Posted: Sep 09, 2014 5:00 AM
Jealousy is as common as it is unsettling. But is jealousy all bad? An expert explains how and why jealousy in relationships works and moms share their own experiences with jealousy — good, bad and otherwise. This is a must-read as a woman and as a parent.
Photo credit: Luba Nel/Hemera / 360/Getty images

Jealousy can be the ugly emotion that stops you in your tracks or the just-strong-enough pang that gets you motivated to reach your goals. How does this all work? Psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, explains, "Jealousy can provide needed motivation when we can’t otherwise find it within ourselves or it can lead to dark thoughts of resentment, wishing another ill-will or low self-esteem because we just don’t or can’t measure up to someone else’s abilities or accomplishments. The key is using an inward focus on what matters most to us and how we can move towards it. It's this internal reflection that will help get the counterproductive feelings of jealousy in check as we turn our thoughts and energy into more positive outcomes."

This is conscious work and can be tricky — even difficult — to do, but it is possible. Five women share examples of when jealousy worked to their benefit and when it worked to their detriment. Coleman takes a look at their examples and explains how jealousy worked in each situation and, most importantly, why.

Suzanne Barston


Suzanne is the creator of the site Fearless Formula Feeder and the co-creator of the #ISupportYou movement.

About a time when jealousy worked against her, Barston says, "I quit acting — a career I'd pursued since childhood — because I hated the person it was turning me into. I felt like I was glowing green, constantly comparing myself to others.

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "Letting go of her hatred toward the person she believed she was becoming freed her from the negativity that she was directing towards others which then allowed positive energy to be released and utilized."

And about a time when jealousy worked for her Barston says, "But that same jealousy became a tool when I switched to writing. The difference was, as a writer, I could use that envy to drive me. I could write more, do more, try harder. The jealousy I felt as an actor was colored by helplessness — there was nothing I could do about it, as I was reliant on others to engage in my art. Ultimately, I think that jealousy can be a positive emotion if you're able to channel it. But when you feel it due to a situation where you have no control, it's pure poison."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "This is a great example of letting go, freeing up negative energy and taking charge of her life."

Image credit: Suzanne Barston

Jana Anthoine

JanaJana Anthoine is a work-at-home mom who loves all things southern except the heat. She writes at Jana's Thinking Place.

About a time when jealousy worked against her, Anthoine says, "A lot of my jealousy these days is related to running. I see friends who run fast and gracefully and like it's completely natural. I long to be that person but know I never will be."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "Comparing ourselves to others always results in us either feeling less than or superior — neither are good for us or the results we want."

And about a time when jealousy worked for her Anthoine says, "But that jealousy sometimes turns into fuel for me. When I get jealous enough, it forces me to push a little harder and try to get a little faster."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "This is a great example of taking that jealousy and converting its negative energy into fuel to motivate her."

Image credit: Jana Anthoine

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

BonnieBonnie is a freelance writer of the nonfiction kind, a wife, a mother and critter lover.

About a time when jealousy worked against her Feldkamp says, "I'm a stepmother. I was jealous of memories my new husband and daughter had with someone else. It manifested in my biological clock. I wanted a baby. I had to face it and ask, 'Do I really want another child or am I just mourning that part of my husband and stepdaughter’s life that belongs to someone else?' I love them so much, I just wish that I could’ve been there to see that side of them."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "There is real — and common — irony here in that she loves her husband and stepdaughter and wants a close and special relationship with them. Yet jealousy and the negative thoughts attached to this love can come between us and those we love."

And about a time when jealousy worked for her, Feldkamp says, "In work, I get that twinge of jealousy when someone else lands that book deal or surfaces from The New York Times slush pile to rocket-launch their career. Then, I remind myself that’s her spot not my spot. No one’s success steals from another’s. It helps me focus and fine tune my strategy, be grateful and feel inspired by her story."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "This is a great way to harness the jealous energy, turn it around and use it to help her compete only with herself in order to be the best true self she can be."

Image credit: Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Andrea Jarrell

AdnreaAndrea heads a higher education marketing consulting firm and writes fiction and nonfiction with recent essays on love, sex, family and mothering in The New York Times; The Washington Post; Washingtonian Magazine; Brain, Child; and Literary Mama.

About a time when jealousy worked against her, Jarrell says, "Straight out of college, I moved to New York City to work in publishing. I landed a coveted editorial assistant job at a women’s magazine. I was 22 and my boss was 25. She spoke at a conference that year and talked about how I was the ideal assistant. The next year she fired me. For months before the firing I’d been consumed with jealousy over why I wasn’t advancing at the speed she and others had. Instead of continuing to do my job well, I griped and gossiped with coworkers spreading discontent. My jealousy and insecurity had brought about the very thing I feared — failure."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "This is a great example of how jealousy can consume one’s energy, leaving little left for creativity, productivity and forward movement."

And about a time when jealousy worked for her, Jarrell says, "When I first went to a 12-Step program I was encouraged to seek out the people 'who have what you want.' Coveting someone else’s recovery showed me how to be brave. I was a newlywed, then a new mother, now a mother of teens, soon an empty nester — wanting the recovery others have has been my road map to the life I want."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "In this case, she was able to reframe jealousy and use others' accomplishments as a model and to help her know that she, too, can achieve what they have."

Image credit: Andrea Jarrell

Shell Roush

ShellShell is a social media manager and blogger and a mom to three very active little boys.

About a time when jealousy worked against her, Roush says, "My kids have the things that they need and even some of what they want. They're taken care of: This is what I have to remind myself of sometimes when I see the things that others are able to do that I can't do for my kids without either a gigantic raise or a winning lottery ticket. I can feel bad for a minute about not being able to give them everything, knowing how much they'd enjoy or benefit from that experience or that gift. I know I can't give them everything and it can make my heart sink a little when someone else is able to do something for their kids that I can't. I remind myself that mine are just fine and don't need everything in order to be happy or successful and I can pull myself out of it, but sometimes I can't help that initial pang of jealousy."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "She is reality testing here — taking her feelings of jealousy and challenging her feelings that somehow her kids are suffering because they have less things than other kids. She even goes one step further and is able to see that material things don’t lead to greater happiness for children."

And about a time when jealousy worked for her, Roush says, "My sister and I had babies within days of each other. When those babies were about a month old, my sister looked at me critically and then informed me that she'd lost all her baby weight already. I was so jealous. I wanted my pre-baby body back. But it had taken six months to lose it with my first and closer to a year with my second. I'd had no expectations that my body would bounce back that quickly, especially with two toddlers to take care of along with a newborn. Though she did make me realize that maybe it could happen sooner than I thought. I didn't go on any crash diet or extreme exercise plan, but I was motivated to be a little more careful about what I was eating and to take longer walks with the kids and the weight did come off faster than I thought it would."

Let’s hear from the expert^

Coleman says, "Her sister provoked the feelings of jealousy and in spite of the intensity of sibling rivalry and the normal competition women have around who they are as mothers, she was able to dig a little deeper, let go of her jealousy and, instead, see that if her sister could do it she could do it, too. It wouldn’t be the same, and it might take longer, but she would get there, too."

Image credit: Shell Roush

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