Dear Patti,

I have two brothers, Peter and Brian, and am the only girl in the family. I’m close to both of them, and thank goodness they live locally. All three of us siblings are happily married.

I’m very proud of Peter and Brian because, like me, they have always worked hard to get ahead in life. Our parents divorced when we were all quite young. Both remarried, had more children with their present spouses and neither of them ever helped the three of us financially. We had to pay for our own college, weddings and everything else we’ve ever needed.

I recently found out that my brothers have started a healthy fast food business together. I’m very happy for them and they definitely deserve success, but I just can’t help but feel left out. Peter’s wife called to tell me all about the new venture and I’m sorry to say I was very abrupt with her and couldn’t wait to get off the phone. I’m usually pretty honest with myself and have to admit I’m jealous. It’s shameful to feel this way because I’m not normally the jealous type and typically believe that jealousy is a weakness of character.

So what’s the matter with me? What kind of emotion is jealousy anyway? Why am I feeling this way when I know deep down I truly want what’s best for them?

  — Maggie

Dear Maggie,

Many psychology theorists don’t view jealousy or envy as emotions but, rather, complex situations or circumstances where one desires something another has or a valued relationship is threatened which evokes intense, negative feelings. For example, three spouses could all feel jealous when their mate flirts with another. The first spouse feels jealous and then becomes enraged. The second person feels jealous and then becomes flooded with a deep sadness. The last spouse might feel jealous, experience fear at being abandoned, and then becomes raging, the jealousy evoking more than one emotion.

Overcoming jealousy begins with awareness. Rather than judging or shaming yourself for your experience of jealousy, try to identify what feelings you’re going through. When jealousy arises, are you resentful, impatient, frustrated or even enraged? These are all often thought to be various forms of anger. Are you conscious of being worried, scared, distrustful or uncertain? These are various forms of fear. Are you deeply sad or is there combination of more than one of these feelings? 

Are you experiencing envy, jealousy or a combination? Envy occurs when one desires an attribute or object enjoyed by another. Jealousy occurs when someone has a special relationship being threatened by a third person. Therefore, 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 someone. If you wish you had your best friend’s new motorcycle, you feel envy. If your best friend takes your husband for a ride, you feel jealousy.

Let’s take a closer look at your situation. Are you feeling threatened that your close relationship with one or both of your brothers will negatively change? Is the root of the feeling about being left out of the sibling relationship?  Are you afraid of being left out or replaced? If so, that is jealousy. Or is your negative, painful feeling stemming from the desire to own your own business, a chance for monetary success, stimulation or the opportunity to express personal knowledge and talent? That would be envy.

When you gain clarity as to exactly what you’re feeling, it can be a healthy signal or wake-up call regarding your true needs and what you deeply value (i.e., attention, love and affection, fiscal security). What do you perceive to be a threat? Being replaced or passed over? Poverty? Stagnation? 

Although it can be a painful emotional experience — especially because it appears to be in conflict with the love and goodwill you feel for your siblings — these feelings are not to be suppressed but instead heeded as a message that something you value is either being threatened or missing in your life. You’re experiencing a powerful emotional reaction that you can learn from, get more of what you want and improve the quality of your life. 


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.