I sometimes feel envious of others for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve just gone on a wonderful trip to Europe, have retired and aren’t plagued by constant work obligations, are faster or more flexible than me (in my martial arts class), or have children who actually enjoy eating the meals they cook. Envy typically arises when we become aware that someone (or some group of people) has something that we value and want but don’t have, such as money, fame, certain characteristics or abilities, relationships (e.g., if you’re single but want a partner), and so forth. Envy can be a very challenging and painful emotion, particularly when you’re envious of someone who has something you desperately want or need.
If you struggle with mental health problems, you sometimes might envy people who don’t seem to have these problems. Some of the clients I’ve seen are extremely smart and capable but their mental health difficulties make it hard to achieve their potential. They see other former classmates or friends get excellent jobs, start families, and so on, and feel deeply envious and resentful. This is perfectly understandable. It can be maddening when you know you’re capable, can’t seem to get around the roadblock of your mental health problems, and watch others succeed with greater ease (or at least, that might be how it seems).
As with other emotions, certain thoughts, desires, and actions come along with envy. When you experience envy, for example, you might think that the situation is unfair, that you deserve what others have, that you are inferior, incapable, or unlucky, and so forth (Linehan, 2015). Envy sometimes comes along with schadenfreude (discussed last time) – hoping for or gaining pleasure in the misfortune of the person or people you envy. Actions related to envy sometimes include attempting to get what others have, competing with others, and attacking or denigrating others. Next time, I’ll talk a bit about some skills from DBT (Linehan, 2015) that can help people cope with envy. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.