Jealousy: Why do I get jealous?

Jealousy is a human response most of us aren’t proud of feeling, and it often feels unpleasant, overwhelmingly strong, almost beyond our control. You can take the Jealousy Quiz to get a gauge of how jealous you are on our jealousy scale. Is jealousy really beyond our control? And why do people get jealous anyway?

What is jealousy?

Before we start talking about why jealousy happens and how to overcome it, let’s first look at the definition and meaning of jealousy:

Jealousy is a mixture of negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours we may experience when others have something desirable that we don’t have. So jealousy is a direct result of comparing ourselves with others. Other people’s good qualities, successes, achievements, possessions and relationships are all things which can stir feelings of jealousy. The precise expression of jealousy differs depending on the person and on the situation, but here are some common variations of how jealousy can feel:

  • Feelings towards the person you are jealous of:
    - Anger at them
    - Feelings of hostility towards the person
    - Spite and ill-wishing towards the person
  • Feelings within yourself:
    - Anger and resentment
    - Frustration
    - Feelings of humiliation or embarrassment
    - Fear: of failure, of loss, of damage to self-image
    - Depression and sadness
    - Self-pity
    - Feelings of loss
    - Feelings of hopelessness
    - Feelings of injustice
    - Feelings of inferiority
  • Feelings towards the object of your desire:
    - Feelings of covetousness, possessiveness, yearning, longing and greed
    - Desire to control it
    - Fervent ambition
    - Passion for it (which is where the word “jealous” comes from, from the Greek word zelos, meaning “full of zeal”)

Behaviours that may arise from jealousy are many but include:
- showing off what you have (resource displaying)
- concealment of the things you have which you don’t want others to have
- acting threateningly or picking fights with people you are jealous of.

Common side effects of jealousy are unpleasant emotions in yourself and it comes with a risk that these negative emotions will drive you to hurt others. There seems to be nothing particularly good about feeling jealous but like all emotions and behaviours, they are there for a reason. Jealousy is there because there is an underlying message behind it which is calling out to be heard. This message can be one of many, and if we understand the drivers behind our jealousy, interpreting its message becomes clearer.

* * *

Why do I get jealous?

When looking at the causes of jealousy, the reasons are wide reaching because there are a great number of types of jealousy from romantic jealousy to sibling rivalry and to work-related jealousy. But in spite of all the different types of jealousy there are some commonalities in the drivers behind this unpleasant feeling:

(Note: The following are theories regarding the causes of jealousy rather than hard facts)

1. Biological cause of jealousy:

a.) Biological causes of sexual and romantic jealousy

Males of our species have always been biologically driven by the need to reproduce in order to pass on their genes to the next generation. By being protective over “their woman” (sometimes expressed as jealous behaviour), they are trying to improve their chances that she makes their offspring, so that their genes and their lineage have the advantage to survive in future generations.

Romantic and sexual infidelity, especially if it happens before offspring has been born, can imply that the male’s seed will not be carried on to the next generation. Biologically speaking, this would be a disaster for the males’ lineage and genes, so jealous behaviours may have arisen as a response to deter such infidelity.

From a female’s perspective, emotional romantic infidelity can imply that her male partner won’t be providing just for her and her offspring. If he is not faithful, he has to support several females and all his offspring which means there are fewer resources available for her and her children, and this could reduce the likelihood of their survival.

b.) Biological causes of jealousy over material possessions

Some resources and “material possessions” like food and shelter -based things increase the chance of survival. Like most animals, humans have evolved to fight for their survival, so negative feelings surrounding the loss of material possessions to the favour of others can biologically result in the successful survival of “competitor genes” and the failure of their own. Such implications may have triggered a response of jealousy to motivate the individual to fight for material possessions to increase the chance of their own survival.

It may be that this natural biological attachment to “things” that would boost our chances of survival has spread to other material things that don’t necessarily improve our chances of survival, and this may partly be why people can feel jealous over material possessions.

This need to gain things for the purpose of survival may also extend to the feelings attached to winning and losing. From a very young age children are seen to rejoice when they win in a game and cry when they lose. This may reflect a biologically driven need to win because biologically, winning is associated with winning resources to improve chances of survival.

* * *

2. Psychological cause of jealousy

a.) Associating self-worth with “things” and accomplishments

According to Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, humans have a need for having good self-esteem. People can gain a sense of good self-esteem in many ways, some of which are fleeting and fragile, like the pursuit of “things” and achievements. These may be taken away from you at any second, in contrast to other self-esteem determinants which are more deep and meaningful, like the knowing of and the development of the self.

Sadly, many of us attach our feelings of self-worth to things like how much money we have. In the West, the capitalist society we live in encourages this way of thought.

Other things we may attach our feelings of self-worth to are how many cool things we own, how successful we are at our job, how successful we are in competitive sports, how many friends we have, how much other people love us and so on. These are all the “fleeting and fragile” things which aren’t true reflections of your self-worth. They are deceptive reinforcements to the self-esteem. Instead of being meaningful indicators of your true self worth, they only serve to strengthen the ego* and only help you feel good about yourself as long as you keep holding on to these things and never let go. Relying on these things makes your feelings of self-satisfaction volatile and it relinquishes your internal power.

Jealousy may be a side product of associating self-worth with these fragile, fleeting, deceptive reinforcements. The moment you are at risk of losing one of these “things” that have given you comfort and feelings of self-worth, lots of negative emotions can overwhelm you: fear of loss; fear of failure; fear of a damaged reputation and self-image, and above all, fear of a loss in your self-worth. It is no wonder that people react passionately in an attempt to hold on to these things, because effectively they are trying to hold on to their feelings of self-worth.

Dealing with jealousy of this sort:

The first step is becoming aware that self-worth is not linked to things, and to understand your self-worth in truer more meaningful terms. If you didn’t have any “things”, but were just you yourself, what would make you have a good feeling of self-worth? Just existing and being a part of this world makes you a worthy person; equally as worthy as anyone else in this world.  You are valuable because only you can live the life you are meant to live as a unique soul and give to the world your unique offerings, no matter how big or small. Remembering this can always remind you how very valuable you are.
Alongside your present consciousness other things which no-one can take away from you are your true self, love, sense of humour, life experience, individual wisdom, perspectives and knowledge, kindness, compassion, creativity, talents, aptitudes and similar things that only you can give to the world which no-one can ever take away from you.

b.) Associating “things” and accomplishments with who you are

Not only do some people associate things with their self-worth and how successful and valuable they are as human beings, some people actually associate things with who they are. This comes with a sense of entitlement: “I deserve to have this because it is who I am!”

For example, they might think that if they didn’t wear the best designer clothes and drive a Ferrari they wouldn’t really be “themselves”.  Another example would be that people see themselves as a “husband” or “wife” so that if suddenly that relationship didn’t work out, they would lose their sense of who they are. “If I’m not a loving wife, what am I?” This attachment to things and labels, and confusing it with your sense of self, is another reason why people may hold on tightly to things and react with passionate jealousy when they are at risk of losing them to someone else. It is almost a primitive or instinctual reaction akin to being at risk of death. In effect, it is a death of your ego* and of your false sense of self. It is not your survival which the jealousy is fighting for; but it is the fight for the survival of the ego that is involved here.

How to overcome jealousy of this sort:

Jealousy that arises due to fear of loss of who you are can be avoided if you work on discovering your true sense of self which is independent of “things” and accomplishments. If you didn’t have all these things and labels, who would you be? To explore this idea of who we truly are, I recommend reading Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth” or Deepak Chopra’s “The Ultimate Happiness Prescription”.

The main thing to remember is that the self-image which you portray to the world isn’t the real you. Your job title isn’t you; your job is merely something that you do. Your role in the household isn’t you; it’s just a role you take that has its associated responsibilities and actions. The events that happen to you aren’t you either. All these things are parts of your life but the real “you” is the consciousness within you which has no labels attached to it.

c.) Low self-esteem

People with low self-esteem who feel that they don’t really deserve the good things in their life may be more fearful about losing these things. So the guy with the low confidence who has a beautiful girlfriend may feel overly protective and jealous of others paying attention to her if he’s constantly fearing that she’ll probably dump him the second someone better comes along.

The same can apply in friendships, with people becoming overly protective, jealous and controlling in an attempt to keep their friends from abandoning them.

Neediness makes people with low self-esteem hold on more tightly to the things they have, and react with jealousy if they perceive a risk of it being taken away from them.

What drives people to have low self-esteem is a topic for another time but in the context of relationships, possible reasons could include poor attachment to parents when growing up or a difficult history with friendships as a child. To explore the reasons behind low self-esteem there are plenty of books you can explore, a small selection of which are linked to below:

Low self-esteem can also be aggravated by seeing others achieve the very things that you have difficulty achieving.

For example, if you’re having a hard time finding love and doubt your lovability or your ability to love, but you see someone else find love, it can awaken within you feelings of failure and fears of being alone forever.

If you’re a judgmental person, your feelings of low self-esteem can be exacerbated further if you always labelled a person as a “loser” and now you see he’s achieved something that you always dreamed of achieving, and could not. It’s easy to feel increasingly inferior when someone who you thought was “below you” suddenly gains those deceptive reinforcers of self-esteem which you desire.

It might be helpful to remind yourself that first of all no one is ever “above” or “below” anyone else, no matter what their achievements are.

Second of all it can be helpful to realise that your lack of success has no reflection on who you really are, your true self, your lovability or your self-worth. And the comparative achievements of others do not add or reduce your own worth either.

If you have low self-esteem together with a tendency to use “things” and accomplishments as a means to increase your self-worth, it is a cocktail that could make a person prone to experiencing jealousy.

d.) Belief that anger and spite will get you the results you want

When we’re young, we learn from our parents that when we do something wrong, they become angry with us. Sometimes they punish us. And how did we respond as children? We usually surrendered to them and did what they wanted. It makes sense then that children learn that if you’re angry (a common ingredient of jealousy), you get what you want. Even if we don’t acknowledge this belief consciously, there may be a part of us that believes that if we react to a situation with angry jealousy, somehow it will succeed in getting us what we want.

* * *

3. Spiritual explanations of jealousy

a.) The belief that we are all separate entities and that we are special and even better than others

In the Western world we are encouraged to believe that we are all individuals, unique and special, and that we’re all in competition with one another where the best and most successful people “win” the best lives for themselves. Because of the emphasis on the importance of the individual, we tend to foster a belief that each individual is not equally worthy and others are not equal to us. We often believe deep down that we are better than others and therefore we deserve good things more than others. You see this a lot with political campaigns where each rival tries to convince the public just how much better he or she is than their opponents. Here lies a potential cause for jealousy: If others get something and we don’t get it, but we believe that we’re special and we deserved to receive that thing, it can stir up feelings of injustice and jealousy.

Overcoming jealousy through the idea of the  collective consciousness
In spiritual thinking there is a belief that we are all part of a collective consciousness. Rather than all being apart and separate, it suggests we are all connected together. All is one. If you see the world through these eyes, your neighbour’s success is effectively your own success. He is a part of you and you are a part of him. It makes little sense to be jealous of a part of you. Cultivating this acceptance and knowledge that “all is one” is a process and does not necessarily occur overnight.

b.) Lack mindset rather than abundance mentality

Scarcity mindset or lack mentality is when you believe that there is a finite amount of resources available in the world, and that if one person gets more resources there will be less available for you. If Jones gets the promotion, it means you didn’t, and it means you have less. Or if your friend married a corker of a girl it means she’s off the market and now there’s one less fish in the sea for you. This can create jealousy and resentment towards the “haves” if you find yourself amongst the “have nots”.

Dealing with jealousy that results from scarcity mentality:

Lack mentality is a mindset which is under our control and can be changed. We can choose to view the world from an abundance mentality point of view, where we see resources such as love, success etc as being infinite and abundant. If one person has good fortune it doesn’t reduce the chances of you having good fortune at all. If Jones gets the promotion and you didn’t, there are still lots of promotion-options for you in other avenues, if not in your company then in other companies. If your friend married a wonderful girl and she’s no longer on the market, well there are still plenty of fish in the sea for you. Opportunities are there for you in abundance if you seek them out.  There is enough happiness to go around for everyone.

In spiritual thought, the Universe is an abundant one and the Law of Attraction always works in your favour as long as you focus on what you want rather than on what you don’t have. You can read more about this concept in the books Ask and It Is Given and The Law of Attraction.

c.) Attracting jealousy-inducing situations: “Ask and it is given” as a cause for jealousy

As mentioned above, there is a spiritual law known as “The Law of Attraction”, and this suggests that whatever you focus on is what you’ll get. As strange as it might sound, some people consistently draw situations to themselves which make them feel jealous by focusing on their fears and concentrating on all the things they don’t want to happen. The result? They end up drawing precisely those things which they fear to themselves. To reiterate, the theory is that when you focus on something, you are sending the Universe a message that you want more of it in your life. It is as if you are subconsciously asking for it, and the Universe does it’s best to give that which you ask for. Remembering then that focusing on what you desire is what you need to do, releasing all thoughts of what you don’t have or don’t want. According to the Law of Attraction, when you cultivate a positive attitude you will draw positive experiences into your life.

* * *

*ego: The ego I am referring to is not the Freudian ego, but rather the ego as it is understood in spiritual philosophy, which is our false sense of self. The egoic self is all those things that we say are “us” which are not our true selves. The “false self” includes things like our life role (daughter, mother, wife), our job title, our past and labels we put on ourselves which we fight to preserve (eg rich, successful, lovable, confident, etc. etc.). Giving ourselves these egoic labels gives us a sense of control over our lives and a sense of security. Deepak Chopra notes that “the ego’s motivation is always rooted in its addiction to power, control, security and approval. The true self is always motivated by love.” That is the best way to differentiate between behaviour that originates from the ego or from your true self.

About the author
This article was co-written by Li-Or and Janice.

Related Products

This site is working in affiliation with (for USA visitors). If you like a product that was recommended anywhere on this website, please consider buying these products via the links on this site, to help keep this website running. Thanks :)


Every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this article is accurate. However the information contained in this article is for educational purposes only. Suggestions contained in this article are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a health professional. The author does not accept responsibility for the use of this information, nor shall the author be liable for any loss, injury or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestions in this article.

This entry was posted in Psychology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>