How To Overcome Envy in Yourself and in Your Friends
Have you ever been around someone and thought to yourself, “If I become successful, they aren’t going to be happy for me.” Or maybe you are the one not happy for your friends. When you see others come into their own, it’s hard to bear and the green-eyed monster comes out. Someone who studied envy a lot was Melanie Klein, a child psychologist, who noticed that some children have more envy than others. Unlike Freud, Klein was in the business of learning about how people grow- and what holds us back from self-growth? Envy. Envy seeks to destroy the good. Instead of gaining and depending on the good of others to learn and grow, envy bites the hand that feeds it.
Picture this: there’s all of these wonderful people in the world who have gifts, strengths, and experience. They possess the good in the world- and good things that we want. In order to get the goodness that they have, we would need to depend on them: maybe they could help us get what they have. You would go through a process of admiration, tell them you would like to learn from them, and they can give you the “good” that they have or tell you how to get it. This is how we grow: we learn from those who have good things, depend on them for guidance, and we can possess what they have. If it’s a skill that we can’t acquire, we can still benefit from their skills by being in partnership with them or receiving what they have to offer. Either way, it’s a win for you. This requires bearing knowing that there is good in another that you don’t have, and that’s okay. It requires knowing that you also have wonderful goodness to offer the world too.
When envy creeps into this process, here’s how it goes: there’s all of these wonderful people in the world who have gifts, strengths, and experience. They possess the good in the world- and good things that we want. You feel shame so much that you can’t see the good in yourself and the good that you can give the world too. You go through a process of idealization and splitting where the good person is all good and you are all bad. You think, “They have it all.” There are two ways to cope with this envy: 1. You distance yourself. You end up not getting the learning experience you need to gain the good from them and stay stagnant which reinforces that you are bad and good things don’t come your way. 2. You compete with the “all-good” person and do it on your own- you try to prove to yourself that you are the good one and they are the bad one instead. While this may feel like a good option that still helps you grow, you lose out on relationships with people who have something good to offer you.
What happens when the person you envy is also an envious person? They might self-aggrandize and therefore make you even more envious- reiterating that they really do have it all! How dare they. Some people like to be idealized and it creates an even worse envy cycle. All I have to say to this is: don’t believe it. Know that they struggle with envy too and underneath that self-aggrandizing is insecurity.
How To Overcome Envy:
- Get close to the person that you envy. We can only idealize people who are far away. You might have some goodness to offer them as well.
- Figure out a way to benefit from their goodness. Ask them to teach you something. If you admire how many friends they have, ask to join their social events. If they have children, ask if you can hang out with their kids. If they have awesome parents, ask if you can hang out with their parents. In other words, they can share.
- Notice when you idealize. No one has it all. Notice when you distance from people you envy. You have something good to offer them too, and they might want to be close to you because they see the good in you. Give them a chance.
- Notice people who self-aggrandize. Don’t feed into the lie that they have it all- no one does. This means that they have envy too, and on the other side of this is insecurity.
- Don’t compete. When you compete, you do it alone. View the person you want to compete with as a resource/helper to get what you want.
How To Overcome Envy in Your Friends:
- Notice when envy is happening. I think there’s stigma around thinking that your friend is envious of you, but trust your intuition here.
- Call them out. Envy is sometimes unconscious, so they might not be self-aware of the envy. But if they are envious, they might try to sabotage your goodness and you can call out their behavior. Also, calling someone out is risky and might backfire. Assess what the risks are- especially if it’s in a work setting or place where you are forced to see the person who is envious.
- Have boundaries. Use them in whatever way you need. Envy can manifest in whatever way they need to sabotage your goodness, so this could mean gossip, smear campaigns, devaluing you, etc.
- Compliment them. This may seem too generous especially if they are acting out from their envy, but if you read the story above, envious people don’t know their good compared to you. So showing them through a compliment how they have taught you something, or something you gain from them can even out the scales for them.
- Share your vulnerabilities. If you feel safe to, sharing your vulnerabilities can make you more human to the person who idealizes you and they will realize you don’t have it all.
If you struggle with envy, I would love to work with you. I’m a therapist in the Los Gatos/San Jose area. I want to help you discover your goodness so that you can grow and gain all the goodness that the world has to offer. Feel free to contact me by dropping a comment below or visit my website at morganhancockmft.com to get more information.