Jealousy and Envy: Healing Our Need to Matter – August 2013
There are parents who seem to float through the world with their children. They go into a grocery store, for example, and their toddler sits happily in their seat in the cart, chewing on their fist, watching the world go by. Their children come when they are called at the playground, and leave without protest or tantrums. These kids would never think of locking their mother out of the car and then repeatedly beeping the horn. They have teens who enroll themselves in sports or the arts and get straight A’s, and these parents never seem to have conversations with the vice principal. (sigh.)
This is the particular picture that brings out my envy most deeply, even while I celebrate my own children’s sweetness, self-determination, exploration of the world and their liveliness. I can happily watch beautiful women of my own age running by, actively engaged in self-care, and wish them well. I can enjoy flowing artistic expression and stunning acts of bravery and not mentally send the artists or athletes into the seventh level of hell. But show me a teen’s parent who sleeps in peace all night, and my worst side comes out. I feel my own particular brew of the green-eyed monster: jealousy, contempt, hopelessness, dismissal, tears behind my eyes, exhaustion, rage, impatience, boredom, discomfort, and self-hate.
I wonder if I need empathy? Before I make some needs guesses for myself, let us inquire what makes you most jealous or envious? Do you roll your eyes at charisma? When someone is effortlessly charming, would you like them to be selectively removed from the planet? How about ease with finances? Does your sibling make more than you, have a bigger house or newer car? And do you just feel happy for them? Or would you be horrifiedly delighted if they had to experience a setback now and then? Does your connection with your partner feel tenuous, and are you not sure if you really exist for him or her if you are not alone with that person? Do you want to detonate an h-bomb that would wipe out every other representative of the gender that they prefer? What about when you are with other people who don’t seem to be jealous or envious of anyone? Does that drive you crazy? Are you wondering about shared reality?
Most of us have some particular achilles’ heel about our existence that takes us into envy or jealousy. And when we go there, it’s a guided trip to our own false core beliefs, convictions like: “I am a terrible parent (or a terrible person),” or “I’ll always be poor,” or “I’m ugly,” or “I don’t matter.” And then we blame the person who was unwittingly the stimulus for us remembering our pain, just by being good at something, or peaceful, or well-off, or talented.
So, once we realize the merry-go-round that we are on, how do we get off? As always, our bodies will take us to healing if we let them. Here is a four-step empathy process:
1. What successful people do I feel contempt for? Who am I envious of? What do they do that brings up my pain? (Or if the issue is jealousy of a partner’s attention or love, just start there.)
2. What do I believe about myself in relationship to this other person?
3. Now I repeat my core belief, noticing my body sensations, and making feelings and needs guesses for each repetitions, until my body is utterly calm in the face of that core belief, and I don’t believe it any more.
3.5. (If this belief is not shifting, it may be that painful memories lie in the way. Working with painful memories is another process, described in other writing. You are welcome to send me an e-mail and I’ll send you that process.)
4. Check back with how you feel about this person now. Do you see them more clearly and compassionately? And do you see yourself with more compassion?
So what are my needs guesses for myself? Let’s see – am I hopeless and wishing to know that I contribute? Do I feel exhausted, and do I need to know that the love and the parenting energy will flow through me effortlessly, without me having to auto-generate it all? Do I need trust in my children’s own life process? Is the self-judgment excruciating, and do I need relaxation and acceptance and faith?
This is a big issue for me, and one that will take more time and self-empathy, as it shifts and evolves, but in this moment, I am no longer consigning other sweetly sleeping parents to painful experiences with nettles, flat tires and clouds of black flies.