Overcoming Comparison and Jealousy of Others
This post has taken me a really long time to write mostly because it comes from a personal and vulnerable place in my heart. While I was writing and researching for it, a lot of times I felt like I was failing to taking my own advice and I therefore had no right to be giving advice on overcoming jealousy to others. But after reflecting on this, I realized that even though I am still working on this area myself, I can still write about it because I don’t have to reach my destination before writing about the journey. Again, I am not a licensed psychologist and even more, not an person who has all the answers to overcoming jealousy, but I hope my findings can help you tackle the ugly and pervasive reality of comparison and jealousy.
Jealousy is like a tapeworm—it makes its home inside of you and gets fatter and more potent the more you feed it. At first, it seems harmless and you barely feel it. But as it grows and grows, you begin to feel the effects of it—pain, discomfort, and malnourishment.
I know what it feels like to be jealous and compare yourself to others firsthand. It’s a horrible feeling, eating away at you from the inside, and begins by manifesting in subtle and gradually more obvious ways. Originally, I was going to write a post on how women may overcome comparison and jealousy of other women—but I realized that many of the principles in addressing comparison and jealousy are applicable across all kinds of jealousy.
It’s an interesting thought: before the Fall, jealousy was one of the first sins committed against God. Satan, originally created by God as an extraordinarily beautiful and perfect angel, became jealous and envious of God’s omnipotence, status, and worship. Satan wanted to to be worshipped himself, so he incited a rebellion against God which led to him and many other angels who joined his rebellion to be exiled by God from heaven. In his jealousy and rage, Satan decided to tempt humans to disobey God and worship him (Satan) instead through idol worship. (Keep in mind that this is only a brief summary of the theology of the Fall because that isn’t the main purpose of this post.)
In this post, I want to start by defining jealousy and envy—I believe there are good and bad forms of jealousy. After all, God describes himself as a jealous God—what does that mean exactly? Then, I want to address the reasons for jealousy, and why it is a dangerous sin when left unchecked. Finally, I want to share some practical suggestions for overcoming jealousy and comparison to others.
What is jealousy/envy? What are good and bad forms of jealousy?
To begin, let’s explore the different ways to define being jealous. Jealousy is a thought or feeling that comprises different emotions, including bitterness and anger. Here are some definitions I found online for the word “jealous.”
Jealous (a): hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage (Dictionary.com)
Jealous (a): intolerant of unfaithfulness or rivalry (Dictionary.com)
Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably as synonyms, but there are distinctions between the two. One website contrasts envy and jealousy like this:
“Envy means ‘to bear a grudge toward someone due to coveting what that person has or enjoys.’ In a milder sense, it means ‘the longing for something someone else has without any ill will intended toward that person.’” (Diffen.com) E.g. “I envy her possessions or situation.”
“Jealous means ‘apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced by someone else.’ It can also mean ‘watchful,’ ‘anxiously suspicious,’ ‘zealous,’ or ‘expecting complete devotion.’” (Diffen.com) E.g. “I am jealous that you like her over me.”
Note: Since they go hand in hand, I am going to address jealousy and envy altogether under the umbrella term of “jealousy.”
Most of us view the word jealousy in a negative light. But how can jealousy be good? Well, for starters, God describes Himself as a “jealous God.” This use of the word in describing God can be unnerving and uncomfortable for some people because of the negative connotation of the word “jealous.” But I argue that there are in fact good, and Godly forms of jealousy.
“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Deuteronomy 5:9 NIV)
In the earlier cited definition, jealousy can be defined as being “zealous,” or “expecting complete devotion.” This is the form of jealousy that God experiences for His created beings. God is jealous when we, His created beings—created to worship Him and Him alone, turn to other idols (in pagan worship, or idolatry of success/romance). He is jealous because He expects complete devotion from us, not only because He rightfully deserves it but also because He knows that is the best way for us to live. Therefore, God’s jealousy is an example of righteous and Godly jealousy. Another example of “good” jealousy is jealousy that a husband or wife rightly feels when their spouse cheats on them. In a Desiring God article, Pastor John Piper defines “good” jealousy as: “a joyful desire to receive the affections from another person that really belong to you, or an appropriate indignation if the affections that belong to you are not being given to you.”
What then, are “bad” forms of jealousy that usually come to mind when the word is used? Examples of “bad” jealousy include: feeling inferior when you are jealous of another person’s achievements, wishing ill on another person because of how jealous you are of them, feeling insecure about yourself due to your jealousy of someone, and more (the list could go on). Pastor John defines “bad” jealousy as: “jealousy that is rooted in fear and insecurity and lack of trust in God’s promises.”
Why are we jealous? What is really going on in our hearts when we’re jealous?
Here are some reasons for jealousy that I’ve garnered through research and self-reflection.
We are prideful, and feel threatened and insecure.
Jealousy, at its core, come from the subconscious need to compare ourselves to another person. This drive for comparison arises out of our pride. C.S. Lewis describes pride in Mere Christianity like this: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” As C.S. Lewis points out, we are only prideful when we compare and feel we are better than others. When we feel inferior to others and therefore threatened by them, our pride turns to jealousy. I want to go a step further and pint out that a lot of jealousy can be traced to childhood insecurities. For example, when I was growing up, I was often compared physically to other girls by my mother—whether it was their facial features, weight, and more (messed up, but it’s a cultural thing). This led to me developing insecurities about my appearance and an internalized need to compare myself to other women.
We idolize the source of jealousy.
Jealousy serves to uncover the idols we have hidden deep within us. I believe that God allows us to feel jealousy and envy in order to reveal and force us to address our hidden idols. The fact is that jealousy is also rooted in idolatry—idolatry of success, physical beauty, popularity, etc. This idolatry manifests in our pride, and hence, our jealousy. If we didn’t have these idols, we wouldn’t be so peeved at others having more of them than us. For example, I used to be extremely jealous of people who attended "name schools,” because I didn’t. It took me many years to realize that my jealousy was rooted in an idol I had of academic achievement. Once I identified and eradicated this idol, I stopped being jealous of these people.
We are discontent with what we have.
Jealousy also stems from discontentment and ingratitude for what God has given us. When we are discontent with our lives and what we have, we tend to focus on and emphasize what we don’t have. Jealousy is therefore an insult to our Creator. It’s like telling God, “I’m not happy with what you gave me, or how you made me. It’s not enough.” I sometimes forget just how abundantly I have been blessed by God—through the family, friends, opportunities He has given me. When I lose sight of these blessings, it is easy for me to fall into discontentment, comparison, and grumbling.
We are focusing on ourselves and not on God/other people.
This goes back to my point about pride, but jealousy ultimately arises when we are too focused on ourselves and our needs. Focusing on ourselves inevitably leads to feeling discontent and imperfect because that’s what we are—broken, fallen human beings. The only solution to this is by redirecting our focus and attention to God and to those around us. When I lose sight of my purpose and calling to serve others, I begin to focus inward and fixate on my own flaws and insecurities—which leads to insecurities and jealousy.
Why is jealousy dangerous?
In the secular world, jealousy can be easily dismissed or even joked about. But, the Bible consistently warns against jealousy, and all forms of covetousness. It IS a sin and can seep into every area of your life if you don’t reign it in.
Jealousy is a form of covetousness.
One of the ten commandments is, “You shall not covet.” To covet means to desire whatever does not belong to us. Jealousy is exactly that—when we are jealous, we desire something that belongs to someone else, whether that be their money, their accomplishments, or more.
"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17 NIV)
Jealousy is a gateway sin that leads to other sins.
James wrote that “where you have envy,” you will find “every evil practice.” We don’t have to look very far to see how true this statement is. Jealousy and envy (or covetousness) leads to more sin—greed, slander, crime, and more. Therefore, if we don’t address the sin of jealousy at the root, we may find ourselves tempted to sin even more.
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16 NIV)
It distracts us from our purpose/calling in life.
I know that when I’ve been jealous of others, I would try to imitate them to replicate their success. My efforts proved futile and only left me feeling more insecure in myself and uncomfortable in my own skin. Trying to be someone else will not only lead you to embarrass yourself, but also distract you from becoming your unique, authentic self that God intended you to be. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that each of us make up the body of Christ. In other words, we serve different functions—just as the eye serves to see and the ears serve to hear. Therefore, we each are uniquely gifted and created. Jealousy distracts us from our uniqueness and the role that only we are able to play. If all of us were the same, how could we function as a body?
“Suppose the foot says, ‘I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.’ By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. And suppose the ear says, ‘I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.’ By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?” (1 Corinthians 12:15-19 NIV)
How do we overcome jealousy/envy/comparison?
Ask yourself, what exactly are you jealous of?
Usually, when you are jealous of someone, you are jealous of one particular aspect and not their whole person. By identifying the exact source of your jealousy, you can begin to take steps towards addressing your jealousy.
Ask yourself, what does this jealousy reveal to you about yourself?
Jealousy usually stems from insecurities we have about oneself. We tend to fixate on aspects that we ourselves feel weaker in. When we see others who are stronger in the areas we are insecure about, we develop feelings of jealousy. By digging deeper to the reason for your jealousy, or the insecurity it stems from, you may begin to eradicate the issue behind your jealousy.
Pray in repentance, and ask God to help you look to overcome this idol. Focus on others and on God.
As with every sin, we should begin by asking for forgiveness for your jealousy and for God’s help you overcome the idol behind the jealousy. Turn your attention from yourself and to God, and those around you. Focusing on how you can serve God and others will naturally eliminate your pride and focus on yourself.
Embrace your own God-given uniqueness and remember how God sees you.
I personally believe that the number one way to overcome jealousy is by realizing and admitting your worth as a child of God. When you truly grasp the way that God views you—His child, His creation, His good idea; you begin to understand your innate value. You, and the person are jealous of, are equal in His eyes—He doesn’t play favorites. And even more, no two humans are alike—even twins are different in innumerable ways. Embrace the gifts that make you who you are, and the calling that only you can fulfill.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:6 NIV)
Other practical ways that I have used to personally deal with jealousy include:
Write down a list of things you are grateful for. Embrace gratitude.
By writing down a comprehensive list of blessings you have to be grateful for, you begin to realize that you have nothing to grumble or complain about.
Recognize and validate the blessings that God has given to the person you are jealous of. Pray for their continued success and their walk with God.
This might be the hardest thing to do—but trust me, it is so effective in curing your jealousy. When you learn to appreciate the other person’s blessings, and praise God for how He has blessed this person, you feel can actually begin to loosen your grip of anger and bitterness towards that person. To take it one step further, if you are able to pray for that person to continue to be blessed and for their walk with God, you can turn your jealousy into genuine love. This will lead to lasting and true peace for you.
Turn your jealousy into action by working on the area in your life that you feel jealous about. Compete with yourself, not that person.
I am not advocating for you to get plastic surgery on your nose if you are jealous of someone else’s nose. But if the thing you are jealous of is something you have control over, then begin taking action steps to improve in that area of your life. By redirecting your attention to improving yourself, you will begin to feel more confident in yourself and have no time to be jealous of others. For example, if you realize you are jealous of someone else’s perfect grades, you can redirect your attention to studying harder and getting good grades yourself. But the important thing to note is that you should not be motivated by comparing with that person, but by comparing only to yourself.
I hope this post was informative and helpful, as it has been for me to write. Like I said, I am still in the process of taking my own prescription to battle my jealousies. We are in this together! :)
P.S. Here’s a song that really speaks to how God sees you as beautiful, created in His image.
“There's a hope that's waiting for you in the dark
You should know you're beautiful just the way you are
And you don't have to change a thing, the world could change its heart
No scars to your beautiful, we're stars and we're beautiful”