When I was a college cheerleader, I had a teammate who got and stayed in my “craw”. Amber was just so darn perfect! She was the head cheerleader. She was beautiful. She was always awarded “best attitude”. Everyone hung on her every word. And she boasted of her 4.0 GPA. I was so jealous of her.
As I look back on that experience, I can see where my jealousy actually worked for me. More on that later.
Jealousy is a complex emotion. It involves fear, insecurity, anger, resentment, feelings of inadequacy, and helplessness. It occurs when there is a perceived threat to what we value. It isn’t specific to just romance; it happens in many types of human relationships. My good friend, Merriam Webster defines the word jealous like this: hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage, disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness.
BUT, depending upon how we act upon our jealousies, feeling jealousy may serve to bring about positive outcomes. Though naturally, there is a painful period between feeling the emotion of jealousy and seeing the rewards. It’s a necessary emotion that can serve to strengthen bonds and motivate action.
In the story about my college cheer team, the benefit to my jealousy was that I had someone to compete with. That competition (that apparently, I was the only one aware of) made me want to be my best – to cheer my best, to make a 4.0, to look my best, and to practice and study hard. That jealousy fueled me to excel.
My son experienced this same type of jealousy in middle school. Jealousy surfaced up out of the blue between him and one of his best friends from elementary school. They had always had a great relationship. They shared a similar intellect and work ethic.
Middle school proved to be more competitive. My son and his friend were suddenly comparing grades with one another because a big emphasis was placed on the highest-grade average. Their once easy-going simpatico relationship changed. The friend was always just a teeny bit ahead – fractions of a grade point ahead kind of thing. My son was jealous.
Many an after-school chat was spent calming him down because she got a 101 and he got a 100. Their relationship changed, but they still really liked one another. They respected one another and they challenged each other. He needed that emotion of jealousy to fuel him to excel. As it turned out, they both excelled. And they are still good friends today.
I recall a conversation with my now college graduate son where we discussed his jealousy with Brooke in those distant years. He admitted that if it had not been for his desire to be “as good as Brooke”, he might not have tried so hard. It inspired his drive to do his best – always.
Psychology Today, in their article; Why We Feel Jealous, says that jealousy “is not an emotion to be suppressed but one to heed.” Jealousy can be a wake-up call when “a valued relationship is in danger”. In a romantic relationship or a close friendship, jealousy can be a sign that the relationship needs attention and bonds need to be preserved. (Chronic jealousy, though, is a different thing altogether and is more about insecurity and fear.)
Jealousy can bring relationships closer when the root cause behind it is explored and identified. Are you feeling neglected by your partner/friend? Did past experiences trigger you to feel jealousy? Are you experiencing insecurity about your relationship or an issue between you? These things indicate that you need to do some work on yourself, communicate your feelings to the other person and give some attention to strengthening the relationship.
It’s natural to experience the emotion of jealousy. Yet, when we do, we must remember that it is necessary and purposeful. It can be a warning of possible trouble ahead, or as an impetus for excelling to bring about positive outcomes. Take a time-out. Recognize what’s going on internally and then take the appropriate action to regain your sense of personal power and security.