Jealousy and Envy: a declaration of your inferiority!
Updated: Jul 27
Cast your mind back to the last time you felt jealousy or envy. I remember it vividly.
A seemingly rational thought. "I don't like the attention person (A) gave to person (B)." Within a couple of minutes I had blown my whole life up in my head. I was going to war.
It started with a tightening of the chest. My mind automatically focussed on a particular train of thought and within seconds it was filled with negative fantasies playing out in front of my eyes. A minute later, I hit free-fall anxiety, closely followed by fear.
As I began to spiral I passed through feelings of incompetence, laziness and finally hit self-loathing transported into that place of unworthiness and ultimatley questioning my very existence.
Yep, jealousy and envy have one hell'a kick.
So why are these emotions so powerful?
One word. Evolution.
Although very different we tend to confuse jealousy and envy.
The former is the fear of losing a relationship or a valued part of that relationship. It can be perceived or real. Jealously usually involves three people in that the jealous one feels deprived of the attention given to a third person, a rival or competitor.
Jealousy can be rational when there is a genuine, reasonable doubt, such as when trust is broken. It can also be pathological and may result from an underlying mental health disorder such as anxiety, OCD or schizophrenia.
Pathological jealousy can include extreme insecurity, as well as a desire to control and manipulate. In this case there is an absence of rational thinking and it doesn’t take much to provoke extreme jealousy.
The evolutionary origin of jealousy is derived from threats to reproductive survival - as women it’s built into our genes.
Envy on the other hand is when we want something another person has and typically it's about two people. Envy too may have it’s roots in survival but more about the distribution of wealth, for example, status, belonging and food. So tribal.
In evolutionary terms jealousy and envy are survival mechanisms - we are not designed to be perfect, natural selction (predominantly via women) means that the force molds us into genetically controlled traits that allow us to survive long enough to reproduce and raise our kids.
Those of us who reproduce will pass their genes onto others (also condiser epigenetics) to the next generation. Designs that hamper survival in youth tend to be weeded out once we pass our reproductive years. If not it becomes a declaration of our inferiority.
Firstly, jealousy and envy contain a degree of anger and fear and often hatred. The origins of these emotions are designed to galvanise us into battle, to warn off potential and actual threats to our survival - to deter other women.
This remains an issue today and we witness it as women continue to compete for the attention of men. However today with the pervasiveness of technology our brains are living through a time of comparison that has never before been experienced. Jealousy and envy are hiding behind every social media post. We are continually triggered.
So how do we cope with such powerful energy in today's world?
It’s hard. Our mental health is in decline. I'm writing this post from a womans persepctive but at a time when i'm struggling with the fact that the biggest killer of men under 50 is suicide. Since it's women that fuel sexual selection we have a role to play in this.
Jealousy and envy are the irrational component in mental health. They are fuelled by rumination and the inabilty to focus our attention. Our ability to focus our atention is arguably the biggest threat to our mental health. Ultimately we have to decide if we want to subject ourself to the possibility of such a painful experience or whether we want try something different? It doesn't change on it's own.
The narratives that we beat ourselves up with whether they be envy or jealousy related don't help us make anything better longer term - we get stuck and lost. These powerful emotions are short term coping mechanisms - part of survival. Emotions require action and if we don't act on them they fuel longer term tension in the body - we berate ourselves, avoid others or distract ourselves through anger, guilt and even shame. More self-punishment.
There is potentially one way that we can put a positive spin on envy and jealousy. We can ask ourself if our emotion is coming from a place of lack in which we feel inferior or alternatively a genuine longing and desire?
For example, I may feel envious of someone's job, career, money, sense of adventure, their joie de vivre or lifestyle. And if it's coming from a lack of self-worth, I feel envious of that womens body because she is thinner or smaller. Maybe it's because she has straight hair and mine is curly or perhaps she is more athletic than me. This is a simple equation of "If I achieve X, I will feel Y." "If I have a thinner body I will feel confident." These conditional statements are always a bottomless pit of lies. And we continue, in our heads fuelled by envy or jealously to tell ourselves these things.
The one exception I've found it that if we are prepared to look inside at our own longing then perhaps we can use this as a source of motivation.
Overall jealousy and envy will challenge our sense of who we are. If we allow them they will ultimatley steal our peace of mind and we will begin the spiral to inferiority. It's in our genes.
But neuroplasticity is real. When we take a perspective that is different we realise that we may win the the battle but it will have a cost. Competing or comparing ourselves with others is ALWAYS a threat to our own happiness. There’s no sense in even trying to justify our behaviour once we begin this spiral as this becomes the path to increased torment and a stressed nervous system.
As always finding calm in the centre of the storm and coming back to that beautiful, soulful person you are is really what is important.