Those of you that know me will know that my favourite colour is green. I love the fact that there are 40 shades of it too, according to the song written by Johnny Cash during his 1959 trip to Ireland. The shade of green that is my focus today though is my least favourite; the one that gives bile its colour. You see, I have been battling with a horrible feeling for as long as I can remember, and it is only now that I am able to see clearly its cause. It pains me to even write about it because of the shame it evokes in me. But, like I’ve written in the past, shame will only keep us trapped in a dark place if we don’t let the light of honest self-reflection in and share it with others. It’s coming up to the 21-month milestone in my sobriety and every day that I put between myself and the toxic, mind-numbing effects of alcohol the more clarity of vision and gratitude of heart I gain. So here goes. I have been guilty of envying other people for their success, for their confidence, for their self-belief and for the number of likes they get. There, I’ve said it.
Uncovering the green-eyed monster
According to the ancient Greeks, jealousy occurred as a result of the over-production of bile, which turned the human skin slightly green. And so, the expression of ‘green with envy’ was born. Later on, William Shakespeare wrote in Othello: ‘Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is a green-eyed monster who doth mock the meat it feeds on.’ Back then, the words jealousy and envy were seen as one and the same. Today, we have come to understand that there are in fact subtle differences between them, and important ones at that. The way I understand it is this: jealousy is clinging to something or someone out of fear of losing them while envy is wanting someone or something that another person has because you feel you ought to have it. My recent discovery is very much centred on envy and how I have been harbouring feelings of self-doubt based on how much ‘better-off’ others appear to be. I have come face-to-face with the ‘comparisonista’ in me, and I don’t like what I see.
The grass looks greener
We live in an era where other people’s successes and joys are paraded in front of us 24/7 thanks to the advent of technology and social media. Back in September I wrote about the dangers of too much screen time social media and how we need to become more active in our screen time as opposed to passive. The more passive we are in scrolling through people’s posts, the more at risk we are of cultivating envy. By scrolling mindfully and actively seeking out the things that interest us, we are better able to control what we absorb. Part of this mindfulness is knowing that these days the camera does lie, people do show only their best side – very often their photo-shopped self and the grass always looks greener. If we are not careful, our devices can very easily become an envy amplifier.
Sobriety & truth
One of the great benefits of having overcome addiction is that I am not afraid to admit my failings. Being able to acknowledge where we are messing up is a key part of the recovery process. It is so true what they say about sobriety being the gift that keeps on giving. In my case, I continue to grow in understanding and am becoming a better version of me. One of my mantras throughout my sober journey is that the opposite of addiction is connection. Envy is just another obstacle in the way of connecting on a deep level with humanity. So, tackling this envy crap is important. Like everything else I have faced in the past, I have researched and read as much as I can about envy to help me understand, process and change it at a deep level. I know where it originated, and I understand how it slipped unnoticed into life and shaped my view of the world for a long while. Many times, I have come across the word Schadenfreude and wasn’t quite sure of its full meaning. Now I know that it’s a sister emotion of envy as it means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. In her book, Envy in Everyday Life, psychoanalytic psychotherapist Patricia Polledri writes: ‘Envy is wanting to destroy what someone else has. Not just wanting it for yourself but wanting other people not to have it. It’s a deep-rooted issue, where you are very, very resentful of another person’s wellbeing – whether that be their looks, their position or the car they have. It is silent, destructive, underhand – it is pure malice, pure hatred.’ As soon as I read this, I swore I would rid myself of all feelings of envy from that day forward. In fairness though, my feelings of envy have never developed into feelings of malice thankfully. But maybe they could… who knows!
A shoulder with a bit missing
At the root of envy is an inferiority complex. I know this to be true. I never thought I was good enough, bright enough, slim enough or worthy enough of attention. I had the ubiquitous chip on my shoulder. And so, I craved to be like all those people I thought I wasn’t. I never realised just how commonplace this chip is until I joined sobriety groups with people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe and learnt that one of the most common reasons people slip into addictive behaviours is because they don’t believe they are good enough. It is heartbreaking to see how people destroy themselves out of self-hate, a hate that was cultivated from things that happened to them in their younger years that weren’t dealt with. What makes it particularly difficult to heal this wound is the fact that people are quite judgy about those who are perceived to have that ‘chip on their shoulder’ which compounds the problem. The more we judge, the more we reveal about our own chip! For we tend to criticise others for the very thing we despise in ourselves. We just haven’t yet found the courage or strength to admit it. For to be human is to be imperfect – therefore nobody is the best, the brightest, the slimmest or the worthiest, are they?
From envy to sympathetic joy
Now that I have come clean with myself about these feelings of envy, I have opened a door to a new opportunity. My goal is to revisit the things that matter to me, the things that make me who I am and focus far less on what everybody else is doing. Yes, I will continue to draw inspiration from others and offer some of my own to anyone who might need it. In order to be inspiring though my main concern must be this: Am I OK as I am? If not, why not? What do I need to do to ensure I am living my best life? I know the answers – I just needed to ask! I also know that no matter how it might appear on the outside, everybody is dealing with their own challenges on the inside. It’s what makes us human. We should all be able to know what our purpose is, however humble it might be, and fulfill it. Then we can celebrate the successes of others without feeling envy or despair that we are somehow missing out or inferior. My life is mine for the living and I am living it to the best of my ability which I believe will directly benefit those around me. I really hope you know that you can do the same.
I will leave you this week with a quote from Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama: ‘To help us bring benefit to others through our words and actions, it is useful to cultivate an attitude of sympathetic joy in others’ achievements and good fortune. This attitude is a powerful antidote against envy, which is not only a source of unnecessary suffering on the individual level but also an obstacle to our ability to reach and engage with others.’ Thanks for joining me today.
Photo borrowed from Facebook group… photographer not credited