So many people are ashamed when they feel jealous and deny these feelings or push them away. I argue that we should welcome these feelings with open arms. When confronted with a pang of jealousy, ask yourself, What do I want? What do I need? What is my jealousy telling me?
Jealousy can be a window into your soul. But you need to evaluate jealousy with discernment. In the same way you don’t interpret your dreams as they are, you often cannot view your jealousies at face value. You must dig deeper. For example, that dream about not studying for a test when you have been out of school for 30 years is not telling you to go study; instead it may be telling you that you feel unprepared about something. It is the same with jealousy; it is a doorway into your unconscious.
I have always been jealous of women who wear makeup and beautiful clothes and perfume. If you know me, you’d know this is not due to a desire to be fashionable. I am so far from fashionable, and I absolutely hate wearing makeup. But when I sit down and reflect on that jealousy/admiration, I realize it is their boldness that I envy; they are wearing bright colors that call out to you, “Notice me!” I desperately want to be noticed. That is what that is telling me, but how do I do it my way?
Growing up, I had a friend who always knew what she wanted. She may have been what today we call “high maintenance.” I was raised in the culture of the cool girl, who doesn’t need anything and goes with the flow. To make matters worse, I was a middle child, so was naturally quite flexible. While my flexibility has benefited me in a multitude of ways, I also can be boundary-less. My contempt for my friend’s unapologetic high maintenance-ness was really my own desire to have boundaries screaming at me, Take care of yourself! You don’t have to be the cool girl! Of course I did not realize this at the time, but upon reflection, I am able to see that particular jealousy for what it was—a deep need within me to take care of myself.
When I have clients who are trying to determine what career direction they want to go in, I always ask them, “Are you jealous of any of your friends’ careers?” or “Do you know anyone who has a job that you envy?” To me, this is the fastest way to cut out the noise and get to the heart of their preferences. Again, their jealousy may not mean that they want that exact job. Maybe they want that person’s passion or their work/life balance or their ability to do good in the world. But that is all helpful information. Take it and run with it.
Instead of feeling shame when you feel jealous, get curious. Here is an opportunity for deep insight and potentially a North Star pointing you in the right direction. Ask yourself, What does it mean? Be creative, journal, wonder, and maybe talk to someone about it. Then figure out what you need to do and go for it!
Amy Alpert, a graduate of the Certificate in Positive Psychology, is a solutions-focused coach with a practice based in positive psychology. A former human resources executive at Goldman Sachs, she holds a master’s degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University. Learn more on Amy’s blog at amyalpert.com.