An emotion that is universal to the human experience is envy. It is also for the most part considered shameful. People generally see this feeling as ugly, try to hide and deny it, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Envy can feel toxic, it can balloon to be all-consuming, so powerful at times that one can feel eaten alive by the intense emotional experience.
I see envy as exemplified in the following thought process: “I want what you have, but I believe that I will never be able to have what you have, and so I choose to hate you for it.” Envy is a way we learn to relate to others based on how we see ourselves. In a place of envy, we see ourselves as inadequate, as struggling to obtain “enough,” at the same time we encounter those whom we believe have “enough.” There can be much unfounded idealizing of others that accompanies this feeling. In idealizing others, we often don’t feel adequate, believing we don’t measure up. We can do ourselves a disservice and undeservedly project our own goodness onto others, losing sight of where those attributes actually reside – within us. We also lose sight of seeing other people as whole, with their own triumphs and difficulties. Left unchecked, envy can even eclipse whatever humanity we may feel toward another person.
So what do we do with envy? Working on seeing others as whole is important, but on an even deeper level it is imperative to work on seeing ourselves fully, by embracing and celebrating our own strengths and struggles. Embracing a struggle may be cringe-worthy for some, or sound like a paradox. Our own issues can be like a Chinese finger trap: the more we resist and attempt to pull away, the more entrenched and trapped we can sometimes end up becoming in the issue. Leaning into the difficulty may be helpful in moving through it, its not easy, but its also not impossible. And as with the Chinese finger trap analogy, it is when we go a little further into the trap that we end up having more space and freedom from it.
Of course, coping with envy and our problems is not just about positive reframes, gratitude lists, and inspirational quotes, although those tools can be helpful. Gaining a deeper understanding of envy requires persistent use of transformative processes, in which you actively engage, and attempt to cope and deal with your envy.
A great place to start is by addressing your own sense of inadequacy, one that likely feels that it is Truth with a capital T. Why do you see yourself as inadequate when compared to others, and why do you hold on to such feelings? How does it serve you to see yourself as perpetually not-good-enough, and how does that impact your relationships with those of whom you are envious?
Changing your own self-perception requires addressing your core beliefs about who you are and how you see yourself. If you can make pursuit of such introspection a priority, you will have taken the first step toward a deeper understanding of envy.