What to do with envy
It first happened a couple of weeks ago, I heard a bit of good news (someone else’s good news) and I was excited, ecstatic, over the moon for them, relieved because it was a problem solved and underneath all that, like a faint aftertaste, enough to recognise its presence but not so much to discredit the emotions that came before it, jealous. Right there in that moment I covered it up with a bunch of congratulations, increasing my actual voice almost to drown out whatever that was.
As you can imagine, it didn’t completely leave, everything that came after that activated the emotion I felt the first time. It was like a fly constantly buzzing and no amount of positivity, ignorance, distraction could swat it away. More than anything, I was irritated by it, mostly because I already have enough on my plate, about myself to tinker and work on, I did not need one more thing to add to my “things I need to fix about myself list”. Plus I pride pride myself on being the receptacle for good news, on being the safe space where people can expand, be loud and brag on themselves without thinking that Aanu will feel “somehow”, when people tell me “you’re the first person I thought of to call with this good news” I am honoured, proud, over the moon. So where did that come from? And more importantly, how can I get it to leave?
Thinking about envy had me curious on why we have quite the judgemental stance towards it, even anger isn’t met with so much vehemence. I think our relationship with it comes from a didactic stance. In all the stories we’ve read, almost everyone of them have a weird thing with envy at the beginning and it spills over into some evil vendetta, starting with the ugly step sister, to most biblical stories you’ve read. Read the book of proverbs and everything it says about envy, the moral lesson is usually “don’t be envious”. Which would be great, except they never say how.
Envy says something about our desire, it identifies a want or specifically, the absence of a want and how we feel about that absence. People often lead with emotional reason here, “I’m envious because their success makes me feel like a failure”, then we process this reasoning with shoulds “I shouldn’t feel this way, it’s tacky”, finally because this is yet another uncomfortable emotion, we blame them “it is because they are flaunting it, tweeting about it, that I am this way, they made me feel this way”. These thoughts do not resolve how we feel, they compound it. Guilt and shame layered on envy is not a sandwich I want to bite into. So how can we navigate envy when it comes?
Accept it. Envy is just as valid as every emotion you feel, it has data, it is fed and created by all of the things you’ve been taught to want, to have, to need. When these things are absent, envy is one of many things you may feel, and that’s ok. You may choose to notice it, name it, treat it like a visitor, a very unwanted, but not a disruptive one. You may also notice what the envy makes you do, what else does it make you feel? Are you irritated? Angry? What does it make you do? How do you self soothe even if you don’t know that you are trying to self soothe? Do you isolate yourself, bark at people, are you more critical? Do you lose self compassion? Do you eat more? Exercise till you are worn out? Work more? What are the results of these actions?
Lean into the discomfort, the weird thing is you’re not meant to be happy all the time, that’s a very maladaptive state to be in. You don’t need happiness to deal with danger or emergencies, you need fear; you don’t need to be happiness to attend justice movements, you need anger; you don’t need happiness when you lose a loved one, you need sadness. Every emotion has its job, including envy. Figure out the work of its discomfort, what can it fuel? What does it teach you about your want or perception about your ability to achieve that want? Don’t be in a rush to cure the discomfort that you miss out on its gift. Stay and interact with it, you’ll be fine.
Here’s what my interaction brought me: “it took you awhile to get here… now that you’re here, soothe the wounds you sustained on your way here, congratulate yourself for getting here and push yourself for the road you have ahead”.