My friend Grace is a massage therapist. Long ago, she got her master’s degree in psychology. In her studies, she did a research project on jealousy and envy. She said that during the study, very few of the participants ever admitted to actually feeling jealous or envious in the situation that Grace had created. And yet, they all had spiteful and catty reactions when the person (of whom they “weren’t jealous”) faced sudden failure. And given the opportunity, the participants trashed this person, even reveled in doing so. Grace and I were at a dinner party when she told me about this. It started a lively conversation about jealousy and envy, and how uncomfortable it can be to admit to, feel, and deal with these emotions.
Last week, I clicked on a blog that linked to mine. A fellow blogger (also a songwriter) wrote a post about feeling jealous of me and my success in music. Her feelings were raw, exposed, and clearly uncomfortable. I felt immediate compassion, mostly because there’s so little support for this very real shadow side of us humans. Jealousy and envy can make you feel isolated, small, and pathetic.
Much of the media needs you to be jealous. It encourages envy. This is what hooks the reader and the viewer. And it’s what gets them to buy things. This isn’t a secret. And it’s not worth discussion. It just is. For women, this pattern usually starts early. I started wishing I was other people by the age of seven. I got my first Teen Magazine at the age of nine. My nieces, the oldest of whom is ten (TEN!) are already hooked into it. They’re already in the pattern of comparison, jealousy, and criticism. And they are beautiful and sweet little girls. It seems that this has become accepted behavior.
The flip side is the “Be Nice” message that also bombards us. I believe this is where the real damage happens. This is what causes the shame that locks the jealousy firmly into place. This message comes from our churches, and our schools, and our parents. “Be nice! (But be a little more like her, too, okay?)”
Another level of the “Be Nice” message comes from the success gurus. The Law of Attraction. The message here is that if you don’t celebrate everyone else’s success, then you’re blocking your own success, and you’ll inevitably fail, be more miserable, and no one will want to include you in their circles of successful people who aren’t jealous or envious. (Okay, so they don’t actually say all that — but when you’re feeling awful, it can seem like they are!)
It’s true that opening up to other people’s victories will open you to your own. It’s true that your joy attracts more joy. AND it’s also true that if you can’t find your way to that joyful place, then the confusion and pain that accompany your envy can be devastating.
Jealousy and Envy as Teachers
Jealousy and envy are grey matter. They’re not black or white. They don’t make you a bad person. In fact, they aren’t even the truth of you. You’re not a jealous person. You are not your envy.
Becoming aware of these shadow aspects of ourselves is a process and a slow letting go. It’s not a matter of seeing that your shirttail is hanging out, and quickly tucking it back in. (Though eventually, with some work, you’ll get better at saying “no” when jealousy begins to pop into your consciousness.)
If you’ve been prone to the pattern of envy or jealousy throughout your life, then most likely, these emotions are your spiritual teachers. They will ultimately help you transcend. But probably for a while, you will have to face them, not just tuck them in.
Tips for Healing Jealousy and Envy
1 – Claim your own stuff
I was working in a video-editing suite with two women. Both are mothers. Both have boys. They were talking about their relief about having boys, not girls. One of them said, “God I can’t stand girls. They’re mean. They’re jealous. They’re cruel. I don’t even like women. I’d rather be with men. Women are horrible.”
On the one hand, it’s always good to know where you stand with someone. So, I guess I had that in my favor. But obviously, neither of them could see the irony of what they were saying.
Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” AA says, “You spot it. You got it!” If you’re threatened by women, if you’re surrounded by jealousy and negativity, if your daughters are cruel, then the very best thing you can do is look within. The only place to begin shifting is inside of you. Stop wishing the outside were different. Start being the difference.
2 – Stop trying to figure it out
Trying to “figure out why” can keep you stuck. “Why am I so jealous? Why am I so envious? Why can’t I be more like that guy who’s never jealous?” Those questions don’t serve the situation. Those questions are just your ego. Your ego doesn’t want you to face the actual feeling because it’s so unbearably uncomfortable. So it creates a smoke screen by asking why. This might make you feel even worse, but at least you’re not having to experience the feeling. Feeling bad is sometimes easier than feeling uncomfortable.
3 – Go on a media diet
Every morning at the gym, I’m surrounded by women on the cross-trainers reading People, Self, Cosmo and Us. I don’t do these magazines. They weaken me. I can feel it. They don’t honor the soul. They don’t seek to uplift. In my posts about bulimia, I wrote about how the first healing step I took was to stop reading women’s magazines. I stand by that even today, especially when it comes to self-esteem and envy. I also recommend avoiding mainstream media period.
4 – Ask yourself if you can allow this feeling
This is one of the steps of the Sedona method. When you’re having a jealousy episode, just ask yourself if you can allow it to be there. This one step alone will ease up on the shame and the discomfort. Even if the answer is “no,” then you’re at least acknowledging the feeling. Just keep sitting with it and asking, “Can I allow this to be here? What would happen if I just allowed this feeling to exist for a moment?” I’ve done this. It creates space. It shifts the resistance. It releases the shame. Then the jealous feelings have a chance to move and diffuse.
5 – Find the humor
Once, after I performed on the main stage at a festival, I was standing in the crowd with my friend Steve Seskin. Steve had performed the same day as well. We were watching another act, and the crowd was going crazy. I looked at Steve, and I said, “Look at them. There they were cheering for me and acting like I was the best thing ever. Now they’ve moved on.” And Steve started laughing and he said, “It’s like a lover who’s now in bed with someone else making all the same groans and sounds as she made with me! And I wanna say, “Hey wait! I thought I was the one you loved!” (If you’ve ever seen Steve perform, you know how funny he can be with those kinds of exclamations.)
Sometimes it’s good just to laugh at these things. It’s kind of funny. Anne Lamott wrote a fantastic essay on jealousy in her book Bird by Bird. It’s perfect, and funny, and so real. You don’t have to take it all so seriously.
6 – Ask friends not to agree with you
My belief is that the worst thing a friend can do is to meet you at the level of your jealousy. Agreeing with you that the envied person is, in fact, an undeserving bitch. Or even saying, “Well you’re better than her anyway.” These things don’t heal. They keep you stuck at that level. If you need to talk with someone, then first ask that person to listen and not go there. Or better yet, call someone you know won’t go there. It can feel really nice to have someone bolster you up and tell you that you’re better than so-and-so and that you deserved it more. But it doesn’t clear the emotion. You need to be listened to so that you can move beyond the feelings, not so that you can feel vindicated.
The best remedy for any negativity, comparison, jealousy or envy is just to get creative. Write your next blog. Paint your next picture. Play guitar. Do something that makes you proactive. Get out of the reactivity. Creativity is a powerful place. And it shifts everything.
8 – Are you tired, overwhelmed, or hungry?
Being tired or hungry can make you more vulnerable to old patterns. I added the word “overwhelm” to the mix because jealousy can often come up in situations where there’s too much going on and you can’t find your center. Any of these kinds of very physical situations can bring on an episode. Take a nap. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat when you’re hungry. Move away from the overwhelm and get quiet. These are very real things. Especially if you’re an artist or creative type.
9 – Get quiet and centered
Sit still. Be quiet. And just feel the feeling without the story. Feel where the jealousy resides inside of you. Feel the envy without the story of the envy. If you can sit and breathe long enough, then it will pass. I promise. Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth is an excellent read when it comes to letting go of the story. So is Byron Katie’s new book A Thousand Names for Joy.
10 – The enneagram
If jealousy and envy are patterns for you, then I would highly recommend looking into the enneagram. Many artists and creative types are the number 4 on the enneagram. The 4 also faces a lot of issues with envy. Just reading about the pattern, and learning to witness it as just that – a pattern – can liberate you in ways that you can’t imagine. The best book on the enneagram is The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
11 – Mastery
Whatever career path you’re on, you have the choice to become a master. Not necessarily of the career or the craft or the art. But of you. That’s what keeps me going. If you want to reach, inspire, help, encourage, heal in any way, most likely it’s going to require that you face your own demons in that process. If jealousy comes up, then it’s a teacher for you. That’s all. Let it be. That’s where your biggest treasures will be.
12 – Remember to focus on where you want to be
Don’t forget the power of intent. Just remember that this is not where you want to be. State out loud, even in your jealousy, “I ultimately want to rejoice in the success and good fortunes of others. I want to be clear and happy. I want to celebrate all victories.” Just knowing that you want this will start you on your way, even if you’re not there yet.
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