It’s common nowadays to use the words “jealousy” and “envy” interchangeably, as if they are one and the same. Some people say that using two different words to mean the same thing can be confusing and have negative impacts on all kinds of relationships. Some people say it doesn’t matter which term you use. And some say it all depends on each situation.

Let’s consider a few of the many opinions you’ll find on how jealousy and envy are different and alike: “Envy is directed at another or others, wanting their qualities, success, or possession. Jealousy involves thinking you will lose, or have lost, some affection or security from another person because of someone or something else—including their interest in an activity that takes time away from you. Both jealousy and envy involve comparisons and contrasts.” ~ Mary Lamia PhD, from Jealousy and Envy: The Emotions of Comparison and Contrast

“Envy occurs when we lack a desired attribute enjoyed by another. Jealousy occurs when something we already possess (usually a special relationship) is threatened by a third person. And so envy is a two-person situation whereas jealousy is a three-person situation. Envy is a reaction to lacking something. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something (usually someone).” ~ Richard Smith PhD, from What is the Difference Between Envy and Jealousy?

Also, Dr. Smith adds that it’s easy to confuse the two — jealousy and envy — because they “often travel together”:

Let’s say there’s a third person involved.

  • Friend A may feel jealousy arise inside when they see Friend B talking to Friend C.
  • And that jealousy may be popping up in part because Friend C has a characteristic that Friend A envies.

Smith also spells out that even though jealousy and envy seem like cousins, the emotional experience for each can feel quite different.

Specifically, jealousy often feels far more loaded with a sense of betrayal and maybe, as some others will explain, echoes of shame.

Does it matter which word we use to describe the experience we’re having?

  • Some say it matters because the language we use actually constructs our perception of reality. That is to say, the words you choose to label your experiences might actually make the situation better or worse.
  • Certainly it matters when you’re trying to communicate with others and tell them about your experience. They have their own ideas about the words and definitions, and their ideas may not be the same as yours.

So, what do you call this experience you’re having: jealousy or envy?