The Roots of Envy

Posted on September 19th, 2019

Envy is the uncomfortable feeling of wanting what someone else has. We could envy a possession they have or a position they have attained, a relationship they are in or who they are in relationship with, or even an opportunity they have which is not open to us. Sometimes envy takes a harsher turn, becoming resentment of someone else for what they have. 

Regardless of the form envy takes, its roots lie in over-attachment to our identities in the social world outside of us. 

Identity is the necessary currency of our engagements with each other, from our peripheral identities as customers or neighbors to the more central identities we may have in relationships or professionally. The difficulties with identities begin when we become attached to them and believe the ways we show up with others is who we actually are. 

So someone whose core identity is built around accomplishment—as so many are—is easily lured into making every situation about accomplishment. The beautiful flowers planted by me become the beautiful flowers planted by me. Beauty becomes an appendage of who I am, diminishing the ecstatic thrill of beauty into a possession. This falsifies and seriously deprives us, because no matter how grand or commanding an identity may seem, it is actually a diminished experience of who we are.

It’s true that some people have more of X than others—fill in the X with whatever quality you’d like, money, power, talent, beauty, possessions, recognition. As compelling as these qualities may seem, possessing any of them is secondary to the gift we all have in common. This is the gift of our own aliveness in this moment. Without the encumbrance of self-conscious identity, we can reach out to experience the moment more wholly, an experience immensely larger than those of our narrow, envying selves. 

Trading the experience of wholeness for the confines of a perpetually hungry identity is a loss, one familiar to almost everyone. The loss makes us hungry for a completeness which identity can’t fulfill. When we are lost in the limited land of identity, we turn this hunger toward each other, wanting what someone else seems to have, as though having this will restore us to ourselves and make us whole. It can’t, despite any momentary sense of triumph when we add some possession to our warehouse, because wholeness experiences everything but possesses nothing.

The path out of envy is not to get what someone else has. It’s seeing the whole world reflected in the drops and streams of water which come our way rather than trying to own the ocean. This is loving whatever we have and who we already are, taking the opportunity to experience the complete presence of what is in this moment. The more we embrace this opportunity, the less room there is for envy. The greatest opportunity is already in front of us—it’s already ours.

Posted in Individual Counseling

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.