The experience of envy is common, and yet we often avoid talking about it.
Envy can cause a profound sense of shame or embarrassment. But like other emotions, it actually serves an important purpose and function in our lives.
In psychology, envy is often classified as either malicious or benign.
Benign envy can spur us on to greater accomplishments and malicious envy can create problems in our lives.
Common sources of envy include money, appearance, success, acclaim, relationships and status.
When we experience envy, we may find ourselves focused on what others have and what we don’t.
Envy can also lead us to discount what we do have and devalue our own accomplishments.
Envy is a primitive evolutionarily emotion; we all experience it — as well as the shameful feelings envy can often engender.
We live in a competitive culture that fosters a scarcity mindset. This mindset teaches us that there aren’t enough resources to go around and that there isn’t enough space for each of us to live out our passions and visions. As a result, we often believe that if someone else has something that we want (e.g., professional recognition, a fulfilling romantic relationship, financial stability) or is doing something we want (e.g., running a successful business with a similar mission, writing a book on a topic close to our hearts), that we can’t or won’t be able to live similar lives or achieve similar goals.
It’s an outdated model of thinking, since there not only IS room for us all, but also because the world truly benefits from a diversity of perspectives as well as many people contributing similar things to the world in their own unique ways.
The fact that someone else has achieved something actually shows us what is possible ~ that it may be within reach for us, too. Sometimes recognizing the impact of this scarcity mindset and its pitfalls can help loosen envy’s grip.
When you experience envy, think about the triggering events, specific thoughts and feelings in your body.
Some of the ways envy can manifest include the following:
Acknowledge the feelings of envy and the triggers without judging or your experience.
Have compassion for yourself and the difficult emotions that you may be grappling with.
Feeling the pain and intensity of envy — rather than pushing it away — is important.
Often our response to envy and our attempts to escape the feelings involve actions that actually make things worse and perpetuate or sustain the envy.
Explore the urges you have in response to the feelings of envy — resisting harmful urges and listening to more helpful ones.
Harmful urges can emerge as judging or criticizing others, such as their successes and appearance, or having urges to get even or wishing them bad luck.
On the flip side, positive urges include working harder to achieve what you want and trying to improve yourself and your situation.
Resist harmful urges by acting in an opposite manner.
For example, tell others something that you admire or appreciate about them when you have an urge to get even or judge them.
When you are acting opposite, you need to do so in mind, body and spirit.
You can’t say nice things while internally thinking unkind thoughts or wish people well but then gossip about them.
You need to align your thoughts, words and actions, but you also don’t need to force kindness before you feel ready.
So if you have a commitment to not engage with envy, you may need to do some inner work before taking behavioral steps.
Try to understand why you are bothered or upset.
Sometimes when you explore this question, you can tap into the underlying needs in your life that may be unmet.
If you are envious of another person’s success, ask yourself… How would your life be different if you had that success?
Maybe you think you’d be happier and more confident.
Success, for you, may feel like it would increase your self-worth, which feels really low right now.
That speaks to a need for affirmation, so the question is how can you build your own self-worth and how can you seek affirmation from others?
When we know how to work with and learn from envy, we can relate to it in a way that helps us meet unmet needs and live in closer alignment with ourselves and our values.
To learn more about navigating the wisdom of envy and how to deal with envy listen to the full podcast episode (which includes a helpful meditation)…
As a holistic coach, psychologist, mindfulness, meditation & yoga instructor, & Ayurvedic doula I offer personalized paths to growth & healing.