How Insecurity Causes Envy, Jealousy and Shame
Relationship Help

How Insecurity Causes Envy, Jealousy and Shame

There is an enmeshed relationship between envy, jealousy and shame.  In particular, envy and jealousy are primal emotions that coexist.  Consider childhood emotions like sibling rivalry or parental hero worships.  A child can long to have the full attention of the opposite sex parent, and this can be more acute if there have been parenting issues that cause feelings of emotional abandonment.  Often small children see a same-sex parent as a rival for the opposite parent’s love in heterosexual marriages.  They experience envy and jealousy as they seek to get more attention from the opposite sex parent.  This is a behavior that is also seen when a newborn baby enters the home, where the older sibling might feel this new baby is favored, thus creating feeling of lifetime shame and inadequacy if not properly address.


Envy is when you desire to posses another’s persons blessings, tangible items, or personal traits.  For example, you might wish you had their house, job, income, muscular physique or wavy hair.  If you feel this deep jealousy it is common to act out negatively towards that individual.  This is a defensive mechanism that subconsciously works to protect us from feeling inadequate.  Instead we inflate the areas that we are more gifted than this person and might minimize their talents.  A more narcissistic individual could even be capable of sabotage, defamation or aggressive behaviors.  In fact, aggression and grandiose thinking frequent occur with envy.  Often the degree of these behaviors corollate with the amount of unconscious shame or lack of self-value.

Take for example the case of Sam.  Sam was habitually resentful of his sister, Jill’s rapid career rise.  Because of this shame he worked endlessly to highlight his volunteer work and frequently discussed how this work provided more satisfaction than Jill’s paid position ever could.  Instead of disparaging Jill, Sam could have identified common aspects in his volunteer work to empower him to look for a full-time paid position in that field.  Taking on this new role could give Sam both personal and monetary satisfaction that would enrich his life and allow him to accept, and even enjoy, Jill’s success.  This would create a happier and more fulfilling sibling relationship.


Jealousy is a more conscious form of inadequacy than envy.  Jealousy stems from the fear of losing a sense of control, rather than envy’s desire to covet something.  There is a vulnerability in jealousy caused by mental unrest due to anxiety and fear about a situation.  We fear losing the attention or connection we have toward someone or something.  Jealousy is one of the most toxic forces in a relationship and can even become lethal when a partner is consumed by the thought their partner is being deceitful or unfaithful to them.

Consider Meg’s ingrained thought of being undeserving of love and how she could sabotage her long-term relationships by seeking external female attention in order to make her girlfriend more attentive to her.  This insecurity is jealousy as she crafted the illusion her partner was not attracted to her.  These limiting beliefs stemmed from childhood bullying and created a toxic pattern of codependency.  The couple must have open and honest dialogue about how the jealousy is putting a strain on the relationship and consider counseling for Meg and as a couple.


Shame arises when a person feels inferior to another and feels that they are not “good enough.”  These comparisons are toxic and the more intense one’s feelings or the more habitual they are, the greater the amount of shame experienced.  People who are codependents can more acutely feel shame.  This is because they might have a history of feeling rejected, low self-value and a history of emotional manipulation.  Often, shame causes a person to attack themselves or another person.  Instead of taking a nonjudgmental viewpoint, a person deep in a shame spiral will have limiting beliefs reinforced, such as an unworthiness of love.  This could cause this person to act out in a manner of setting up walls to keep out people in the hopes of avoiding future intense pain.  These defensives act as a way of prevent attachment, and manufacturing control over what they see as an inevitable abandonment.


Examine envy and jealousy without the context of a multi-faceted relationship.  Each component has a function.  Having a meditator can pinpoint underlying issues and provide space for a couple to see the roles they play in perpetuating the role of envy, jealousy and shame in their love.  For instance, do you notice a pattern of “triangulation” with problems?  This is where a couple must get a third-party to chronically help process disagreements.  In family dynamics when a child is triangulated into marital spats an Oedipal/Electra desire is formed within the child that might complicated romantic relationships for them in their adult years.

In marriages, when a partner strays into an affair they might first feel a sense of freedom.  But soon they could feel split between the affections of both ‘loves.’  The focus then shifts to understanding the roles as spouse and paramour, with intimacy suffering in both cases.  Moreover, the underlying issues that led to the affair never get discussed between spouses.  When the affair comes to light, the marriage suffers further.  After the initial negative emotions subside, new conflicts are created to promote distance between hurt spouses.  To heal, individual autonomy and intimacy must be established again in the marriage.  In time, the union becomes renewed and the paramour exits the equation, or the marriage dissolves into divorce.

Rules of Engagement

The best way to prevent envy, jealousy and shame is to ensure both partners have appropriate levels of self-worth.  Work on reinforcing the intimacy in your romance.  If you notice yourself questioning your partner, consider journaling your feelings.  Pay special attention to prior relationships (include family and friend dynamics both past and present) in regards to times you felt isolated, betrayed or triangulated.  Tell you partner about the behaviors and actions that trigger these feelings within you in a manner than is gentle, honest and non-accusatory.  Set guidelines on how to navigate feelings you both might have about insecurity, privacy and expression.  Make sure you both honor each other’s points of view.  Never act in a manner that is judgmental or invasive.  Show them that you are committed on building trust and openness with each other and never hack into their email or phone.  This will only create a host of new issues and lead to potential arguments in the future.

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