Envy is one of the most horrible emotions and we’ve all felt it. It’s the force that needles you in the heart when someone else gets your desire. It’s the thing that sours your enjoyment of what you love most. It can make you feel physically sick, it can feed depression and it can drive you to do mean things you wouldn’t normally consider.
Here are some ways I’ve found for overcoming envy before it destroys your relationships or self esteem! And you know what? Envy can actually be good once you make peace with it.
Identify envy as what it is
The thing about the green-eyed monster is that it’s insidious. It doesn’t walk into your brain calling itself envy. It sneaks in wearing the face of something else. Like annoyance, rejection, or even anger.
When someone gives you a negative impression, make a habit of asking yourself why. Is the problem with them? Or is it maybe a little bit of jealousy?
There are successful people I admire who I initially had a negative reaction to. Once I sorted through the reason why, I came to understand that I disliked them because they made me feel insecure or bad about myself in comparison. That’s not their fault and they don’t deserve to be at the receiving end of my negativity.
Learn more about the person you’re in envy with
Envy is ignorance because it’s a one-sided relationship based on limited information. On social media we’re constantly inundated with the highlights of other people’s lives. Few people will share the difficulties because they don’t want to be a burden, they don’t want to be seen as negative, or they simply want the world to think their lives are awesome. It can be difficult to keep perspective (to the point where Instagram is now removing the like counter).
It’s important to remind yourself that you’re not seeing the full story. What may look like the perfect family, the successful career or the beautiful body is often underscored by hours of unglamorous hard work or even horrible dark things like chronic illness in themselves or loved ones that you know nothing about. I’m never going to post about my husband’s work struggles or my father’s health issues. I don’t want to seem like I’m looking for sympathy, and I don’t think that’s interesting content for other people. That doesn’t mean the stuff isn’t happening behind the scenes.
As in the Art of War, in the art of defeating envy, getting to know your enemy better and seeing the truth behind everything you envy is a great tactic.
Stop comparing yourself
Thing is, even if you go Sherlock on them you’ll never see the full picture. Didn’t your math teacher ever tell you about comparing apples and oranges? Before you can compare things, you need to make them the same. And you can probably see where I’m going with this. No two people are the same. There are too many variables.
You have no idea what that person has been through, who they know, what they’ve learned, or even their chemical make up. So how can you compare yourself? You’ve probably achieved a bunch of things they haven’t that you don’t even consider because they’re so much a part of your life or they were easy for you. Maybe you moved overseas, maybe you had a family, maybe you spent years looking after a relative, maybe you have mental health issues they don’t have.
And here’s the very important thing to remember: you’re the only one who cares. No one sits with printouts of the people they like and compares traits to see who they like more. That’s crazy. So stop doing it to yourself. Your path is different and that’s perfectly okay! You know things that they don’t know, you are things that they’re not.
Set goals to achieve the things you’re envious of
Fixating on what other people are doing or how they’re acting is not going to get you anywhere. Once you’ve identified your envy, and you’ve managed to convince yourself the subject of your envy is not super human, figure out an action plan to get what you want. As I’ve said before, small goals are important. You’re not going to become Facebook Famous in a day, but envy can be a good thing. It’s a very useful tool for showing us what we really want in life.
I am not envious of models. I am sickly envious of people who have successful writing careers! That’s like a super huge spotlight (the ones you see in prisons in the movies) shining on what I should be focusing my attention on.
Sometimes it’s impossible to achieve the things that we’re envious of and that’s why we’re envious of them. Sometimes medical or financial issues stand in the way. Or, worst of all, sometimes it’s luck. But the thing about small achievable goals is that they allow you to tell yourself you’re heading in the right direction even if it’s slowly. Very few things are entirely out of reach.
And if that doesn’t work?
Say the person you’re so envious of is in a position you could never ever hope to achieve, no matter how many goals you set up. You may never be a Kardashian or a Princess or an Astronaut because you weren’t born in the right place in the right time. Here’s what you do:
Let it go!
There are generally two types of envy: hostile envy and depressive envy. Hostile envy ruins your relationships with others because it turns you into a horrible person who wants them to fail. Depressive envy ruins your relationship with yourself. Both are equally destructive and you need to protect yourself from them.
Sometimes negative emotions run too deep for us to stomp them out and they only make us miserable. Once you’ve identified the envy, if humanising the subject and setting goals don’t work, you may have no option but to retreat.
Sometimes you need to unfollow those people who are giving you the negative feels, sometimes you need to avoid reading stories about them, sometimes you need to carve yourself a little peace in life. You’re allowed.
And when you’ve built up these external walls, don’t forget to guard your own mind too. Stop negative thought spirals as they start. Catch the slithery thoughts and interrogate them until they don’t bother to come back anymore.
All of this starts with accepting that envy is a normal emotion that does not make you a bad person. It’s how you deal with it that counts.