I was talking with a client about envy—hers—but it also brought up the subject for me, as topics discussed in therapy often do. It’s so easy to fall into the envy trap and it can happen before we realize it. We may not even recognize that envy is what we’re feeling and, instead, experience it as anger at someone for something general or specific.
Though I’ve blogged before on envy, here’s a reminder of what it is: a feeling between two people when you want something that the other person has. It’s different from a jealousy which generally involves three people and occurs when we fear that someone will take something we have. In envy, we want their boyfriend or girlfriend. In jealousy, we’re afraid they’ll take ours.
Here are two approaches to banish envy, the second of which is a suggestion from a client. When you feel envious, try on these ways of thinking.
- Consider what someone might want that is yours.
Maybe you have a great job and live in a beautiful house in a lovely setting, but wish you were slimmer. I’m using the example of thinness because this is what clients tell me they envy most. The next time you see people slimmer than you and wish you had their body or weighed what they do, think about what they might want that you have.
If you envy a friend, you might recall that she lives in a rent-controlled studio and oohs and ahs every time she comes to visit you, swooning over the lake view from your kitchen window. Or a male friend might be bald and wish he had your full head of hair. Alternately, if you envy something a stranger has, you can simply imagine whatever you treasure and them not having it—exceptional children, a comfortable income, doting parents, a prestigious title in your business, lots of tennis trophies, brains and brawn.
- Entertain the mindset that if you obtain the thing of theirs that you want, you need to
take the whole package of who they are and what they have and don’t have.
This means that having a friend’s spouse entails enduring petty, mean in-laws and an in-and-out-of-jail brother who lives with you. If you want a co-worker’s size 2 body, you need to put up with her poor choices in practically every aspect of life and the fact that she has serious dental problems. Realize that whatever you envy may be the only positive thing in a person’s life!
If you envy something a stranger has, you need to take on their burdens— addiction, debt, mental health problems, terrible scruples, and never having close friends. Are you willing to do that for six-pack abs or shedding 10 pounds? Are you willing to exchange all you have for things you definitely don’t want? Something to think about, huh?