalances or other mental health issues. Pathological jealousy can lead to feelings of extreme possessiveness, anger, and obsessiveness. People with pathological jealousy are often egotistical and can be mean, aggressive, and violent.
An example of someone who is experiencing pathological jealousy would be a husband that believes his wife is cheating and will go to great lengths to try to uncover evidence. He might invade the wife's privacy, confine her to their home, and even demand detailed accounts of her activities. Stalking is often a result of pathological jealousy.
Extreme envy can also be dangerous because it can lead to feelings of mistrust, resentment, and anger. Overly envious people often treat others that they believe are better than them with contempt and may try to ruin the reputations of those people to get ahead. These people are often negative, critical, and pessimistic. They can be sarcastic and act indifferent to those around them.
These feelings associated with jealousy and envy can often be detrimental to a person's emotional health as well as the physical and emotional health of the people who are the object of jealousy or envy.
Treating Pathological Envy or Jealousy
Pathological envy and jealousy are considered delusional disorders because the person is often delusional about the object of their jealousy or envy. People who suffer from delusional disorders can often be a danger to themselves or others and need to be treated by psychological professionals.
Delusional disorders can be challenging to treat because it can appear in many forms. In most cases, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, antianxiety medications, and mood stabilizers are used when treating patients with delusional disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychotherapy are also used to treat these disorders.
Currently, there is little evidence for which treatments or therapies are more effective when dealing with delusional disorders like pathological jealousy or envy. Delusional disorders were formerly called paranoid disorders and are a type of psychosis that can be dangerous. While there currently is not enough sufficient research on the best treatment options, treatment is still needed.
People with delusional disorders do not experience beliefs that are fanciful or outlandish. Often, people have delusions that are, in fact, very plausible. When someone with pathological jealousy has delusions that their spouse is cheating with someone, even though they have no evidence, this claim does not sound completely outlandish. If a person had said they believed their spouse was cheating with a ghost in the house next door, that would seem a little absurd. What is important to realize is that both claims are delusional, even though one may be more believable than the other.
Because some delusions are believable, the signs of pathological jealousy or envy may not be immediately apparent in the beginning. Many times, it is not until the jealous person begins to act out in ways that make people uncomfortable that people step in to try to get the person treatment. People who are delusional typically function normally in social events or public spaces, and no one would assume that they have a mental illness. This is different from other types of psychosis where the person is acting outlandishly.
If symptoms of a delusional disorder are present during a doctor's examination, a detailed medical history will need to be provided by the patient, who will most likely be interviewed. The doctor may order blood tests to rule out any biological abnormalities and may also order imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans to observe brain structure and functioning.
Diagnosing delusional disorders cannot be done in one visit because doctors must ensure no bizarre delusions happen during a set time. Bizarre delusions can be indicative of psychosis disorders like schizophrenia rather than pathological jealousy or envy.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from delusions or intense feelings of jealousy or envy, you can reach out for advice and begin talking to someone today.
BetterHelp Can Help
Extreme envy or jealousy will require medical attention, but for others who struggle with these emotions on a less-pathological level, counseling and therapy can be effective in managing them and preventing them from affecting your relationships with people.
At BetterHelp, licensed and professional therapists are available online to help you keep envy and jealousy under control. Online sessions are a convenient and affordable way to get help and can allow you to start living happier and healthier, as well as improving the relationships between you and everyone around you. Read below for some reviews in the next section to see how others have benefited from using BetterHelp's services.
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"Patrick is very empathetic and understanding. Offers solutions that work based on my needs! Always there when I need him to keep me level headed."
Hopefully, after reading this article, you now know the difference between being envious and jealous. If either of these emotions become problematic for you and those around you, always remember that help is available to make them more manageable. Happier and healthier social interactions are within reach -- all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.