Measuring yourself against others is typical (and sometimes advantageous) behavior for humans. You secretly (or not so secretly) exult when you’re better, crumple when you’re worse and breathe a sigh of relief when there’s nobody around to compare to. Although rivalry can have beneficial effects for individuals and society, trouble arises when the occasional envious moment leads to ongoing bitterness, acting out and/or harsh self judgment.
Judging yourself for being envious is also typical behavior for humans, especially when envy arises strongly for people you care about. Some people squash these shadow thoughts as soon as they arise. Others may be completely unconscious how envy is ruling them. The problem with judging yourself or shutting down awareness is that you miss opportunities to heal and open your heart more fully to yourself and others. Furthermore, suppressed or repressed envy often worms its way unwittingly into behavior that ends up hurting you or loved ones. When you don’t attend to the emotions that lie beneath envy, you can end up with a festering fortress around your heart.
Amy Rothman’s interview in the LA Times last week with Jules Stewart (Twilight star Kristin Stewart’s mother) is a startling example of how unhealed envy leads to unintentional pain. Jules was doing press to promote her own new film. Speaking of her daughter, Kristin, she said, “It’s extremely frustrating for me, because she’s 22 years old and I’m almost 60,” said Stewart, who looks almost Goth with her long jet-black hair, chunky silver rings and sleeve of tattoos. “In terms of life experience — hello! — I have it all over her. It’s not like I came out of nowhere…. I have my own career. My own thing going on. And I would hate to think that it’s because of my 22-year-old that I got to direct a movie.”
Ouch! My heart ached for both Jules and Kristin when I read this. I grieved the loss of self- and mother-love this comment illustrated. I wished Jules had been supported by a friend or counselor to safely and responsibly experience the completely understandable rage and grief she felt about her lack of visibility and power as a director. (The glass ceiling is especially thick for women film directors). Allowing her sad, mad, scared emotions to move briefly through her body could have healed Jules in so many ways — increasing peaceful appreciation of her own courage and strength as well as kvelling in the pride of raising an enormously successful daughter. Instead, Jules seems caught in the mental states of bitterness and resentment.
When envy raises its head in your life, consider it a call for healing. Some wounded part of you (likely an inner deprived child) needs loving attention – not blame, silencing, or acting out. Let that hurting part know you are there to hear what it needs. Feel, breathe and be tender with yourself. By doing this, you give yourself the loving parenting you’ve always deserved. Watch carefully for the (sooner than you think) moment any embodied anger, grief or fear turns into peace and pleasure. Yes, life as a human is hard and sometimes involves envy and misery…but every painful experience offers the grace of new growth, more heart, and spacious peace. Happy Spring!