Stress Mastery: Jealousy And Envy—Distinguishing The Two And Sorting Out The Specific Emotions Involved

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Jealousy signOne of my favorite topics to write about and teach about is human emotions. I believe that there are three primary human emotions—anger, fear, and sadness.  I also believe that all of the other human emotions we experience are either variants of these three, or they represent different combinations of them.

Thus, when a follower of mine name Stefan recently emailed me and asked me to explain what type of emotion jealousy is, I decided to create this blog post to share my thoughts in a more public way (thanks Stefan).

A Veritable “Soup” Of Emotions

It’s hard to talk about jealousy without also talking about the related emotion of envy.  The two share several elements in common, not the least of which is that both are actually composites of multiple other emotions. Hence, when you look at these two composite emotions together, you end up with a veritable “soup” of multiple emotions, including but not limited to:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Insecurity
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Hypervigilance
  • Vengeance
  • Control 

It’s important to recognize how all these composite emotions play certain roles in both jealousy and envy, because if you want to eliminate either of these two emotions, you will probably have to deal with each of the core emotional elements if you are going to be successful.

Jealousy vs. Envy

Envy comes from coveting what someone else has (possessions, stature, fame, qualities, abilities, successes, etc.).  It’s an emotion that primarily derives from sadness (perceived loss in comparison to others) with anger in either a small amount (secretly or openly holding a grudge against the other person) or a type of vengeance (taking actions to harm or bring the other person down).

Jealousy, on the other hand is and emotion that is primarily based upon fear, with added elements of sadness (anticipated loss) and anger.  Jealousy comes from fearing something you have (either a desired status or a desired relationship) will be taken away from you by someone else.  This emotion also involves low self-esteem (which fuels the fear of loss), insecurity, hypervigilance (to defend against outside threats) and often a desire to seek retribution (anger leading to punishment) against all perceived parties involved.

Similarities and Contrasts

Thus, jealousy and envy are similar in many ways.  They are both about the pain of loss (sadness) about something you don’t have (and others do) or something you do have that others might take away from you in the future.  Both involve negative comparisons of your own self-worth to others.  And both can result in angry or vengeful responses.  In fact, jealousy and envy are so closely related that the two words are often incorrectly used interchangeably, when in fact they are somewhat different.

Jealousy is much more about fear, hypervigilance, insecurity and anger than envy usually is.  It also almost always emerges in romance or work relationships, and it leads to strong desires to control the behavior of others and to either protect against or punish those who are perceived to be potential or actual threats.  In addition, jealousy can often be accompanied by envy, especially with regard to being envious (and feeling threatened by) the stature or attractiveness of potential rivals.

Success Implications

So if jealousy or envy have become problems in your life—and you decide you’ve had enough of them and want to rid yourself of them—you’ll need to start off by realizing that you may have numerous underlying issues to deal with, not just one simple emotion that you can somehow learn how to “fix.”

I’m not suggesting that eliminating either of these two very common emotions is an easy thing to do—only that if you are not clear about what you are truly up against from the start, your chances of success will be quite low.

NOTE: For more information about my unique approach to eliminating stress, please visit

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