Years ago, my wife and I once decided to set out and hike to the top of the highest mountain in Idaho. Mount Borah, located in south central Idaho, is 12,667 feet high. It’s hardly mount Everest, but the hike from the base to the top is a long and steep, and you have to cross an ice field near the top. We prepared for weeks in advance, booking a cosy hotel room near the mountain, renting gigantic aluminum framed backpacks, purchasing self-heating meals, and so forth. When we set out that morning to conquer Mount Borah, we must have had 30 pounds of water with us. We set out, trudging up the extremely steep incline past various micro climate zones, with an extraordinary view for most of the hike. About 2/3 of the way up, burdened with our gear, we were huffing and puffing and having a water break when we saw a man coming down the mountain. We were a little surprised, as we set out at around 7 AM, so we were wondering when this guy could possibly have started his hike. Even more perplexing, he was wearing loafers and a fanny pack and had a small bottle of water that was still more than half full! The first emotion I had was something like confusion. How could someone scale this formidable peak without heavy duty hiking boots, a giant backpack, and a copious supply of water? The next emotion was probably embarrassment-related – the feeling you get when you realize you are way worse at something than someone else, or are going ridiculously overboard, and that fact has just become blatantly obvious. Envy crept in as well. Clearly, this guy had enviable mountaineering skills, and if we had those skills, we wouldn’t be putting ourselves at risk for scoliosis and death by sheer exhaustion with all of our expedition gear. The envy pretty quickly subsided, though, replaced by extreme fear when we reached the dreaded “Chicken Out Ridge.” (a story for another day). This, of course, is a pretty minor situation in which to feel envious. Sometimes, envy can burn and simmer and remind us that our lives are nowhere near the way we want them to be.
In a previous blog, I discussed ways to identify whether envy fits the facts or is “justified” as we say in DBT. Once you’ve identified whether envy fits the facts, there are a couple of different directions you could go. First, if envy does fit the facts (someone else or some group has something that you don’t have and want/need), it is helpful to start by accepting that the situation is as it is. It’s very difficult to do anything about a difficult situation without first acknowledging and accepting that it is the way it is. Another helpful step is to find some way to solve the problem contributing to envy. There are many ways to do this, but a few common methods include: (a) working, step-by-step, to try to acquire what you want or or need, (b) try to reduce the value you put on the things that others seem to have (that you don’t have), (c) avoid other people or groups of people who have what you don’t have, (d) put on rose coloured glasses, or try to see your situation in a different or better light (Linehan, 2015). Basically, you want to remove or change the situation that contributes to envy by either seeing it differently, working to get what you want/need and don’t have, or spending less time around people you envy. All of these steps are described in Dr. Linehan’s DBT skills training manual (Linehan, 2015). There are also some steps to take if your envy doesn’t fit the facts (is not justified), and I’ll discuss those in another blog. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.