Envy – Portrait of the green monster as a furry animal – Answer No. 51
Question #51 – What are you envious of?
Have you ever been on the receiving end of envious behavior? Have people rolled their eyes looking at a cherished possession you just acquired? Have people mocked your abilities or looks? Maybe somebody even destroyed what you have worked hard for.
Then you know about the destructive force that envy can unleash. And you may wonder why I believe that envy is an interesting emotion worth further exploration instead of condemning it as the deadly sin the catholic church thinks it is.
“They are just envious!”
That is what my mother often said when I came home complaining about some bullies at school. And that was that. I was never told what exactly they were envious of, and I couldn’t figure it out back then either. I did not feel enviable. My schoolmates were mocking me, and that hurt. I never fully understood how envy could be the driving force behind such behavior.
But what I learned was that eliciting envy was a dangerous thing and therefore needs to be avoided. The problem is: You cannot control what people are envious of. Just being alive and being with people is enough that somebody may become envious of something you have and they have not.
Playing small to avoid envious reactions?
Today I wonder if trying to be safe from envious reactions is a contributing factor to my tendency to downplay my achievements and rather hide what I have or which good things happen in my life. I also feel the need to prove that I earned what I have through hard work and therefore deserve it.
“Go on. There is nothing to see or be envious of. Just pass by!”
“No need for you to be envious of me. See!?”
[accompanied by a slight smile]
I can see these experiences from school repeated on Social Media every day. Hate speech, mockery, bullying – it is all there. I wonder how much havoc this creates for people who are sensitive to this. They hide or find it extremely difficult to show up on these platforms. So their voices are not heard. We will never see their art or listen to their opinions. And I think this is a significant loss to all of us.
And this is why I believe we need to understand envy and deal with this emotion before it turns us into destructive, mean monsters. You may be acting out your jealousy today, but you may be on the receiving end the next.
Walk away from envious people
If you find yourself on the receiving end of envy, the thing to do is to walk away. You cannot “fix” the envy of other people. If they feel inadequate around you, it is their job to fix this, not yours. Do not discuss. You would not expect that they freely admit that they are envious and that this is the reason for their remarks. Actually, they might not even be aware of it. Envy is often a hidden feeling we do not admit to having even to ourselves.
It is also essential to have a space to process the hurt caused by mean remarks. And/ or to overcome the fear of being hurt when you show up.
Ultimately the goal is not to let the envy of other people stop you in your tracks.
These three things – walking away and overcoming the hurt or fear of being hurt – may be the most challenging part if you want to show up and present your ideas or your work to the world.
If you feel that you want to better deal with your own feelings of envy, keep on reading.
We will have now an even closer look at some of the many facets of envy:
Envy as a social emotion?
Envy is a normal inbuild emotion to human beings. So we can assume that it serves a positive purpose; otherwise, it would have already disappeared. However, we are social animals, so I propose the idea that envy is a socially motivated emotion. Often envy is described as the emotion that drives you to have ‘more than.’ But it may just show you what you need to further belong to your social group. If everybody owns “this” bag, then you better buy it, too. Otherwise, you may be singled out and maybe ultimately kicked out. You do not want that.
If it is overly important to you “to belong” to a particular social group, it may be crucial to possess all the necessary insignia. Therefore you NEED the same branded clothes, a similar car, or even a specific body type similar to your peers. And make no mistake: We all know how rude comments can be if you do not fulfill the group criteria.
And envy signals what you need to acquire to fit in.
If this rings true to you, you may check in to your envious feelings and find out what exactly it is that you desire.
- Is it really this pair of boots, or is it the feeling of belonging you want?
- Why do you want to belong to this specific group?
- What is really important to you as the foundation for your relationships?
My envy tells me what I want from life!?
Envy shows up when we compare what we have with what others have. It is more powerful if we look at our peer group or close people, like family, friends, or colleagues. Even following on Instagram is close enough. If people “like me” have what I do not have but want, envy shows up. If they have it, how can I not have it? I would “deserve” it, too. Wouldn’t I?
We can envy anything: Looks, body type, abilities, position in life, possessions, friendships, jobs, continuing health, money. Any element of life can be a subject of envy.
Envy is a function of comparison, and if we feel it, we position ourselves on the inferior side. Now anger can kick in. If you do not counteract, you may end up in an envious rage doing something foolish like destroying what this person has or doing some other harm to them. If you feel a strong dislike of a specific person, also envy can hide behind this aversion.
Some questions may help to lighten up the darkness and tame the green monster.
Is what you envy a personal achievement?
- Do you know what actions are necessary to achieve this?
- Would you be willing to do this to achieve this goal?
- Do you believe that the person just got this without doing anything for it?
- Does the person not ‘deserve it’ in your opinion? Why not?
- Do you think it is you who decides who deserves what in life?
Is what you envy something a person has no or only minor impact on receiving?
- Life in and by itself is not fair. Some people are born smarter, richer, more attractive than you.
So how can you deal with this fact without becoming bitter?
- Could doing political work to end social injustice help?
- Could you find a way to inner growth to be pleased that others have what they have?
Feelings of envy in general
Envy or jealousy are strong feelings one can easily get lost in.
It is important to step back a little and to engage the more rational side of your brain. One phrase that helps with that (and any strong emotion) is
“A part of me feels….”
Additionally, the following questions can bring a deeper understanding:
- Are you grateful for what you have? Your abilities, your possessions, your achievements.
- Do you have enough information to decide if a person has overall a better life?
- What exactly are you envious of?
- How do you think you would feel if you got “it”?
- In which other ways can you achieve feeling like this?
Changing perspective can be challenging
Honestly answering these check-in questions and trying to truly understand your envious feelings is not easy. It can even be painful. But it is definitely better than lashing out to others and hurt them, you, and your relationships in the process. The mess you will have to clean up will be more challenging to deal with than answering these questions.