counseling, psychology, self-help

The Psychology of Envy

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Do you find it hard to be happy for the success of others?

Do you gossip about people?

Do you feel extremely competitive with others?

Do you find yourself becoming more and more judgmental of other people?

Do you find yourself comparing yourself to other people on the daily?

Do you find yourself undermining other people’s relationships?

Do you feel happy when you see someone fail?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be struggling with the emotion of envy.

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins and it can be very destructive to your life and your relationships.

Bertrand Russell said, “Beggars do not envy millionaires, though of course they will envy other beggars who are more successful.”

We tend to direct our envy at the people who orbit our social stratosphere–friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues. The reason for this is these are the people we frequently interact with. These are the people we can “realistically” use as a measuring stick to gauge ourselves against.

Most of us would not compare ourselves to Bill Gates but we may use our friend or coworker as a way to gauge our success because we feel we are on a similar playing field.

We cannot experience envy if we are not comparing ourselves to others.

Envy is an emotion we feel when we engage in the social comparison game. Whoever you are envying you believe you are in competition with–yet there are no winners to be had in this game. People who struggle with envy tend to be people who frequently compare themselves to others.

When you compare yourself to another and come up short, you are likely to feel envious.

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Envy is an emotion we all feel from time to time.

It is an emotion that unfolds in a predictable fashion. First, we must face a person with a superior achievement, quality, or possession. Second, we must want whatever this person possesses for ourselves, OR wish that the other person didn’t have it. Finally, we must be disturbed by the emotion we experience when we are in the company of this person.

These type of experiences are available to us on the daily.

Maybe we see a neighbor get a new luxury automobile and look at the ten-year old car sitting in our driveway with feelings of envy.

Maybe a friend gets a new promotion and makes more money then we will ever be able to make in our field and feelings of envy arise.

Maybe our sister travels frequently and often. We can’t afford it and don’t have the luxury of taking time off of work. We begin to feel envious of her.

Any of those scenarios may feel familiar to you.

Unfortunately, the emotion of envy runs rampant in our modern-day society.

With social media, we all get a peek into the lives of others (or at least of the facade they like to present to the world).

Envy is the pain we experience from being confronted by the advantages of others. It causes us to feel anger, disappointment, and resentment.

These emotions turn us against others–and ourselves. Envy truly is a green-eyed MONSTER.

If someone is envious of you, it is not a compliment. They likely hate your guts.

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Envy is a secretive emotion. Very rarely will you hear someone admit they are envious of someone. To neutralize feelings of envy, the envious person is likely to continually denigrate the target of their envy to anyone who will listen. This works to simultaneously diminish the target of their envy and elevate themselves in comparison.

Envying someone can become an obsession. An unhealthy obsession.

It is a cheap, easy way to give ourselves a boost to our self-esteem–by destroying the goodness we see in others.

It does not matter what the metric you may be using to compare–money, looks, youth, intellect.  You can always find someone worse off than you are IF you are looking for that.

But you will also find someone better than you if you are looking for it.

The reality is there is ALWAYS someone younger, in better shape, better looking, with a better career, more money, better behaved kids, or whatever it is you use as your measuring stick.

Envy is a short-sighted approach to life. We lose sight of the bigger picture.

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For instance, we may envy our friend, who is a doctor–a person with a prestigious career, nice house, luxury car, who travels to exotic places…. BUT we do not envy what it took to get her there: the hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt, the stress of her job, the debt from starting a practice, the cost of malpractice insurance, the years upon years of schooling and residency. We often look at the end result and not all the work or the numerous sacrifices that went into achieving it.

Oftentimes we envy people for things we don’t even WANT for ourselves if we were given the opportunity. Perhaps we are envious of the doctor yet we hate science and math. We would never want to go to medical school and study all the material that is required to BE a doctor. We wouldn’t want to have touch other people’s bodies or be around sick people. Thus we are envying someone who does something for a living we don’t even enjoy nor have a desire to do.

Personally, I could never envy a doctor because I would never want to do what is required to become a doctor.  I would not be willing to be a Bio or Chem major in college. I don’t enjoy the sciences OR math. Would never want to take the MCATS. Or go to medical school. Have to SEE blood. Touch body parts that have not seen the light of day in years. Or deal with insurance companies/HMOs. Or tell someone they are dying from an illness. The list can go on and on for all the things doctors deal with in their profession that I would not be want to do.

When you feel envious, you are often looking at an idealized version of someone else’s life. Not the reality of their day-to-day life.

 

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What should you do if you find yourself struggling with the emotion of envy?

1)Use envy to motivate yourself. Look at whoever or whatever it is you are envious of. What do they have that you want? Use envy to help you figure out your goals, desires, and values. Do you feel envy when you see a friend’s never-ending travel pics on Instagram? Maybe you have an untapped desire to travel and see the world. Feeling envious when you see a friend in a bikini pic? Maybe it is time to look at your own diet and workout routine. It may be time to work on creating the physique of your dreams. If used appropriately, envy can be a compass guiding us towards things we want in our OWN life.

2)Practice self-compassion. Whatever you feel, don’t be so hard on yourself. Envy tends to arise in someone with a critical spirit–towards others AND themselves. Don’t fight against whatever it is you are feeling but try to engage in these emotions in a positive way. Envy leads to poor decision-making. All emotions, including the uncomfortable ones, are teaching us something about ourselves. We tend to be hard on ourselves for feeling the normal range of human emotions. It is okay to feel envious. However, it is not healthy to act out on these feelings towards others.

3)Start a gratitude practice. Often I have clients start a daily gratitude journal. Envy is counting other people’s blessings instead of being appreciative of our own.  Gratitude helps us focus on all the positive things in our life. Practicing gratitude helps people to be more satisfied with their own life and less focused on others.

4)Reflect on what you feel is missing in your life. If you are feeling envious towards your friend, what is it you feel is missing from your own life? Envy tends to arise from having low-self esteem and feeling unfulfilled. Spend some time reflecting on your goals, desires, and dreams. Is there something in your life that is making you feel dissatisfied? Make a realistic game plan to work towards achieving all that you want out of your life. If you are busy working towards your own goals, you won’t have much time to spend feeling envious of others.

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5)Understand your own capabilities. If you are jealous of a singer or athlete, ask yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what they achieved on that level. I cannot be envious of someone who sings or is an incredible athlete because I am not capable of either.  I am a 100% okay with that because I accept those are gifts I do not have. I find it is more productive to focus on the strengths I do have and build on those. We all have different aptitudes and potentialities.

6)Ask yourself if you really want what someone else has. Are you envious of someone who makes big bucks working in the financial sector but you are risk averse and HATE numbers? This go back to looking at the reality of the life of someone you are envious of. Are you a working mom who when you son gets sick starts to wish you were a stay-at-home mom? Yet when you were on maternity leave you were dying to get back to work because you missed it? We fall into feelings of envy when we forget about the compromises involved in our choices. The compromise we ALL have made in our choices.

Perhaps you have days you wish you could be home with your kids but you enjoy the professional fulfillment of your career and being independent is an important value to you-financial and otherwise. You wouldn’t be happy being financially dependent on someone else or without the ability to use your education and skills. Your kids are also already in school so you wouldn’t be home with them most of the day anyway.

Therefore your envy of a stay at home mom is not what you really want if you were to weigh the pros and cons. You are solely focused on the benefits and not the big picture of what that choice means giving up. This is a common dilemma I hear from women especially as it relates to balancing one’s career with being a parent. Don’t fall victim to the grass is always greener syndrome.

7)Be cognizant of the negativity envy brings to your life. Envy damages and destroys relationships. It creates unhealthy competition. It leads to negative feelings about yourself AND others.

Envious people think life is a zero sum game. They view another person’s win as their own loss. This comes from a scarcity mindset.

Indulging feelings of envy is a road to unhappiness. Have you ever met an envious person who did not seem miserable? Unlikely.

Feelings of envy are likely to lessen as you mature and as you learn to be realistic of your potentialities and accept your limitations.

Try not to worry about what others have.

At the end of the day, we all have our OWN race to run. Comparing yourself to others is a race your will NEVER will and all it will do is SLOW you down on your way to achieving your goals.

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