We usually think of jealousy as an ugly emotion, but it can actually lead to beautiful things. It all depends on whether you know how to deal with jealousy productively, therapist Dr. Lexx Brown-James, LMFT explained in a recent O.school course. The emotion itself may be unpleasant, but it can motivate you to become better.
There are two kinds of envy, says Dr. Lexx: malicious and benign. Malicious envy is the kind of envy that makes you hate someone and want to tear them down. Benign envy, on the other hand, makes you want to be like them. Research tells us that benign envy is a better motivator than malicious envy or even admiration. And the good news is, you can turn malicious envy into benign envy by redirecting it from the other person to yourself. Instead of wanting them to feel as crappy as you, you can focus on getting yourself in as desirable a position as them.
If you're looking to make a big change in your life, getting in touch with your envy can become powerful fuel. Here are a few questions Dr. Lexx presented in the class that you can ask yourself when you're experiencing envy and looking to do something productive with it — or when you're trying to reach a goal and could use an envy-inspired kick in the butt.
1. "What Themes Tend To Bring Up Envy For Me?"
Are you always jealous of people who are surrounded by friends? Who have a ton of charisma? Who get all the best work opportunities? Then, these are likely the areas with the highest growth potential for you, says Dr. Lexx. Your jealousy is telling you exactly what you need to work on, because it's stemming from your deepest desires.
2. "Who Am I Envious Of?"
The people we're envious of are our natural role models, says Dr. Lexx. Studying the people who trigger your envy will help you figure out who you want to be. This will also help you answer question #1: What is it about them that's making you jealous?
3. "What Compliment Could I Give That Person?"
Instead of avoiding the people you're jealous of, Dr. Lexx suggests confronting your jealousy by getting to know them. They could become your most inspiring friends or mentors. And a great way to initiate this relationship is to give them a compliment about the very thing you're jealous of. Getting to know the person you're jealous of also gives the jealousy less power, because you'll discover that they're a human being with strengths just like you, not some unapproachable being who's superior to you.
4. "What Control Do I Have Over My Situation?"
Instead of pining for the day when you magically develop the qualities you're seeking, Dr. Lexx advises figuring out what concrete steps you can take to cultivate them. For example, rather than pray for an amazing partner, step up your game. Improve your online dating profile, approach more people, or go more places where people who share your interests hang out. Or, if it's people with book deals who fill you with rage, learn how to write a book proposal and ask your friends to introduce you to people who can help. The only difference between you and the people you're jealous of is that they've already done these things — which means you have the ability to become like them if you take the same steps. If you get to know them well enough, you can ask how they got where they are so you can emulate them.
5. "What Do I Have To Celebrate?"
Rising above jealousy isn't just about trying to be like other people. It also means acknowledging all the envy-worthy things about yourself, especially as you get closer and closer to your goals, says Dr. Lexx. Realizing how far you've come will provide motivation to go further.
"Your accomplishments are not just a drop in a bucket; they’re a huge bucket bowl of water on their own," she adds. "You’re not living for anybody else. It's just your moment, and trying to string together as many of those moments of presence as you can can help remove some of that envy and make it motivation.”