I’m not proud of it, but “jealousy” is what I had to admit. Later, upon referring to Brené Brown’s lexicon in Atlas of the Heart, I realized it was actually “envy.” She says this:
Jealousy is when we fear losing a relationship or a valued part of a relationship that we already have. Envy occurs when we want something that another person has.
We live in a world that thrives on envy.
Capitalism and commercialism do everything in their power to create and sustain this emotional state. These systems flourish because they have us endlessly wanting something that another person has.
It’s reinforced through endless messages (inside and out) that cajole us to believe we will only be whole, complete, happy, and fulfilled when and if we are successful, wealthy, loved, admired, thin, and/or ______________ (fill in the blank).
If this weren’t enough, the slightest scroll through Instagram floods us with images of those who DO have all this, who at least appear to have what we have been persuaded and convinced to want, desire, (and purchase) at almost any cost.
It requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness and discipline to NOT feel envy! Brené Brown names that psychologically (and culturally) it is almost impossible for us to avoid it. But then she says this:
Even if we do not choose whether or not to make a comparison, we can choose whether or not to let that comparison affect our mood or self-perceptions.
This is what I’ve been thinking about since tripping over my own comparison and envy. It has definitely affected my mood and self-perceptions. I need and want to make a different choice. And I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, you can relate.
We nearly buckle under unrelenting pressure to have perfect clothes, homes, jobs, bodies, faces, hair, shoes, relationships, and a practically perfect attitude at all times.
Since comparison is a given and the lure toward envy is rife, how can we make a different choice or at least have another way to look at this?
No surprise: I have some thoughts.
I once had the privilege of spending a day in the presence of Gertrude Mueller Nelson, author of Here All Dwell Free (which if you haven’t read you must.) I remember taking furious notes as she said that instead of feeling self-contempt or shame for our envy, we should understand it to be a reflection of our desire; a mirror of what we hold to be of value for ourselves.
Our envy offers us evidence of what we desire; that we desire, period!
When we want something another person has or wish that another person’s reality were our own, we are gaining profound insight into our very selves. This is not a bad thing. It’s a powerful naming and knowing!
Iwantto be aware of what I want. It’s the only way I can discern what is worth pursuing and what is most-definitely not!
When we identify and name what we want, we can distinguish between what we actually desire and what our culture tells us to want (and want and want some more).
The morning I’d been journaling, I was writing about a webinar I’d attended the day before, taught by a relatively well-known woman: what I liked and didn’t, what I agreed with and didn’t. Instead of reflecting more on my own thoughts, I left the journaling document entirely, opened a new tab, pulled up her website, and fell down a too-deep rabbit hole that had me literally calculating (with a calculator) how much she must be making every year. Envy. Envy. Envy!
(Did I mention I’m not proud of this?)
When I finally returned to my words on the screen, my envy offered me a clue — evidence of what I actually desire. On the surface, it’s money. BUT (and this is important) once I saw and named this, I very quickly knew it to be something culture tells me to want, NOT what I really want. It’s not that I don’t want money. I am just very, very clear that I do NOT want to be sucked into any vortex that tells me having more of it will make me whole, complete, happy, fulfilled, blah, blah, blah.
What do I really want? What’s underneath? Mmmmm. Assuredness. Security. Groundedness. A sense of being “at home” and “at rest” with my work and very sense of self.
No matter what we think we want, no matter what we have been conditioned to want — money, beauty, success, fame, power, even a perfect holiday — all are mist and shadow, myth and false promise.
What lies underneath is ours to know, honor, and value. These deeper desires are worthy of us; they are good, deserved, beautiful and true! WE are worthy!
“. . . Esther Perel says desire is owning the wanting, and in order to own the wanting, there needs to be a self that feels deserving of the wanting.(Reclaiming Body Trust)
When we name what we truly desire, we have agency. We are not at the whim of anything Instagram or Facebook tells/sells us, others’ opinions or expectations, past beliefs, even our circumstances. And we can bravely name (even grieve), where these things have NOT been true, present, known, or felt.
To acknowledge what we truly desire allows us to step away from envy and instead, move toward ourselves. Our truest, deepest desire becomes our North Star!
That was a lot of words to ultimately say just this:
Let yourself want what you want. It invites you into the truth of what you most truly desire and deserve.
I wish I could tell you that I quickly identified envy that morning, walked through all of these insights, and closed the document on my laptop feeling so much better about myself. That would not be true. What I can tell you is that giving myself permission to name what I was truly feeling, albeit slightly painful, enabled me to eventually see and understand so much more. Isn’t that always the way of it? The things we’d prefer to avoid are the very things that invite our healing, growth, and wisdom.
I hope envy is not a constant, even occasional visitor in your day-to-day reality. But on the off-chance that it is, may its presence remind you of just how beautiful your desire truly is; of how beautiful your heart is when it wants what it truly wants.
May it be so.
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