The Science Behind Jealousy And Envy

Updated February 3, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do You Find Certain Situations Trigger Your Jealousy?

You may have heard of jealousy referred to as the "green-eyed monster." Jealousy is shown in various TV shows, movies, and popular media. As one of the many emotions we can feel, it can be natural to feel jealous or envious at times. 

Shakespeare was the first to associate the color green with jealousy. In Othello, Iago warns the title character to beware of jealousy, the "green-eyed monster" that "mocks the meat it feasts on." Shakespeare used other references to "green with envy" and meat. 

This usage may reference the prevalence of illness due to meat spoilage, as meat can turn green when spoiled, which makes it unfit for consumption. When jealousy and envy consume us, our behaviors may wreak havoc on our friendships and other relationships.

Jealousy: Romantic Or Not?

To some individuals, it might seem romantic when a significant other expresses jealousy over real or imagined attention given by another. However, if urges that can accompany jealousy are not easily managed, it may be time to feel genuine concern. 

It can be normal to feel jealous over a romantic competition. However, if a significant other is jealous over all work or social relationships in their partner's life, this may cause concern. If someone wants to know the who, when, and where of every moment of their partner's day, that person may have crossed a line beyond jealousy into possessiveness. 

Possessiveness may seem like jealousy in the early stages of a relationship but may progress into harmful behaviors. When a person exhibits this kind of control over another, it can be dangerous.

Envy Vs. Entitlement

Envy is an emotion that may cause you to feel that you want or need what someone else has. It may be first experienced in childhood. For example, a child may desire a toy belonging to another child. 

If the child in the example throws a tantrum until their parents rush out to purchase the same toy that someone else has, they may be learning a sense of entitlement. The message given to the child is that if they want something belonging to another, they have a right to have it. 

Children can be taught that it is common to want what others have but that they do not always get something just because they want it. Adults may also learn to manage envy by processing emotions, identifying negative thought patterns and behaviors, or trying therapy. 

Discomfort Of Jealousy

While feelings of jealousy can be common, the emotion itself may feel uncomfortable and can lead to unhealthy behaviors. Jealousy leading to the compulsion to take something or irrational thoughts regarding the fidelity of a significant other may interfere with functioning and relationships. 

Jealousy And The Brain

Jealousy may lead to increased personal aggression, with research showing that jealousy is associated with changes in the brain. Specifically, greater activation in the basal ganglia and frontal lobe has been observed when individuals feel jealous.

In one study, researchers induced jealousy by stimulating the left frontal cortex, which contains the frontal lobe. Researchers have long studied the frontal lobe and found it essential for contorlling emotions. While neuroimaging studies of the human brain and jealousy are relatively new, evidence shows that jealousy has a lasting impact on the brain. 

These studies may explain some of the challenges that come with jealousy. It may also mean that you are not alone in experiencing the feelings and physiological changes accompanying this emotion.

Getting Help To Resolve Jealousy

If feelings of envy or jealousy do not dissipate or resolve due to reality-based feedback, you may decide to seek therapeutic intervention. If you're experiencing anxiety related to your jealousy or your partner's jealousy, online therapy has been proven effective for anxiety and depression.

The online treatment modality can allow you to receive therapy from home, which may be more comfortable if you're experiencing jealousy-related anxiety. Online therapy is a beneficial way to explore feelings of jealousy with a professional and move forward healthily. With online platforms like BetterHelp, you can look to a database of professionals with experience in various topics, including jealousy and envy.  

Read below for counselor reviews from users who have sought support online. 

Counselor Reviews 

"Danielle has been absolutely amazing. I've struggled with grief, depression, and having healthy relationships. And she is able to get me to open up and relate to me in a way that other therapists haven't been able to. She is so kind and understanding and just honestly a beautiful person. I am so beyond happy I matched with her and can't wait to continue our sessions together!!"

"Dayna has helped me with so much from family problems, relationships, self-development and so much more! I'm so glad to have gotten paired with her!"


If you're trying to manage jealousy or envy, know that you are not alone. Many individuals experience these feelings in life. Whether you're experiencing jealousy or trying to manage your partner's jealousy, professional therapists are experienced in helping people navigate these emotions. 

If you're ready to take the first step, consider reaching out to an online therapist to learn to move forward with a positive outlook. 

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