Coping Techniques: Envy

Please note that you should always consult with your physician before making any changes in your diet, your level of exercise and activity, medication or behaviors related to substance use.

The best way to make use of these techniques is to read through them, select three that stand out to you and practice them. I would be glad to hear from you on your responses.

1.       Envy is the sense of inferiority we sometimes feel in the presence of another person who is otherwise similar to us and whose envied accomplishment, trait or circumstance occurs in an area of life where we want to excel.

2.       Envy is a response that is not in itself negative or a mistake. It’s one way that we become aware of what we want in our lives. Therefore it isn’t a response that can be completely extinguished. It can be managed, however, much in the same way that anger can be managed.

3.       Monitor yourself for envious thoughts, especially in the form of rumination, or playing the same scenario in your mind over and over again.

4.       Interrupt envious thinking and deliberately refocus on scenarios that make you feel good. Think of this as a practice, something that becomes more effective with repetition.

5.       Increase your awareness of how polarized thinking might be playing out in your thought process. Polarized thinking suggests that only two possible states are possible. For instance, “Either I’m completely happy or I’m miserable.” Notice how such thinking might position you to experience misery any time you weren’t one hundred per cent happy.

6.       Envy is a result of comparing ourselves to another person. In this comparison we become polarized with our image of the other—we experience being inferior with all the bitterness or shame associated to that, and the other becomes highly idealized. One way to interrupt this model of reality is by looking at evidence that counters it.

7.       In regards to focusing on yourself: Practice self-bolstering. Review your own accomplishments and advantages. What are your gifts? What are the circumstances of your life that you celebrate, or that you could celebrate whether you choose to do so or not? What might another person reasonably envy you? Give this serious consideration. For instance, do you have two legs? It might be reasonable to conclude that a person who has recently lost one leg might find your place in life enviable. Do you currently live in a part of the world not qualified by armed conflict? How widely could you expand this form of consideration, which is sometimes called “deliberately cultivating gratitude?”

8.       In regards to focusing on the other person consider that the single trait or possession on which envy focuses is not “free-standing” but is part of the total of that person’s life. If you envy them their new car, do you also envy them their higher insurance rate? If you envy them their success at work do you also envy them the decreased time they get to spend with their family?

9.       Envy can be a defense against feelings of inferiority. Therefore one way to address envy is to use it to increase your awareness of what you might be defending against. Who do you envy, and what do you envy them? Whether it’s their appearance, accomplishment or more favorable position in the culture, look from the other person to yourself.

10.   When you become aware of those places in your life where you feel inferior to others, consider whether you could develop yourself further there. Also consider whether the person you envy could be taken as a role model.

11.   One way to undercut the impact of envy is to focus on your own values rather than on the other person’s attainments. I envy you your new car, but is having a new car actually my value? That is, does the goal of having a new car form a pathway in my life? If it does, then when I focus on it (by working extra hours in order to save more money, or by going without things that I don’t value as much as I do a new car) whether or not the other person a new car decreases in importance. If having a new car isn’t one of my values in life, what are my values?

12.   Consider that life might not be fair. Not that this automatically makes it unfair (that would be an example of polarized thinking). But that qualities such as fair/unfair are human constructs and imposed on our view of the world, not obtained from our view of the world. Does this make it a little easier to let go of the expectation that you will have what someone else has?