Do you think the black cat is jealous of the grey cat in the box?  Or do you think the black cat is envious?

I’m not an expert in feline feelings, but I will tell you that in humans, both jealousy and envy can be intense emotions.  We tend to confuse the two because they’re often combined into the same box.  So what’s the difference?  Well, to put it succinctly, jealousy is usually a three-party activity, while envy generally only takes two.  Also, jealousy can be connected with a fear that someone else will take away what you already have, while envy can be connected with your desire to have what someone else possesses.

Example 1:  Your supervisor offers a promotion to a younger and less experienced co-worker instead of promoting you.  You are jealous.  (Three parties:  you, your co-worker, and your supervisor).

Example 2:  That promotion comes with a substantial pay increase, so now you’re also envious.  (Two parties:  you and your co-worker.)

Obviously, there are many other examples of jealousy and envy.  I tend to observe more jealousy than envy in situations involving my divorcing (or divorced) clients.  Here’s a fairly typical equation:  Your ex’s new partner + your kids = your own intense feelings of jealousy.  It’s normal to feel this way, but it can also be self-destructive.

Do you think jealousy and envy are negative emotions?  With regard to jealousy, I tend to look at fear as its partner and trust as its opposite.  If you’re afraid that your kids will love their new stepmother more than they love you, that’s certainly a negative display of jealousy.  On the other hand, if you trust that your children love you unconditionally, can you still be jealous of the relationship they have with their new stepmother?

Is it a negative emotion when you’re envious of your sister’s new BMW?  Do you wish her car would break down in the middle of the 405 Freeway on a Friday afternoon?  Instead of wishing failure on others in the guise of envy, how about taking a look at the emotion in a positive rather than negative way?  What if you chose to think of envy as the representation of your own potential?  You, too, could strive for the purchase of a new BMW because you are capable of taking the steps necessary to buy one yourself.

I wish I could wave a magic wand over my clients who are letting jealousy affect their decisions, especially when kids are involved.  I wish I was a therapist, so that I could ask them exactly why they’re feeling this way.  Because in my business, nine times out of 10 they absolutely do not want to reconcile with their ex-spouses.  Instead, could it be fear rather than jealousy?  In either event, it’s self-destructive and can also negatively impact the children.

What if we could ask ourselves how to transform the negativity of jealousy into a healthier perspective?  How can we transform the negativity of envy to tap into our own potential?