We all know how badly it feels when we are envious of someone else. We feel envy when we want what someone else has or feel unhappy about the success of another. Sometimes our envious feelings are misinterpreted as feelings of hostility and anger. At other times our envious feelings are associated with feelings of shame because we feel inferior to the person we envy and the person we compare ourselves to. Envy is a secretly held emotion that we usually do not share with others. Envious feelings are not just triggered by material possessions. We tend to envy people in our community, social circle, and family who are well regarded, admired, influential, and successful.
Feeling envious is normal; we ALL feel it from time to time. However, persistent envious feelings contribute greatly to depression, global feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Envious feelings usually stem from deep seated feelings of dissatisfaction with our self-image, our life accomplishments and feelings of inadequacy and low-self-esteem. Deep down our envious feelings are often the result of our own wishes to have whatever the person we are envious of has such as their career, financial success, social status or material possessions. Persistent envious feelings can also damage our relationships. Envious people often diminish the people they envy in an attempt to neutralize their envious emotions. They may do this by speaking poorly about the person they envy when with others or abruptly “cut off” their relationship with the person they envy.
Jealousy is often confused with envy. Jealousy is something we feel when we fear an important relationship is in jeopardy. The most common example of jealousy is when an older sibling becomes jealous of a younger sibling because he/she fears the younger sibling will take his mother/father away from him/her. Fears of abandonment and loss are often connected with jealousy.
So the question is, “How can examining our envious feelings help us?” To begin with, an awareness of what is driving our envious feelings provides us with important self- knowledge about the things we actually want to accomplish that we were not unaware of before looking inward. This knowledge acts as a positive motivational force and can help us accomplish what it was we were envious of in the first place. Awareness of our envious feelings also gives us the power and permission to change our envious feelings and ultimately to make BIG changes in our own lives. For example, if I was envious of a co-worker’s promotion, instead of holding myself back by accepting or giving into my envious feelings, I could create a plan of my own for getting a promotion. It’s important to realize that there will be some envious wishes that may be unachievable. For example, if you are envious of the newest celebrity on the Hollywood scene, achieving a similar career may be impossible to accomplish.
Below are 4 tips to help you find the positive side of envy:
1. Be honest with yourself about your envious feelings. Most of us do not want to admit that we have envious feelings toward another. It’s important to remember that we all feel envy and to accept these feelings as a normal part of life. Write a list of what exactly it is you envy about a particular person.
2. Decide what you envy about another that can be realistic goals for you to pursue. We allhave our own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. What another person is great at doing we may not be. And the opposite is true too, what we may be great at doing, someone else is not. Pursue goals that are compatible with your strengths and talents and make a plan for achieving them.
3. Minimize social comparisons. It’s normal to socially compare ourselves to others and to feel competitive. These are the measures we use for our own self-evaluation. Self-esteem is determined by how well we measure up on our social comparisons. For example, if we measure up to our expectations and goals we feel good and excited. If we do not measure up we feel depressed or ashamed. Persistent social comparisons can be damaging to our self-esteem and increase our envious feelings, especially when we feel we are not measuring up to our ideal selves.
4. Interpret your envious feelings as an opportunity for growth. Examining what, who and why you envy makes you aware of what you want in your life. Remember, you would not feel as strongly about the person you envy if whatever they have is not also important or a priority for you.