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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Jealousy

Monday, April 11, 2011


"...I started to write about my envy. I got to look in some cold dark corners, see what was there, shine a little light on what we all have in common. Sometimes this human stuff is slimy and pathetic - jealousy especially so - but better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned." ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

First of all, let me say that if you are looking for a bit of comfort and company in a moment of quiet sadness, any of Anne Lamott's non-fiction books will do the trick. I am unabashedly a big fan.

Next, I wanted to write a bit about jealousy, since it comes up often in the work of psychotherapy. Jealousy implies that someone else has something (or someone) that we believe we want, need and cannot ourselves have. In its most painful form, it can leave us feeling bitter, undeserving, deprived and altogether twisted.

In my office folks come in to sort through jealousy of many varieties. I often hear about how the parents, marriages, accomplishments, finances or talents of others are more desireable, better than, or just better.

Some folks are jealous of what seems to be other people's peace of mind, mental stability, spirituality or inner calm. What I find to be so real and so human is that as painful as jealousy can be, most of the time, the things we want are things we can have, and the things we cannot have are things that may very well not be good for us, for our exact nature, character or personal growth.

Jealousy implies that what we do have, what we "yes" have, is unacceptable, not enough, or insignificant. It implies that we are less than.

Jealousy's greateness however, is that though it can be painful, it can also be our teacher. If we hang out with it for a bit, and see what else comes up, we may find out a great deal about what our deepest wounds are, as well as how to heal them. We can also discover what our deepest wishes are, what our priorities are, what we value, and what we might strive for.

Sometimes jealousy is a familiar part of our past emotional lives, a feeling we grew up experiencing, perhaps about or around a sibling or parent or friend. Maybe feeling it is familiar, and sets us up to act in old familiar ways or feel other old familiar feelings. Like being unloved, or left out, or deprived. For some, jealousy was, or is, a great motivator, helping to spur us on to achieve and accomplish.

We can employ jealousy by studying it, and not bracing for it. We can let it take us to that part of us that is so human, where we can forgive ourselves and accept all of our feelings. Jealousy can reteach us that we can be willing to believe that no matter what color the grass seems to be on the other side of the fence, we can plant our own grass and help it to grow.

From there, we can begin to heal, to feel better, to grace ourselves and to find out how to get more of what is available to us, and to reach real satsifaction within ourselves and our lives.


Nicky said...

Your words really resonate with me - we live in a society that very much embraces a "grass is greener" viewpoint. Everyone seems to think everyone else is having it better than they are, while often, this is not the case at all - it's often about our perception as a result of someone's portrayal of something. I also feel that the whole social networking thing, a la Facebook, has over-contributed to this phenomenon - someone having a slightly off day might catch a glimpse of someone's "perfect" (but facade of a) life through their Facebook page. Things start to snowball. It's a very tangled web.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Thanks Nicky. So well put!!!!
I agree, esp. about Facebook!
So glad you shared your thoughts!

spldbch said...

You rarely see jealousy in people who are happy with themselves. Jealousy is almost always arises from underlying feelings of inadequacy. Jealousy can be a window, an opening that enables a person to explore the underlying sense of inadequacy. In that way, jealousy can promote growth.

Very thought provoking post!

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

I like the idea of it being a window!
Thanks for your good thoughts!

Laura said...

"What I find to be so real and so human is that as painful as jealousy can be, most of the time, the things we want are things we can have, and the things we cannot have are things that may very well not be good for us, for our exact nature, character or personal growth."

This is truly profound!! Great post :)

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Thanks Laura!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes jealuosy gives you the confidence to try harder than others did especially considering the circumstances you are in at that jealous moment. If you have not achieved your desired goal at the end of it all then this just let's you know what you are capable of and that you gave it your all but don't ponder on this too long otherwise you'll become jealuos all over again.

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

thanks for your good thoughts anon.