Man looks at phone in bed while his partner watches from a distance.Jealousy is an often overwhelming feeling of insecurity about a potential loss or inequity in distribution of resources. The term is also used to describe a feeling associated with being possessive of another person, such as a partner or friend.

Most people experience jealousy from time to time, but extreme jealousy can greatly interfere with daily life. People who find that jealousy interferes with their life may consider speaking with a therapist to better understand what is causing this emotion.

Jealousy vs. Envy

Jealousy is commonly used interchangeably with envy, but the two are distinct emotions, and each word has a different definition. While jealousy can be described as a fear that another person may take something that is yours or something you consider to be yours, envy is the desire for something that belongs to someone else. However, both jealousy and envy can cause feelings of insecurity.

Envy is more likely to cause feelings of sadness and a desire to change. Meanwhile, jealousy is more likely to provoke anger and resentment. Sometimes jealousy and envy occur together. When someone feels jealous, they may also envy the person who is causing them to feel jealous in the first place.

For example, a woman who wants to purchase the same new sports car as her neighbor is likely experiencing envy, not jealousy. But a young man whose best friend is spending all her time with her new partner, on the other hand, may experience both jealousy and envy: He may be envious of their relationship and want a significant other of his own, but he might also be jealous of his friend's new bond, resenting the decrease in the amount of time they spend together.

Signs of Jealousy

If a person is jealous, they may show it in a wide variety of ways. While some jealous behaviors are subtle, unnoticable, or mild, strong feelings of jealousy can cause people to act out or harm others. Signs you may be experiencing jealousy include:

  • Anger toward a person or situation that is interfering with something you care about.
  • Resentment of a friend or partner when they can’t spend time with you.
  • Difficulty feeling happy for a coworker when they receive something you wanted.
  • Feelings of dislike toward a new person in a loved one’s life that are hard to explain. For example, a father might have feelings of hostility that stem from jealousy toward his daughter’s fiance even if the partnership she’s chosen is a healthy one.
  • Deep sadness or feelings of distance when thinking about a partner, friend, or loved one.

It is normal to feel some jealousy, but it can help to have support when working through strong feelings of jealousy, especially if these are rooted in deeper feelings related to self-esteem, trust, or control.

Types of Jealousy

Jealousy is a common feeling, and it’s experienced by people from most cultures. As it can crop up in many different situations, jealousy can come in many forms. Some types of jealousy include:

  • Jealousy in relationships: This type of jealousy stems from the fear of being replaced by someone else in a valued relationship. A woman who is angry that her husband is flirting with another woman, a husband who feels insecure when his partner spends time with friends, and a teenager who is annoyed at her sister for going to the movies with her best friend all fall into this category. Jealousy in friendships is often called platonic jealousy, while jealousy in romantic relationships may be referred to as romantic jealousy.
  • Jealousy related to power and status: This type of jealousy often occurs in the workplace, as it often relates to competition. For instance, a man who resents his coworker for being promoted before he was may experience this type of jealousy. 
  • Abnormal jealousy: Also called pathological jealousy or extreme jealousy, this may be a sign of an underlying mental health issue, such as schizophrenia, anxiety, or issues with control. It is often used to describe jealousy that causes a person in a relationship to have irrational worries about a partner’s faithfulness in the relationship and may cause them to act abusively or unsafely toward that partner.

It is normal to experience mild jealousy in a platonic or romantic relationship, and this is not always considered to be unhealthy. It can indicate that one cares about the success of their relationship. 

Still, jealousy can become destructive when it is frequent, intense, or irrational. An individual experiencing a high level of sexual jealousy may have difficulty trusting their partner and may check the partner's email and cell phone or secretly follow them. If the partner discovers this behavior, the relationship may suffer.

Causes of Jealousy

People can become jealous for a variety of reasons. Often, jealous feelings stem from communication issues, low self-esteem, loneliness, or, in relationships, differing interpersonal boundaries. Some other common causes of jealousy include:

  • Sibling rivalry: Siblings may feel jealousy and envy when another sibling is viewed as receiving more love, attention, or resources from parents or caretakers than themselves. 
  • Insecurity: If one person in a romantic or platonic relationship values the relationship but feels unstable within it, they may begin to feel jealous. In the workplace, people who feel that their position is at stake may also feel jealous due to insecurity.
  • Competition: Fierce competition between friends, siblings, or coworkers may result in feelings of jealousy if the risks involved with losing are high.
  • Perfectionism: People with perfectionistic qualities may find themselves feeling jealous if they often compare themselves with others. While these comparisons can also cause envy, jealousy can also arise when the person with perfectionism fears that the success of another person will negatively impact their own success.
  • Trust issues: Difficulty trusting others in relationships may make people more likely to feel jealous when their friend or partner spends time with other people or on their own.

People in polyamorous relationships may also exerience jealousy, although not all do. The main difference between jealousy in a monogamous relationship and in a polyamorous relationship is that when jealousy occurs in a polyamorous relationship, it may only involve the people within that relationship. It may also involve people outside the relationship, which is how jealousy occurs in most monogamous relationships. A monogamous couple experimenting with polyamory may also experience feelings of jealousy.

In adolescents, jealousy has been linked with both aggression and low self-esteem. Adolescents who perceive their friendships to be threatened by their peers also appear to have lower self-worth and report more loneliness than those who do not feel threatened. Girls appear to experience jealousy more often than boys do, according to a Developmental Psychology study. One reason for this could be because, as the research indicates, girls often expect more loyalty and empathy from their friends.

Jealousy and Mental Health

When jealous feelings are long-lasting, pervasive, or severe, it may indicate that the cause is an underlying mental health issue. Some mental health issues and symptoms associated with jealousy include:

If you think mental health issues may be at the root of your jealous feelings, there is hope. Learn more about how to work through and get help for strong feelings of jealousy.


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