Coping with Envy

OK, back to the interesting emotion of envy. So, how can we cope effectively with envy? The first step is to identify whether envy is appropriate or fits the situation, whether it fits the factors or is “justified” as we say in DBT. Envy fits the facts when someone else or some other group of people has something you want or need, and you don’t have it (Linehan, 2015). If you don’t have a current romantic partner and envy your friend because she just started dating a new person, your envy probably fits the facts. If you are strapped for cash, just barely getting by each pay period, but your sister is a wealthy, successful lawyer with a large home and no financial worries, your envy probably fits the facts. On the other hand, if you envy your coworker because you’re struggling emotionally, but he seems to have it all together, your envy may or may not fit the facts. You might not really know your coworker’s state of mind, what he’s going through, or whether he also struggles. Consider whether other people really have the things you envy. Do they really have it all together? Do they have as much money, happiness, and so forth that you think they do? Figuring out whether envy fits the facts involves a little fact checking of the assumptions you are making about other people.

It’s also helpful to think about what you’re envying and whether you really want or need it. Take the situation where you have a wealthy sister. Let’s say you’re actually getting by just fine financially. You have a comfortable living situation and can support your family, have enough money to enjoy the occasional dinner and movie out, and can go on a nice family vacation once a year. You still have a mortgage and would like to save more money for retirement, but money is not a big barrier to a reasonable quality of life. Then, would envy fit the facts? It might, if you truly value being rich, really want to be completely debt free, and have these as important personal goals. But, if you have everything you need, and in your heart, you really don’t care that much whether you’re rich and don’t expect to be, your envy might not fit the facts. Consider whether the things you envy are actually important to you. Do you really want and need the things others seem to have? Do you really lack the things others seem to have? It takes a little work to figure out whether an emotion like envy fits the facts, but it’s an important first step, because what you do next depends on what you’ve discovered. I’ll talk about the next step soon. ~Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych