Envy and Jealousy

In his collection of essays on the Seven Deadly Sins, Joseph Epstein singles out envy as the most painful of those sins to experience, with none of the ancillary pleasures that go along with, say, lust or gluttony.  As I’ve discussed elsewhere, nobody wants to feel envious or to acknowledge feeling that way to others.  Like hatred in our culture, it remains a taboo subject.  It might be acceptable to admit you feel “jealous” that a friend has a trip planned to Europe or bought an expensive new pair of shoes; there’s a good chance you could one day go on such a trip yourself or add to your own wardrobe.   Jealousy, in this modern sense, means:  “I admire what you have and wish I could have something just like it, too.”  Jealousy is the cleaned up, socially-acceptable version of envy.

Almost nobody would say, “I’m envious that you’re better-looking than I am.”  You can’t change the way you or the other person looks.  Few people would admit, “I’m envious that you have a spouse and children while I haven’t had a relationship in years.”  To admit to such feelings acknowledges a level of hatred most personal relationships can’t tolerate.  For the truth is that envy, the green-eyed monster, wants to destroy what it cannot have.  The “solution” to envy — the way to find relief from the suffering it causes if you can’t have what you envy for yourself — is to make the envied object less worthy of that emotion, by spoiling or destroying it.  Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes speaks of unbearable desire but also describes a psychic mechanism (spoiling) active when envy comes into play.

Another way to cope with envy, in fantasy, is simply to become the object of envy or take possession of it, as I described in my last point on merger fantasies.  Once my client Jim and I understood the nature of those fantasies of merger and he started to separate from his idealized view of me, he began to feel intense envy.  Instead of dreams where my beautiful wife and I gave glamorous parties in our glamorous home, now Jim brought in dreams where that home was destroyed by an earthquake or fire.  In those dreams, his envy hid behind an apparently heartfelt concern for my loss; but as I pointed out to him, it
was his dream.   He was the one who had destroyed my house, even if he seemed to feel sorry for me afterward.

In the school of thought in which I was trained, envy plays an important role in many forms of mental illness; I learned that when you uncovered envy you had reached bedrock.  Over the years since I finished my formal schooling, I’ve come to think differently.  Now I believe that while envy is an inescapable part of the human experience, if you’ve had a good-enough upbringing without too much damage, it’s manageable, more in the realm of “jealousy” as discussed above.  When things go seriously awry, leaving a residue of basic shame, envy becomes intolerable.  In that case, the recognition that someone has attributes or relationships that you don’t and might never have puts you in touch with unbearable shame.  To make matters worse, people who feel such irreparable damage usually long for magical and ideal solutions to their difficulties; as a result, they tend to idealize the person they envy which further inflames that emotion.  It’s a poisonous brew, toxic to the person who feels it and lethal for his or her relationships.

I’ll give a personal example from many years ago, one about which I still feel ashamed.  At a dinner party at my home attended by several friends, including a successful writer who I very much envied as an aspiring writer myself, this writer mentioned a comment someone had recently made to her, about her having psychological and emotional “issues” with men, especially men in positions of authority.  She said she didn’t understand why that person
would tell her such a thing as she didn’t believe there was any truth in it.  I said, “I disagree.  I think you have major issues with men.”  She did, it was true, and what I said was extremely hurtful, especially given that I’m a therapist and when I offer such opinions, it carries some weight.  On an unconscious level, I intended it to hurt, though I didn’t recognize it at the time — an expression of my envy for her.  This was the second remark I discussed in my post about the art of the apology.  In due course, I apologized but the damage was done.  Our friendship never recovered.

Finding Your Own Way:

Have you ever damaged a relationship in the way that I did?  Try to discover if envy motivated you.  See if you can admit what you envy about the person.  Do you justify yourself and your actions, try to make it seem as if the person deserved what you did or that it really was “no big deal”?

Whom do you envy now?  Envy plays a large role in many people’s attitudes toward celebrities, as I discussed in an earlier post.  I wasn’t surprised to hear the justifications people gave for Ricky Gervais’ cruel humor at the Golden Globe Awards.  In a discussion forum I visited, many readers said they believed the injured celebrities should “stop whining,” that they had set themselves up as so “high and mighty” and deserved to be brought down to size.  To me, this is envy talking.  Do you envy rich and famous people and wish them ill?  When you read about their misfortunes on the covers of supermarket tabloids, do feel a small thrill of glee?

What about your friends?  Is there one among them who seems to have so much more than you do?  How do you feel about that person?  Have you ever secretly rejoiced when something bad happened to him or her?  Most likely, it was the emotion of envy rearing its ugly, green-eyed head.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. I have always envied men who seemed to have many more good attributes than I.
    I wish I could stop using this to increase my feelings of inferiority.

    1. Awareness is 1/2 the battle! The next guy with this issue might not have the self-awareness you have, and the interest you have in psychology. He has twice the battle you have.

  2. Envy is self-destructive. It kills both the persons. Envy is an emotional reaction to feelings of inadequacy.

  3. I one time admitted to a guy that I was envious of him and another girl. Next thing I knew, vicious rumors were spreading and they sabotaged me by kicking me out of a common musical group. I was jealous because she didn’t seem to deserve him, but I wondered if she was also jealous, maybe that I could be so open with my emotions, towards him and about her, causing her to sabotage and gossip about me. I definitely got treated worse so I think in some cases envy runs both ways.

  4. Envy is a tough nut. Is long-term psychotherapy the only solution? I’ve had that several times, but envy still flares up during difficult periods in my life and I hate it. Sometimes it seems to me like an evolutionarily outdated survival mechanism run amok. Thanks for your honesty; you have a great writing style.

    1. Interesting that you should mention the evolutionary angle. I’ve been trying to think about what evolutionary advantage envy might have given to our species but can’t quite grasp it. How do you see it as “an evolutionarily outdated survival mechanism”?

      1. Perhaps it’s to keep us as a species from being complacent, to be forward-reaching and expansive. Envy in itself, without the interference from a negative ego and its destructive thought processes, can be a great motivator. If it’s not made to be about “me and my shortcomings”, envy can be a catalyst for change, to allow us to consider that there may be something more or a better way to go about life. It may ignite a desire that has laid dormant within us and bring our attention to it. After all, if we didn’t desire something to begin with we wouldn’t have an envious response. Instead of having a negative and judgmental attitude toward envy, we can instead thank the feeling and thank the person who invoked it, for bringing our attention to something that we’ve been unaware of. And now that we’ve become aware, we have the option of making different choices with our lives and taking different steps to fulfill those desires.

        1. I totally agree about the potentially positive aspects of envy. It can be a great motivator for achievement and only becomes destructive when, rather than attempting to achieve, we try to destroy the thing/person that inspires our envy.

  5. Well I am no expert in sociobiology but I was thinking that back in the day when the cavemen had to literally fight for survival on a daily basis, or even on an hourly one, that envy as a fixed trait would be an adaptive motivational tool for continuously sharpening one’s physical, mental or social skills. That way those skills would always be in place and ready to go at a moment’s notice when danger surfaced.

    So in a sense, envy is not exactly completely outdated, but just way overkill, in the way that a bad temper resulting in violence or even homicide may be an overreaction to a very mild insult, or that a deadly allergic reaction results from an environmental allergen that could normally harm but not kill. Somewhere in the distant past, such mild insults or allergens may have been associated with other, more mortal threats, that no longer exist.

    Envy seems to flare up more during periods of depression or other similar mental states where motivation is more necessary than usual, but it ends up going too far and making things worse, e.g. suicidal thoughts, severe job and relationship dysfunction, etc. So perhaps anti-depressants and psychotherapies that similarly alter brain neurochemistry are somewhat like the anti-allergy medications that correct the overshoot by the immune system.

  6. So many people (when they can admit to being envious) always ask, “So what is the answer? Long-term therapy?” Perhaps it is, I don’t know because I do not have any faith in psychotherapy.

    What I do know is that LOVE is always the answer to any of the 10 Deadly Sins and in the case of envy, it requires that you love yourself and others.

    When you have love for self (stopping short of narcissism) you will not be plagued by feelings of inferiority constantly. When you have love for others, you will know true joy because you will know how to rejoice in their good fortunes and happiness. Love for others is also necessary to feel true sorrow and console another through their grief.

    In short, Love is a necessary requirement of being human.

    1. I also think the “answer” is getting what you want for yourself and your life so you don’t have to envy it in others. If envy has a useful side, it’s that it shows us what we want. As long as we’re not idealizing that outside experience, believing that having X would be the perfect answer to our problems, then it can point the way to satisfaction. I felt envious of my friend the writer; now I write and feel deeply satisfied by having found a way to express myself.

  7. I think most people are envious of some one at some point in there lives. For me it is some thing that I did not want to ever admit to, but at times it is hard not to do. It is an emotion regardless. I agree with the “Answer” is getting what you want for yourself or at least finding what makes you happy. My mom past away this year and before that I was constantly trying to find my own place in the world. Something more than being a mom & house wife. I to started to write, basically about my mom, she had COPD and I was her primary care giver. It amazes me that when one door closes another opens. I know I have ways to go in my writing but I am enjoying it that matters. I really do like your articles and posts. Thanks for sharing so much..

  8. Invidiousness, otherwise known as envy, is best defined as an emotion that transpires when a someone lacks someone else’s superior quality, achievement, or possession (perceived or not) and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.

    Furthermore, envy will derive from a sense of low self-esteem that results from a social comparison threatening a person’s self image. Another person has something that the other considers to be essential. If the other person is considered to be similar, the aroused envy will be particularly intense, because it signals to the envious person that it just as well could have been he or she who had the object of desire.

    1. Your comment, “…either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it,” is quite interesting – because I hadn’t grasped the distinction between merely desiring something that someone else possesses and wishing that the other would not have it, or even that they might be deprived of it. Of course that is exactly what we may wish when we have identified with another. Once it becomes clear that we are NOT ever going to be that person, even if we were to aquire his/her attributes, accomplishments, or things, we will no longer idealise the person – we may grow to resent that person very strongly. I am not exactly sure WHY this happens, but it certainly does. Once we discover that our gods have clay feet, we must kill them. Is this because we know that we are mere humans, ourselves – and cannot stand the thought that there actually may not be any gods. So, since we need a god, we create one via idealization, and when the veil is lifted – we blame the object of the fantasy, instead of ourselves! It is the act of our idealization that ultimately causes the disappointment, probably not any action on the part of the object of the idealization.

      1. Well said, and I agree. It’s a process I discussed in my post on celebrities and why we both love and hate them.

    2. I am on the receiving end of jealousy and envy from every where. My mother hated me I feel and made me feel as if I was not liked and caused problems. My younger brother is envious and it shows itself when becomes sarcastic when I tell him something that I like or enjoyed or try to share some good news with him. My husband betrayed me by helping his x wife slander me. His x is hideous but he likes her because she is harsh looking and resembles a man. Yes I figured out that he is gay. Girl friends are jealous. ..some of them so I can’t keep a friend and when I do find one, some friend of theirs becomes jealous of our friendship and tries to destroy the relationship. My mom made me kinda weak willed by constantly telling me not to fight back when I should and if I told her someone was mean to me she would say I probably did something to the person to cause it. Sometimes I fight back but sometimes I don’t. There is something in me that makes me pause or stop when I should defend myself. Its what my mom instilled in me and I hate it. I hate it when I sit there and take it and not always respond. Thede is something in me like a button pushed that won’t allow me to sometimes fight back. There are times when I am quick to defend myself but most of the time

  9. Do I understand your posting correctly – one of your patients attended a dinner party at your own home, while still a patient? And, that you made a comment that was inappropriate, at best.. ? I am shocked that this “duel relationship” is occurring and that you would actually make a comment that would reveal your judgemental view of your patient in a public manner. This is troublesome, Doctor.

    1. That would indeed be shocking if it were true. But the client was reporting a DREAM about coming to my house.

  10. Hi Dr Phil,

    Just stopping by. I found you through a search and decided to stop in and say hello.
    I read your article from beginning to end. I believe every word. I have a best who is older than I, and she tries unnecessary hard to imitate, copy me or just get upset when she realizes she can’t be another me.

    We were going out one night, and we met up at my home. We both were dressed neatly or well, color-coordinated, with a few attention grabbers (decent that is) very noticeable. Anyway, when she stepped inside my door, she spoke, came back in the kitchen where I was originally.

    I was busy moving around – so I asked her to make herself at home. She replies “OK!” Later I saw her out of the corner of my eye, she was looking at me strange. She then says – I know I should have worm my Red shoes.

    (Mind you, I was wearing Red shoes). She then says – I’m glad I didn’t because you would think I’m trying to copy you(me). I then go, No I wouldn’t. She says, aww yeah.

    One of the worst and the last is when I shared a good idea with her about my going back school (this time technology college). In the beginning she was all for it. Even went as far as helping me out financially; Ohhh very supportive in the beginning.

    As time went on, I’d tell her how hard the courses were, she would say all kinds of mean things to me – like I need my hair done. Whereas she purposely misses the appts. I gave her more than once. She would say things like, when you graduate you will only want to have friends on your own level. I then say, what level is that? She never would say.

    She did everything possible to make me fail in college, every stone she could throw, she threw it. It was so bad that I ended up with an incomplete in an my hardest classes, Illustrator. Of course I made it all up within the time period that the counselors & registrars gave me. However, I am a strong sister now, and I graduated on time , walked cross the stage, and received my certificate. She didn’t even attend my graduation ceremony. I just felt so much hatred the entire time I was attending college.

    All the above changed once I was proven to have ‘staying power’, ‘spunk’, and I’m usually in it (whatever it may be) to win it. I’m an outgoing individual who interacts with people quite nicely, especially close knitted in the hair industry. Reading your post made me realize that— she actually envies me …And is jealous of me also. Never will admit it. I believe it to be a mental disorder as well. I am what one may call the ‘Super friendly, talkative & caring, somewhat intelligent (smart), but none of this matters. I don’t envy others nor am I jealous of anyone. I’ll help anyone celebrate an accomplishment. Bring out the champagne.

    I want my friends to like me for the loving person that I really am. My friend (partner) told me that I am the best friend anyone could ever hope for, Plus many more compliments. Before the day is over, she angry with me about something, only she’d know why. She likes to dig wayyy into the past to build an anger case against me – anytime, anywhere. I once thought it was age differences. Now I don’t think so!
    It’s Jealousy and Envy. You are 100% correct on all that you mentioned. At least I think so. Dangerous, I’d say! I agree with Lynn, but others envy & jealousy has nothing to do with the love I have for mankind as a whole!

    When I graduated in 2009, my neighbors worked hard at mentally torchuring, which led a male neighbor to me. He approached me & ask me if I’d like to know why no one around here (talking about themselves) likes me – I said yes, sure because I know I do No harm to anyone, because I’m always busy, occupied – very little idle time on my hands. So he (neighbor) replies-“because you’re smarter than they are!” I go, WHAT?

    [After all, I’ve lived here, in my own world, for 21 years now, with no problems until I graduated from tech college, for which I earned my COMPTIA A+ Computer Trouble shooter & Repair Technician (Certificate) ]

    10 minutes later he (neighbor) cuts his lawn, 3 doors up from me-then brings his lawn-mower down in front of my door (out on sidewalk), cut half the grass from around a small dogwood type tree, and then brought his pet dog down to the spot to go to the bathroom, there, under the tree in front of my door. Gross!! He did this on three different occasions until he was fined too many times by the authorities. Pure devious, demonic acts thrown my way for a very long time. No one ever saw me unless I was going to my car or on the PC on my front porch. They say negative things loud enough so that I could hear them (pertaining to me). They bought 15 trash bags, filled them with anything they could find, next put them as close to my home as they could possibly get them.

    This was so frustrating. I was beginning to feel ill all the time. All I could do was Pray continuously. It did work. Prayer does change things.

    Only one hater is still doing it, but this time there are a variety of Alcohol bottles. They never use the trash can that is place in their yards. Always loose trash or wide opened filled tbgs behind their home, on ours, another street altogether, that invites unwanted pests; and they do periodically show up. These are all examples of haters, envies & jealous individuals, and what to look for in them. This sort of activity. A case for Judge Judy!

    I would cover his dog waste in sand from my kids sandbox on my porch. There were three cases of visual evidence of the dog & his owner’s behavior. They started and continued trashing the side of my home (I’m in a corner house). These behaviors went on for 2 years or more, before some of the haters (neighbors) were made to leave the community. One stayed around to continue where the rest left off.

    I don’t see the rest of my neighbors that much anymore, but while all this was going on, my best friend was treating me mean too, as though she had joined the army against me for no reason at all. All I could focus on was finishing school with passing grades. It was so tough for me during those time of pure hatred, negativity & lies thrown my way. I survived school via 5-B’s, and 1-C final grades. Not bad, huh?

    My main buddy, friend, or partner. She’s the first to say she’s not jealous It definitely sounds like ENVY and JEALOUSY to me. You said it Loud and Clear yourself.

    Thank you so much for allowing me to speak on the subject & for your time sharing your knowledge with us.

    Update: As of today, we’ve kindled our friendship, brought this to her attention, but she’s in denial, yet still jealous & envious of me. She gets upset because she understands that she can only be herself & nobody else. I learned to laugh about it, and not be too quick to anger. That’s how they get ya! Stealing your peace, joy & happiness!

    ~please forgive any typos~

    1. I salute you for your patience & strong personality.
      what I don’t understand is why people keep down grading them selves to such humiliating levels by being jelouse & envious.

        1. I read Envious & jelouse people are considered mentally ill people & only bitter & unhappy people are the ones who are envious, happy people will never envy or be jelouse.

          1. I disagree. I think that envy and jealousy are normal experiences, but for most people, they’re momentary and not overwhelming. It’s when couple with shame that envy and jealousy become toxic and destructive.

  11. To understand jealousy better, one has to look at the cause(s) of it. Jealousy comes forth from rejection, which is a thick lace that runs through our society and families, even though we rarely recognize its face. There are many forms of rejection that we can be programmed with throughout our upbringing; by our parents mostly. These are often rejection patterns that are passed on from generation to generation, so that we ourselves don’t have to carry our burdens. A chain of causal relationships following an endless trail.

    When in any form we are deprived of our natural emotions and/or self-acceptance, this form of rejection will implode, and in many cases subsequently explode. The feelings of inferiority can either stick at the surface, in which we project our self-rejection onto others that seemingly are superior, and thus we consciously hate and destroy feeling the suffering that was brought forth from the rejection, or we push it down into our subconscious, and we develop feelings of superiority. The latter does not mean we don’t feel inferior, however we will simply do not realize the feelings of jealousy that we project.

    It’s not the concept of psychoanalysis or psychotherapy that fails, but our understanding of it. Our psychology is like a tree. If we understand its organic structure we can understand ourselves. Through experience I have seen what it can take to work an issue from the root, instead of cutting off leaves. Simply talking won’t do. If we have pain stored in ourselves that causes psychological discomfort and conflict, the only way out for this pain, is through ourselves. This requires confrontation with the pain, and often with the effects too, which is the negative or unwanted behavior.

    I have learned how we work from a spiritual perspective, and through having received psychotherapy from higher inspiration. This has been ongoing for many years, and I can safely say that if done right and in the right dosage, overcoming our initial programming is possible. However, like I said before, the pain will come out the same way as it went in. This process includes confrontation with the creating factors, reliving the pain, a short activation of the resulting behaviors, mourning the pain, and realizing that this rejection is not your own, and stand for this. This loop can repeat itself many times, but I know for a fact that it works.

    I have been told from this higher inspiration that I was Sigmund Freud in a past incarnation, and even though I have not read a word of what I taught or said, I know what I meant. It makes sense people. There just aren’t any shortcuts or easy solutions. Medication can be of assistance, but in the end we have to face the beast ourselves. When we do not face that which has created our pain, we will either choose to carry it ourselves for the remainder of this life, or we pass it on to others through unwanted behavior. Jealousy is no different from any other negative/destructive behavior.

    We often hear that hanging in the past is not a good thing to do. That’s much too absolute, and not very responsible to teach someone like that. The fact that we consist of past and present, means they are our building blocks. We have to deal with them in an a responsible manner in order to rebuild ourselves. If you know something went wrong in your past, which often we don’t realize, you face it head on, and then you can let it go and forgive. It’s the people with a suspicious past that teach us to not look back. Denial is simply another behavior brought forth from pain, and is just as dangerous as jealousy. If we move on without properly cleaning up, it will shape us in that way.

  12. Ugh, sadly I fully relate to feelings of envy. It’s a relief to identify and reflect on these issues I am so ashamed of them really. They can be artistic inspiration though. You are usually jealous of what you want. I feel like I am envious/admiring/idealising of most of my close female friends. I don’t enjoy the feeling. It makes me feel deceptive, in fact. I feel that when I am in conversation with them, I am harbouring secret feelings of envy. Which makes me guilty, and I wonder if they know (am sure they do!) In fact, one friend married a man I was in love with, had a child with him, they have lots of money and she is in a way ‘in my place!’ but she then became ‘my friend’. I now listen to all her complaints about him, and their life! So it’s an extreme case really. Although actually, I do like her very much, we are similar, of course. It’s just, I feel she is in a much luckier position than me. Money is hard one not to envy, when you have very little and have a friend with a serious amount!! I don’t wish them ill, I just feel kind of small and sad sometimes, I feel that ‘they are so lucky’. I think it’s their self-confident state of mind I actually am admiring, at some level, their lack of ‘shame’ perhaps? And if so, why do they have a lack of shame and I have one? Was it upbringing? Or have they worked harder than me, to conquer it? And again, that thought leads to more shame! I think it’s maybe this ‘basic shame’ underneath -I’d like to know more about that. I used to idealise a singer (I wanted to be a singer) I knew, and at times my jealousy of her, her beauty, her talents felt so strong it was almost a hatred, which scared me. Everyone so adored her, her music was so beautiful etc, I felt like a nasty envious shadow in the corner when she sang, full of bile and sourness and sadness, thinking ‘it should be me!!!’ it made me so angry! How embarrassing! And yet people say, I am talented, it’s just I can’ see it/believe it. I would love to solve the root of all this. I’m sure love is the answer as someone said above, but there must be other, practical tricks and tips for fending this nasty green-eyed monster away. I have found CBT useful, and counselling, in the past. I would like to stop feeling jealous of my friends, stop idealising them and stop wishing I WAS them. I also often wish I was many celebrities etc! (any old one will do!) . I like the idea of a name and a characteristic for the envious part of myself, along with a name for the ‘saboteur’ and ‘the critic’ like Spindly Meanshanks or something kind of funny! ‘Ruin it Rowena’ or ‘ Critical the Spiky nose’ I don’t know!

  13. “What about your friends? Is there one among them who seems to have so much more than you do? How do you feel about that person? Have you ever secretly rejoiced when something bad happened to him or her? ”

    Some of my friends have more (materially) than I do, and some have less. I don’t have any problem with either. Some of the friends who have more (materially) than I do also have certain health and relational problems in their lives which I am very glad I do not have, so why on earth would I envy them?
    I like being me, and no way would I wish to be anyone else.

    Truth to tell, IMO, and as another poster suggested here, there is an element of derangement in envy/jealousy.


  14. It seems that ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’ are used interchangeably that it isn’t clear which is which. This has been on my mind, so I used my dictionary. Envy appears to have a “maliciously covetous” nature to it:

    “envious is likely to suggest a grudging of another’s possessions and accomplishments, a spiteful desiring of their loss, or, most frequently, a malicious or cankerous coveting of them [his successes were so repeated that no wonder the envious and the vanquished spoke sometimes with bitterness regarding them]”

    Jealousy (related to zeal) relates more to rivalry, not wanting to lose possessions such as a jeal0us boyfriend who does not want unfaithfulness or to lose his girlfriend thus he can not tolerate flirting or her talking to other men. “Jealous guarding of possessions,” and such. People say, “I’m jealous of her mansion,” but that doesn’t entail any maliciousness or spite as with envy. Jealousy can be toxic too, as in a relationship, where one tries to make another jealous by pushing their buttons.

    I’m just trying to get the two straight because this has been an issue with me I’ve been dwelling on. Your example of your writer friend hit home in that you felt ashamed about it, but that what you said about her issues with men, you think is true.

    I’ve been grappling with how I’m envious of a person (or people) who are listened to, i.e., other people care about their thoughts and ideas even if their thoughts aren’t particularly extraordinary, and often not original. One person is a narcissist (that profound kind, not the casual sense people often misuse). He gives little credit to others and often I’ve seen him quoted and know where those quotes originally came from, but people think he’s so witty and deep, and I think, no, he’s not, many say these things, he’s just in a position to voice it aloud to many. I’ve grown resentful of this and it’s become toxic to myself–the anger and frustration–that all I feel I can do is walk away these people because I haven’t figured out a way to be in their position.

    I know it’s partly due to that since I was a child I didn’t feel very listened to by my family, my thoughts and ideas were often dismissed, and still today I feel like family and relatives aren’t very interested in me or what I have to say. Since people often listen to sucessful people, even though many things they say have nothing to do with the area of their success, it brings up shame of not having accomplished enough success, or that I don’t have anything good to say, I’m not interesting, or some aspect of low self-esteem. I, like some others, find it easier and more pleasurable to talk to strangers about any topic and often get positive feedback. It appears that with family this is never going to change; there is much projection, submerged resentments, and downright rudeness that I talk less and less around them and thus feel like they don’t know me and I’m not being myself. (I’ve been quite the talker since a baby so when I’m quiet it’s not me.) I’ve gotten to the point that when online and someone says, “Thank you,” or “What you said is interesting,” it feels like I’ve won some award and makes my day…just this little thing! I’m not even looking for acknowledgment or reward for anything major, just some feeling of being valued. I haven’t figured out how to deal with this except to sort of retreat into my own world. I have watched a person take things I’ve said in private messages and say them verbatim on their Twitter (they don’t know I see that) without any credit. I’ve looked up much information for them and get nary a thank you or acknowledgment. I’m tired of putting out energy and not getting it back. It all ties in together. I just want to drop all these people.

    So at times I lash out about said person’s failings, and it’s demonstrably true what these negative things are. Those whol idolize others and see no wrong in such people vigorously defend them. People often dismiss any negative comments about people they like as, “You’re just jealous!” I think this is a lazy assumption since they don’t even know you, and often they turn around and make negative comments about others themselves–are they jealous too? I may be envious of the fact that people listen to him, but that doesn’t negate that he’s a narcissist, spiteful, self-centered, or whatever I think about what he does or say. He himself will often say they’re jealous if people say negative things, but they may be jealous of his money, but still think he’s a jerk. But then I often do feel sort of glum or ashamed later because I know I’ve been harsh, just as I’m harsh on myself, and wonder how much envy is the cause of what I say just as you did with your writer friend. I admire the person in some ways, but not all ways. I don’t like the feeling afterward because it hurts me to be hurtful. He, the narcissist, on the other hand, wouldn’t feel that. He seems to not understand how he hurts people.

    I don’t believe in the axiom, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it at all,” as that’s not practical. We critique things, books, products, politicians, famous people, and so on. So if you care about your writer friend and think she does have emotional issues with men, when and how do you tell her? Do you let her go on in her self-denial? Do you truly care about helping her to see this in herself? Is there a better way to approach it? Or do you just forget it and let her figure it out for herself, if she ever does? She’s the one who brought up the person’s comment and put it out there. Was she just expressing her dismay at the person’s comment or was she looking for affirmation that it’s not true? Or does all that matter is that you saw it as an opportunity to be hurtful because you know you envy her writing success?

    I don’t really want to hurt someone or bring them down, it’s just that what they’re doing is *also* toxic to others and myself. It is toxic to lie, to not give credit where it is due, to be phony. I know that if I tell my sister she’s projecting her resentments on me, she’s going to feel hurt. I’m not envious of her. I’m not a jealous person at this point in my life…if someone has a nice house I reason that I did not work for it, I can’t change my looks, etc.. I’m not envious of this person’s being, just this one issue that apparently goes back to decades ago. If people are always going to assume one is “just jealous” then I don’t see potential for growth, just a lot of shucking off people in their lives.

    I’m surprised that your friendship with the writer never recovered and that a writer would be so thin-skinned. We hurt people, it happens, and if it doesn’t happen repeatedly I don’t see why we should hold such grudges when we apologize. That was not some terrible thing you did, you were not attacking her whole being, a callous remark is just that. Perhaps this person was more an acquaintance rather than a friend who would be willing to get past one hurtful comment . That says something about her as well.

    1. Regarding jealousy and envy — your examples make it clear again that envy is about qualities or possessions another person may have (two people: I want what you have) while jealousy is about relationships and feeling excluded (three people: I am jealous that you spend time with someone else).

  15. So really, people shouldn’t be saying, “I’m jealous of his wealth or looks,” but rather, “He’s jealous whenever she flirts with someone and seems to like qualities I don’t possess.” Right? But I’m also still wondering about the issue with your writer friend; that is, trying to let someone know the negative that perceive as factually true despite your jealousy. To be accused of, “You’re just jealous!” doesn’t get to the core of things, imo. In my youth when an adult said to me, “Those girls are just jealous of you,” a part of me knew I was doing something wrong, so I don’t accuse others of harboring jealousy or envy without knowing more. As I said, imo, envy or jealousy about one aspect does not negate the negative aspect, but then I wonder why I bother telling anyone rather than just walk away. It’s easier to walk away rather than expend energy on someone who is not open to listening or considering what you say when it’s uncomfortable for them, thus they get offended and drop you. We experience jealousy and envy all our lives since childhood, so it’s a good subject to think about and grapple with one’s own motivations. Thank you.

  16. Thank you for pointing out that envy is not just a way of identifying what we want; but also, envy can be the green eyed devil of not wanting another person to have or get something. This second situation would seem to identify people that we should avoid or, at least, people that are not on our side. Both types of envy seem to have the potential to help us clarify our desires and in regards to friendship–the truth.

  17. It is interesting that celebrities are brought up so much. I’ve lived in LA for years and was disinterested in them UNTIL several years into a heartbreaking marital separation. Only then would I allow myself to look at a People magazine while I was at the hairstylist. It was a phase, but I think I needed to feel like someone who “had it all” could be in an intolerable or stupid life circumstances. Only major difference is celebrities have the resources to pull themselves out of most anything — unlike us mere mortals. And for that I am envious. 🙂

    1. That seems like an understandable kind of envy, not based on idealization. Celebrities really do have financial, legal and other resources unavailable to most of us.

  18. I have a good friend that is constantly saying that everyone is jealous of her, while I admire her and think she is a wonderful person I do not think she has anything to be jealous about but that also depends on who you are asking. She likes to say that people are jealous of her because her parents have money and she gets them to pay for things (utilities, car payments, gas ect.). I feel like they do this because she acts like she is so frustrated about not having a boyfriend that they become concerned and give her what she wants. She told me a few times that she is jealous of me and my wife’s relationship, then my wife voiced to me that she thought she was weird with me. I always ignored her being weird with me because she is a bit odd but I didn’t want to be like everyone else and make her feel rejected I do enjoy hanging out with her but I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. I have to admit she is inappropriate with me sometimes and I don’t take it serious because she is one of those people that give mixed signals to guys just to get a response and because she is attention starved I assume that she thinks because I am a lesbian that she will give me mixed signals and I will try something with her? I don’t know what goes on in her head. She is always wanting me to say things so other people will get jealous of how close we are and then wants to know why one of our friends never calls her but our friend calls me, I think it’s because when her and I started to get close she tried to make our friend feel jealous about our bond I think she is trying to do this to me now. This is another thing she lies about how close she is to people (even family members) she thinks they are close and they tell me another story. She doesn’t seem to know how to maintain any of her relationships (family, friends or boyfriend) and this is why I ignore some things she says or does because I feel like they all rejected her in some way. She rarely shows any emotion and if she does it’s happy or sad. What exactly am I dealing with here? I want to tell you so much more because I can’t figure her out but then again maybe it’s not my job and I should just be a friend. She is a very confused 27 year old with a very immature way about herself.

    1. You are dealing with shame and narcissism. This desire to evoke jealousy or envy in other people is one of the main features of the narcissist; underneath, she is struggling with profound feelings of shame, inferiority and a sense of being damaged. Narcissists dread being truly seen for who they are, and so they’re always trying to put forward an idealized view of themselves, and wanting people to feel jealous of or to envy them. The perceived envy of others works as an antidote to those feelings of shame.

      1. Wow – that sounds like me. Am I narcissistic then? I secretly feel better if I think others might feel envious of me (though I don’t believe this would ever happen). I feel I am living behind a mask, being an ‘acceptable’ person because to be otherwise would cause me to be rejected. Is it possible to change? I am so confused now as to my diagnosis. Yet when I asked a psychiatrist if they thought I was narcissistic, the woman merely laughed and said that narcissists don’t realise they are as they are, and the fact that I have self awareness is part of the proof that I am not. That doesn’t make much sense to me…..but I am now terrified because I don’t think it’s ‘curable’, is it?

        1. Don’t worry about diagnosis. You’re not a category or a label. It sounds to me as if you’re struggling with issues of shame concerning psychological damage, that you’re someone defective and that people would scorn you if they saw the “real you.” I don’t believe in psychological “cure”, as if these issues are like a physical illness with symptoms that can be removed, but I do believe that great change is possible when we face and accept the shame we feel.

  19. Thank you for your post. I struggle daily with intense feelings of envy and I hate it and how it makes me feel and relate to others. It distresses me more than I can say. I am deeply ashamed of it, try hard to hide it and live in terror that I will do someone harm (emotionally or otherwise) by it. I feel that it shows I am a horrible, evil person. I would love to feel happy – genuinely – for others but as it is, I can only pretend, trying to hide the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity I feel inside.
    At my age, I should have been able to deal with this but I constantly compare myself to others – usually family and people I know well. That’s what is so distressing. How can a truly loving person feel the things I do? I don’t want to be this person and I do not like her at all. If I was a friend of mine, and I knew what I am really like, I’d run a mile.
    My husband of 39 years is the only person who really knows what I am like and he is a supportive as he can be, but I know I am ‘high maintenance’. So what have I done to try and change? CBT, psychotherapy, self help books, a short yoga course, hypnotherapy….I struggle with co-existing anxiety and depression (don’t know which came first) and little seems to help so I struggle on as best I can, feeling I don’t really belong in a civilised society.
    We have two lovely daughters – both adult and leading their own lives. One was born with serious disabilities but is now leading her own life despite physical and mental health issues of her own. How they both survived my parenting is a source of amazement to me but they are lovely and loving young women and daughters and I am proud that they are living their lives the way that is right for them.
    They are the people they are in spite of me – testament to their strength and will. But I flounder. I frequently feel about Life that I am ‘on the outside, looking in’ and that there is something other people ‘get’ or understand about it that I have failed in.
    So ok, all this is pretty intense stuff and I know there are no answers. I would love to find ways of living my life better, feeling grateful for who, and what, I have – because yes, I recognise that in many ways I am so very lucky to have what I have. My life is not hard (though it used to be very challenging as our daughter has a very rare syndrome and her upbringing wasn’t easy).
    And yes, I feel so guilty and ashamed that I still feel so envious of others, and compare myself unfavourably so much.
    At 59, is there any hope that I can change, learn to accept myself as I am, be grateful for what I have and learn to feel genuinely happy for the good fortune of others instead of gluckschmerz and schadenfreude?

    1. I think that envy and jealousy of this intensity have their roots in unconscious shame. You might want to take a look around the site and explore what I’ve written on that subject, starting with this particular post. It’s also a subject I deal with in my forthcoming book.

  20. He is frustrated with the system, government corruption etc. that thwart any attempt to go up either financially or socially. I do understand his frustration, most people would understand , I think. But his frustration is fueled by beyond ordinary greed and envy.
    He was my parents’ friend, well into his thirties, and I was in my teens. I was a bored bookish kid, not really interested in going out, but hating to be alone ( but most of the time I was). Somehow we started talking – about anything: books, abstract topics, and I did not feel either boring or bored. As I was leaving for the US and was saying bye, he actually told me: “I envy you.” Twice, as if to make sure I heard him. He said it very casually. I wondered if that was a warning.
    A few years later we got back in touch, talked through Skype. Sometimes he almost gave off envy , and would always slip in remarks referring to the topic. Things like “You look so American,” or “It’s great that you speak English well enough to correct Americans.” Aside from that, we got along great. I was falling in love with him, although I knew it was a horrible idea. I knew I shouldn’t keep in touch with him at all, let alone get involved. I knew I should forget it, most of all because even if he came over here, it wouldn’t be for me. And then I told him I had feelings for him. I was more or less ambivalent still, knowing that I must not do that, but then I ‘d get euphoric only at the mere thought of him.
    So I told him that I had feelings for him, but I was not sure whether it was right, that he’s got family and that we are so far away from each other. All I hoped for is that he would lull me into believing that it was all right. Not surprisingly, he did none of that. We didn’t really talk much that time, and then I thought over what I had said and was horrified. So I decided to somehow soothe it and tell him that I did have feelings for him. I did scare him off, then told him that I was in love with him.
    I handed in to him all power over me, and after that there was almost a year of humiliating puppy love. I’d cry and he would sit there and look at me with an impassionate face, and I looked at him and knew that he was enjoying it but still cried with nothing to say that I loved him. And he would say that he was going to Venice for a week for work. He was not going anywhere, of course. Then said that he had gone to Paris and was extraordinarily unimpressive.
    I lost my mind completely, went down from straight A’s in my transcript to a C-, F (not even a D), and W, and that marred my transcript forever. It’s almost like I slammed the door shut right in front of my own face : I could have gone to just about any school, but not after that. I lost my job, because I was always late looking rather unkempt, splurged an unbelievable amount of money shopping trying to make myself to feel better. I didn’t study, just sat there. Cried all the time and everywhere. I obviously needed help and got Wellbutrin from my doctor. And he sat there and watched everything I had crumble, told me to get ahold of myself and stop indulging into my weaknesses. The world was full of pain, I knew I was destroying all I had worked for, but I could not stop. Nothing mattered. I kept writing humiliating teary puppy letters to him, sometimes felt elated and joyful in a surge of stupid hope. Then miserable the very next minute . I wrote him letters with stupid mad hope that maybe I will get through to him this time, and I know he read them all right away – i sent him a post card, and then got a confirmation from them that it was opened. And he just watched.

    1. These heady feelings you describe sound like they had little to do with him, but were a case of idealization. It also sounds as if there might be some self-sabotage involved, based on a kind of self-envy.

  21. I think I said that I thought that it did not belong there. It was about envy at first and then turned into some sort of excerpt from a personal diary. But really, thank you for your site, it downed on me that I actually seem to have more serious issues than I thought I did. I actually imagined a man’s reaction when a female that previously seemed normal throws herself at him sobbinng an muttering gibberish. You do that when you want him to run for the door, and I knew full well how it looked . I could not convince myself that I needed him in my life : he is almost 30 years oder than me and I couldn’t see any future for us beyond few years. I am really ashamed to admit that I could not get rid of the thought that I should do better than that , I’m young and I wan t children and family, and I could not get rid of the thought that I should not do that. I vascillated.didnt know what to do and then just did what i did thinking that that would either drive him away or he would somehow convince me it was okay. I did not fully realize how it all looked to a man . I guess i didnt have enough experience to realize that even if a man looks at at you with shining admiring kind eyes it doesnt mean wont forget about you as soon as you get out of his site. I didnt know about that. Im actually transfixed with shame imagining how crazy all that looked to him. He pulled away i missed him But still. to at least somehow justify my post. he was extremely envious . It bothered me a lot but i didnt see how I would ever be able to discuss it with him.

  22. I’m seeing many people agreeing and giving the advice to go out and obtain what you want in order to conquer envy. but what do you do when what you envy is completely out of your hands? I will admit I envy couples who have young children who are together in a committed relationship (married or not). I am apart from my child’s father unwittingly, and he has no desire to rekindle what we had. no matter what I do, the thing I want the most is completely out of my hands. I can’t strive to get what I want because it doesn’t depend on only me. I guess changing what I want would be an option, but I feel that would be lying to myself. I don’t know how to get over this struggle.

    1. Sometimes you can’t have what you want — you’re right. In those cases, there’s a lingering pain, but I think you can try to mitigate it by pursuing something else you value, perhaps something close in nature. A new relationship? A sense of belonging to some larger community? I don’t mean to minimize your pain. I understand — it’s real and lasting.

  23. I don’t see envy as ugly, though it can be the reason people behave in ugly ways. When I become aware of envious feelings, I give them full play in my mind. I let them out to run and frolic in the sunshine of my mind (“She’s so lucky, that bitch, I hate her, she has it so easy…”) Then when I’m with the person I envy, I feel lighter and more myself around them. Judging envious feelings just makes everything worse; they go underground, out of my control, and then rear up suddenly and hurt someone.

  24. I came across this page trying to comprehend why it hurt so much when someone close to me would be jealous of me. They’ve never verbally said it but there behavior towards me says other wise. On another note… After going threw the most embarrasing phase of envy two years ago I decided to beat it for good. I learned that jealously came from a lack of trust & insecurties. I also found that the more I accepted limits and was happy for people the less I felt envious of them. When you stated “it’s all about me” that’s exactly what is was! All about me. That saying you can have it all. I say you were meant to have it all. The more you embrace who you are the happier you will be.

  25. I am on the receiving end of jealousy and envy. Just recently realized that my husband is jealous as well or envious. My own mother and coworkers lied on me because the department head praised me and put two people down. I was mistreated and fired because of their resentment.

  26. I’ll try to keep this short. Why do some people think it is okay to bring up a little bit of happiness or good luck that one has and sort of ‘rib’ one with it? Case in point – I am older than a couple of friends, one of whom has brought up my 60+ travel pass a good six or so times. My first responses were along the lines of ‘Well don’t wish four years of your life away’ and ‘Well I paid my fare until I was 60’ and so on. Then, the other day, apropos nothing over coffee and in front of another friend, the pass was brought up again. This time I answered something stupid like ‘Well I’m looking forward to the money I’m not going to inherit but that’s life’. The reason for that retort was because both of them have inherited money where I have not, both have got homes worth up to four times as much as mine, both have higher disposable incomes than I do, neither of them work as such (one gets a lot of money per month through renting rooms in her large house and from rents on other properties) and the other one retired early on a bigger pension than mine (hence I am still working) etc. The latter one had two free international flights last year through a friend working for an airline and I never once said anything about that etc etc. Anyway, because of my response (as of above) the ‘house’ one (a qualified but non-practising counsellor) has declared that I am ‘angry and resentful’ – nice. The only other thing I said at the time was that I paid my fare until I was 60 so they would have to do the same. It really upsets me that people who have so much think that it is okay to constantly bring up something which I have which they will get themselves in the end when I don’t go around making comments about everything they have and can afford to do. While it is such a trifling matter to fall out about, I am very hurt about it and, I will confess, just a bit angry as the comments about the pass are so unnecessary. Why, bottom line, would people who have so much want to make me feel miserable about some little thing I have which they are going to get themselves anyway? (As for the friend who said I was ‘angry and resentful’, there are a few choice words which I could have aimed her way over a couple of behaviours over the years but part of my ‘trouble’ is that I have always found it difficult to confront/challenge people.) I actually feel that our friendship has ended over such a stupid thing and feel very sad about it but don’t know how to address it and to be honest, apart from the sadness and obviously wanting friends, I don’t feel there is any point in ‘mending it’ as I am pretty sure things would never be the same again and that my ‘behaviour’ would be alluded to at some point without either of them ever conceding that I had every reason to be upset. Sorry, I hope this makes sense.

    1. It makes sense, and I’m not sure why some people feel entitled to make such comments. I suppose that envy is “illogical.” It doesn’t have anything to do reality, by recognizing what one has and keeping that in mind vis-a-vis the envied person. Envy goes like this: “You have something that I don’t have and it makes me angry, so I want to spoil it for you.” Maybe the best response to these remarks about your pass is: “I know, isn’t it great! I’m so glad I have it!”

  27. Hello once again (new post). Came to a realization recently that one reason for my intermittent feelings of awkwardness when reminded about my therapist (seeing a similar car, situation, or just a conversation that reminds me of something said in therapy) may just be related to envy. I believe you differentiated between it and jealousy above, and in my case, would categorize the feeling as envy – envy of a presumed more well-adjusted life than my own. Some of these beliefs are based in truth, but others likely represent my own interpretation of the facts as they relate to the therapist’s life. I find it interesting that these feelings do not surface during any of our sessions and also occur unpredictably outside (e.g., can occur just as easily during either a “down” or more favorable time of my life).

    I am pretty sure that this is not a new feeling for me, having experienced it at various occasions with others in my past. Most situations have been settled by gaining some sort of knowledge about the other person such that I realize either their life is good or not as good, but not really of any impact on my life. Sometimes, these feelings will surface in response to complete strangers (i.e., happy appearing families during travels) whereby I feel suddenly inadequate and wanting the happiness that I see being expressed by the others. I do not believe that I ever wish any ill will on others. There have been times when I have felt this way and been unable to “gain any knowledge” of the situation. In these instances, the uncomfortable feelings persist for some time, perhaps intermittently so, until they ultimately fade when contact ceases with the other person in question.

    So, where does that leave me in therapy? I probably know enough about my therapist without requesting any discrete confirmation disclosures. Furthermore, I have said that having the knowledge just allows me to properly place others into a category of acceptance, regardless of where my life fits into their mold of happy or functional, or not. I would think that I ought to be able to do the same with this otherwise helpful person in my life – rather than resort to finding ways to forgo therapy sessions in an attempt to more quickly separate this person from my life, and thus relieve myself of these awkward feelings. Any thoughts?

    [My life is currently notable for some version of marital discord on my part – very much wanting my spouse of many years to better understand me and how I’ve changed over our years together, while at the same time, understanding the changes and persistent habits that I demonstrate better myself]

    1. Envy is often the result of underlying (unconscious) shame. In therapy, we may idealize our therapists as having the ideal life we’d like to have as a triumph over that shame. I’ve written a lot about this subject on the site.

  28. What if you are in a new relationship and adore your partner but his ex partner, and their children, who you adore, remind you that you’re not ever going to be the mother and conventional role in the family? Their grandparents will never accept you as family and the ex partner is described as good looking and this bothers me because she is always immaculately presented with make-up and nice clothes. I’ve been struggling for a year with horrible emotions attached to all of his past and hate myself for it because this is really about the fact that I wish I’d met him before his ex partner did. Sounds completely irrational but I have pinpointed these horrible feelings as envy and it scares me. I love my partner and his children but I’m overwhelmed with feelings of jealousy because she is and always will be in constant contact with my partner. I want to get past this, be the bigger person and just accept but every time his ex’s name comes up, I’m hurting inside. I’ve talked to my partner and he does understand some of it but how do you actually let this go so it doesn’t hurt anymore?

  29. Being on the receiving end of envy and or being envious are some of the most destructive feelings a person can experience unless they know how to defeat this epidemic.

    The way to beat this is through focus. In our society we have become more and more wedded to each other through dependency (namely codependency the dis-ease). This leaves a lot of people constantly searching outside of themselves for approval and especially for someone to save them from the inevitable heartaches (and many times brutal circumstances) of life. There is another way to deal with mass domestication (mass dependency and it’s associated negativity) and it’s devastating effects.

    The rational mind has the power to snap a person out of dependency and depersonalization and into the realm of Reality where goodness can be found even in a fire-pit of hell. When we move our focus away from the mental attachment to problems and to people (which takes practice) we gain tremendous power and self-control. The more we build this dormant self-reliant mind state the more we defeat our demons and the onslaught of envy, jealousy, hatred and intolerance; and the happier we become.

    What we want is interdependence, not codependence — Focus through the self, not focus on others. This is what the famous philosopher Ayn Rand meant when she spoke of the evils of Altruism. It’s not that helping people is bad, it’s when the focus begins with someone other than yourself that it becomes essentially the definition of evil — because you are sacrificing yourself for the good of another (which is actually impossible and it is also why people say Socialism and or Communism i.e. Statism is evil — these are Codependent systems [that take away the individuals inherent rights, her liberties] which eventually lead to democide as history has shown time and time again).

    This is what Nietzsche was talking about in his book [I believe it was] “Anti-Christ” where he said something to the effect of… if he had to identify the main cause of evil it would be the emotional pain one feels [that can end up damaging him/herself] for another’s suffering.

    The more we can face reality through the right focus, the right way to live (interdependence or connection through strength vs. Codependence or connection through weakness), the easier life becomes, the lighter we feel and the happier we become. we put the past behind us and become able to face the present and the future with strength and confidence.

    This is the future; where the individual reclaims her birthright which is found in Individual Liberty and personal empowerment and moves away from the dependency on outside agencies such as the government and her long reaching tentacles of mass control [i.e. Socialism, Statism, Mixed Economy, taxation, control, Media propaganda etc.).


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *