Sunday, 10 July 2016

What can Envy teach you?

'Whatever emotion you pick, it will be the right one,' the workshop tutor announced as I dipped my hand into a plastic to fish out a tiny piece of paper. Each described an emotion that we would have to weave into a poem as a writing exercise in class. Jealousy, anger, shyness, shame... How annoying that I picked Envy, as if The Universe knew my darkest secret and wanted to lay it bare.

She glares up at me
through the pleasantries,
and all those lovely things
I say to you, my friend.


I wish she'd leave me alone.
but her green eyes know
my deepest, darkest secrets.

She's not a friend, 

and I've confessed too much to her already.
But I can't seem to stop - 
my guts are filled with poison
and she feeds off that stuff.

She snakes her arm around my shoulder

while I say how glad I am for you, my friend,
for having all the things I haven't got
and doing all the things I haven't done.

She whispers,

in away that only Envy knows,
like lovers sometimes do:
'A friend or a foe -
what am I to you?'

A feeling like jealousy has a lighter tone to it. If I had to choose a colour for jealousy, I would use a fiery red or a fuchsia pink for wanting to stand out and compete. But not so with Envy. If I envisage Envy, I imagine a substance like mercury and assign it one of the darkest shades on the colour wheel. The Proverbs sum up the feeling pretty accurately: 'Envy makes the bones rot.' 

For me, Envy feels like drinking poison and loving it. There is almost something sexy about Envy - like a new best friend who knows your hidden desires, turning your old friend into an enemy.

Envy makes it really easy to lie to someone. Have you ever said: 'I'm so happy for you. I'm so glad,' when on the inside you've been shriveling away? And with these feelings you're not too far off from wishing for harm to come to another person, thinking that have something that you don't. Of course, it's all untrue. 

Mary C Lamia Ph.D. describes Envy in the following words on Psychology Today: 'We really can't know what another person's life is like, but an envious person just assumes that the other person is happier or better.' We create an ideal image of the other person's life, picturing them as having all the things we want to have all of the time. Envy creates a fantasy world where things we want to have are limited and exclusive, yet available to everyone except us.

Is envy a natural feeling? Where does it stem from? Thinking back to times when I've felt envious,  it has usually come about when someone (most often a close friend with whom we have much in common) has had something that I desire but feel I cannot have. A happy relationship, for example. A trip abroad. A flawless body. A certain status. Attention.

Things I want to have in my life, perhaps even without realizing it.  And they're not things that I could never dream of having - just things I know I would have to work hard at getting.

Envy also stems from certain beliefs I hold. For example, that I must achieve all my goals right now because - let's face it - I ain't getting any younger. I must travel the world, write a book, build a career, get married and have kids - all at the same time. If I see someone of the same age as me ticking off one of the things I have on my bucket list, or - worse - if someone younger than me is ticking things off their list, then Envy has its hay day. 

So age, as well as desire, seems to be a factor that influences the outbursts of Envy.

Mary also points out that Envy can stem from our childhood - we can become unconsciously envious of the things that our parents envied in others.  'For example, if your parents struggled financially and wished for more money, you might envy those who have it. Or if a parent idealized a college education that was impossible to obtain, you might admire intellectual pursuits.'

When I feel envious, I completely overlook the work that the people I'm envious of have put into achieving whatever it is that I want to have, or the circumstances and events that have all occurred in order for them to be where they are today. I begin to see them as geniuses or as very fortunate indeed. And this is where the feeling of injustice or unfairness comes from.

But in the words of Andrew Carnegie, a steel magnate who built his huge fortune from nothing: 'Analysis of the cause of their success would show that they were only average men who have discovered and applied certain rules which enabled them to get from where they started to where they wished to go.'

While Envy blinds me, I cannot see clearly the chain of events and personal effort that preceded someone attaining the things that I wish to have. And with that mindset which skips many fundamental steps, I begin to feel as if life were unjust and favored anyone but me.  

How can you overcome Envy? And is there anything that can be gained from feeling it?

Like all negative feelings, Envy is a darn good teacher. Envy puts my deepest desires into a sharp focus. As its poison fills my bones, I can take stock of my life and look at the ways I could achieve the things I want to have. Envy also points out the limiting belief systems that I am holding onto. Envy seems to call me into action - go after your dreams, or I will never leave you. 

So I'll just have to live with Envy. But next time it calls on my heart, I will honor my dreams and desires and start to take small steps towards achieving them. 

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