Envy and jealousy are two emotions often confused for one another as they are similar in nature. However, there is a difference between the two. So how do you tell them apart?

Let's take a closer look at the difference between envy and jealousy and what makes them similar.

What is envy?

The definition of envy is pretty straightforward: It's the desire for what someone else has that you'd like to have yourself. For example, if you envy your sibling for settling down and starting a family, you may blame them for their "unfair advantage." Or, you may begin to feel ashamed, inadequate, or unworthy of having what they have. 

Despite being an uncomfortable emotion, envy serves a purpose. If we emulate people we perceive as more successful than we are, envy can be a powerful motivator in achieving our goals. The trick is to keep envy within a healthy range rather than suppressing it. Examine the underlying shame or discomfort that comes with it with an open, curious perspective. 

We tend to envy people regardless of our relationship with them. Although the feeling itself is more prominent when it comes to a family member or a friend, it's not uncommon to envy people we'll never know-like celebrities or extraordinarily successful, wealthy, beautiful, or intelligent people. 

It is envy's irrationality that marks the most significant difference between envy and jealousy.

What is jealousy?

Jealousy is a complex, painful emotion in comparison to envy. Simply put, jealousy is driven by a fear of loss, specifically in relationships. We grow suspicious of other people's intentions to protect what we already have. 

For example, you may feel jealous when you see your husband joking around and laughing with a co-worker you didn't know about. In this case, jealousy arises due to the threat this co-worker brings to your relationship. 

Although jealousy is often used in the context of romantic relationships, it can arise in any relationship-whether it's a sibling getting more attention from a parent or a colleague receiving more praise from your boss. If envy can promote motivation to achieve a goal, jealousy can motivate us to preserve and value our relationships.

Similarities between envy and jealousy

It's easy to understand why the two get mixed up-both envy and jealousy have the power to bring up our deepest insecurities and anxieties. They can be a source of anger, hurt, and aggressiveness. In a sense, both are necessary emotions. But if ignored or suppressed for too long, the resentment can bite away at our mental wellbeing.

If you feel that your envy or jealousy is uncontrollable, consider working with a licensed therapist. These feelings can result in low self-esteem, depression, and increased anxiety if ignored. Understanding these emotions is the first step in overcoming them.