If you have ever felt envious of another’s good fortune or overshadowed by someone’s success, you will know how harmful jealousy can be. Envy can manifest itself in many ways including sibling rivalry, competitive feelings with work colleagues or friends, and a need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. There are several approaches that can help us in overcoming envy.
1) Unmask the Illusion
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches that it is not an actual event but our interpretation of it that causes our emotional response. By becoming aware of our cognitive biases (irrational thought patterns), we can change the way we think about a situation and thereby alter our emotional reaction to it. It is therefore important when feeling envy, to decide if we are looking at the situation in all or nothing terms, where we disqualify the positive that we have and magnify the good the other has. We may also be affected by ‘selective attention’, focusing on one aspect of another’s life without viewing the whole picture.
2) Look Within
Emotions can be considered a form of internal communication, which need to be understood rather than ignored. Envy itself is a graphic illustration which shows that a person wants more than he has. Unraveling the roots of jealousy may involve understanding our own self defeating behaviours, for example being over-fearful, controlling or unmotivated. This may be rooted in our upbringing and youth. Often these behaviours result in us feeling stuck, dissatisfied or unproductive, and at these times we are most prone to feeling envious of others. By understanding self defeating behaviours and accepting responsibility for them, we can learn to move beyond them and express ourselves in more meaningful and fulfilling ways. We can clarify our true aspirations and move forward in our lives, while at the same time accepting that we may have limitations. Envy is reduced not by having more of what another has, but by achieving greater personal fulfillment.
3) Positive Reinterpretation
Jealousy often occurs when people feel a lack in their lives. There is a natural tendency to compare ourselves with others and to become jealous.
The psychiatrist Carl Jung writes about a concept known as ‘the wounded healer.’ The wounded healer is someone who has sought to heal his own wounds, and by so doing, has developed compassion, wisdom and strength to help others overcome theirs. He understands the pain of others since he has experienced it himself, and has become a gifted healer. His difficulty has become his strength.
By realizing how much envy is based on an illusion, using it as a motivation to grow, and understanding that difficult times can be a source of blessing, we can transform envy from a troublesome emotion into a useful ally.