Let's Be Honest - We All Get Jealous, So Let's Talk About It
The Debrief: Feeling jealous of other people doesn't inherently make you a bad person - so why do we behave like it does?
I am writing this on a Sunday, which for me, is often my most envious day of the week. So far today I’ve been jealous of my friend Lizzie, who is training for a marathon and posted a before-and-after Instagram picture of her 13 mile training run. I’ve been jealous of a few people who are currently attending an amazing event that I was too lazy and disorganised to get tickets for. I’m envious of my social media pal Sarah, who is one of the most successful people alive in her chosen field, and currently appears to be hanging out with an adorable rabbit. Why don’t I have a rabbit to play with? Is it because I’m not as good at anything as she is? Everyone else is amazing, and I’m crap, and it’s not fair.
'It’s not fair' is my childish response to every pang of envy I experience. Rationally, I know that everyone, whether they’re a friend or a celeb, has a right to document their life how they choose, and often the image or news they share is shared in a joyful and celebratory way. Nobody is captioning their pictures with 'I am the best! Better than all the rest! Feel bad, bitches!' Emotionally, it’s another story. I think my jealousy is the ugliest thing about me, and the part of my personality that I have the least control over - and it’s partly because I know that every visit from the green eyed monster represents the triumph of feelings over facts. I wanted to write a chapter in my book, How To Be A Grown Up, that dealt with jealousy, because I think it might be one of the last taboos. I believe that we all experience it sometimes, but it’s painful to admit it, even to ourselves.
However, I’ve become much better at handling and understanding my emotions since I decided to embrace jealousy. I’m not saying that I spend the weekend hunched over my Instagram feed, thinking of passive aggressive comments to describe everyone else’s brunch and hissing like Gollum. It’s more that when I acknowledge the feelings, I create enough mental space to be able to let them go. I grew up believing that envy was too toxic to touch, and that wanting what other people had made me a bad, selfish person. Mentally, I had to learn to confine myself, running, hiding and moving dextrously to avoid it. Imagine you have to walk through an extremely narrow corridor which has just been painted. You’re creeping on tiptoe, holding your breath and attempting to fold your whole body inward in order to avoid the paint. I think we’re often socialised to do this with our negative emotions, for safety’s sake. But it doesn’t make us any healthier or happier in the long term.
A few days ago I had a long lunch with a wise friend who is in her early sixties. We talked for hours about our careers and what it was like for women in our chosen industries. I expected her to say that envy is something you experience when you’re young, and as you mature, you’re expected to be gracious and filled with perspective. But I was astonished to hear that she still experiences it, and isn’t always sure how to deal with it. Sometimes it helps her to make a decision about her own career, and sometimes it’s just awkward and painful. However, it was amazing to hear her being open about a subject we’re usually so scared to discuss. Especially because in 2017, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in our heads - we’re expected to show the world we’re doing well. Admitting to envious thoughts is a way of saying that we don’t feel we’re performing as we ought to be, which is a statement of vulnerability.
I have five younger sisters. They are all very clever, funny and beautiful, and I adore them. But when we were growing up, I used to feel jealous of them constantly. I remember being three, and furious that Beth, two, had been bought a brand new dress that wasn’t available in my size. I remember being angry that 10 year old Grace had a boy best friend who said he was in love with her, when I was 14 and only knew three boys - my Dad, the cat and the postman. I remember the day that every single one of my sisters got their GCSE and A Level results, because I was always up for comparing myself with them and despairing, even though I got As and A*s. Every time I demonstrated my jealousy, I’d get told off, so I tried to keep quiet about it. My friend Erin*, 24 says that she experienced something similar. 'At school, my friend always got amazing grades and I felt as though I was being constantly compared to her, but whenever I tried to voice my jealousy, I was told I was being bitchy. Now, I’m jealous of colleagues, old uni friends, Instagram people I don’t know - and I’d feel ashamed if anyone realised this. Yet, admitting it to you is a huge relief. When i voice these feelings, they don’t seem to have as much power over me.'
During therapy sessions, my own envy comes up frequently. My therapist is always having to remind me that feelings, even jealous ones, are not inherently bad. Envy only becomes a problem when it causes you to hurt people. This includes yourself - so even if you’re not spreading vicious rumours about the person who triggers your jealousy, or dreaming about hooking up with their partner and burning their house down, you might be so consumed by negativity that you paralyse yourself and prevent yourself from living the life that you deserve.
Erin admits 'It got so bad with one particular person that I was missing parties and dinners because I was so worried she’d be there, and I wouldn’t be able to cope. Of course, it all came tumbling out when I’d had some drinks, and we had an amazing talk. I discovered that stuff wasn’t simply falling into her lap, and for every exciting achievement she announced, there would be five or six things she’d desperately wanted and hadn’t worked out. Also, it was amazing to hear her tell me that she felt jealous all the time, and that her career had taken off when she tried to be inspired by the jealousy instead of fighting it.'
Jealousy and envy are isolating feelings, because they make us feel as if everyone is better than us - more deserving, and yet luckier too. However, the people who inspire envy in us have definitely felt it themselves, and knowing that jealousy is common makes it a bit easier to bear. It’s worth remembering that there aren’t many spaces where we can show our working. We see the holiday pictures, but not the three months of slightly soggy packed lunches that were eaten while the vacation was saved up for. We know about the promotion, but not that it comes with a pay rise lower than inflation, or that the boss is a bully. When we admit we feel jealousy, we admit we’re weak, but I think that there’s a strength in coming together and being honest about how difficult is to experience. That’s how we can learn to understand the emotion and sit within it, instead of pushing it away and refusing to process it.
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