Home » Blogs » The Emotionally Sensitive Person » When Envy Erupts

When Envy Erupts

The definition of envy is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. To put it more personally, you really resent the heck out of someone else because you want what they have. Sometimes it seems so completely unfair that someone got a promotion, inheritance, recognition, has great hair, or possesses another desirable trait, gift, or thing that would mean a lot to you. You really  want it and you don’t have it You’re filled with envy and your brain is filled with revenge thoughts. But you can’t tell anyone. What would they think of you?

Envy is often an emotion  that people keep secret. It can lead to urges to get back at the other person, ruminate about the unfairness of the situation and think about how much you hate the other person, and  can lead to actions that cause the other person misfortune. That may be especially true if it seems the person is rubbing in their good fortune. Envy is not usually something people are proud of, but it’s something we all feel at times.

Tom Lynch, Ph.D.addresses envy as part of Radically Open DBT. He distinguishes between helpful and unhelpful envy. Unhelpful envy is a painful blend of two emotions: shame and anger. You compare yourself unfavorably to others. When you are envious, you are aware that other people probably won’t agree with your perception of unfairness. (Resentment is different. Resentment is when you are more likely to believe that others will publicly validate your view of unfairness.)

Unhelpful envy can lead you to ruminate or even act on resentful urges. You want to get secret revenge (or maybe not so secret).. Getting revenge can be what might drive someone to key a new car or to drop complaints or criticisms about a co-worker who is being praised for his work. You might discourage a new partner in a relationship that he is excited about. When you’ve got unhelpful  envy, you may take secret pleasure in the other person failing in some way, or in having misfortunes occur.You know what I mean.

Helpful envy is about admiration and appreciation of another person who is similar to you. When you notice that you are envious of what someone else has, you decide to work on creating something similar for yourself. What you envy in someone else can be a clue to goals that are important to you. It can be motivating. For example,  if your sister is able to dance like she trained on Dancing with the Stars, you might want to learn to dance yourself. If you admire someone’s physical fitness, oratory skills, friendships, or travel experiences, maybe those are values that you have and would want to act on.

If you are experiencing unhelpful envy, try using the skill of opposite action. Lynch suggests that  instead of acting on hate and the wish to attack, go opposite. Acknowledge that you are experience ing unhelpful envy and then admit it  and decide whether you want to change it. If you do want to change it, first recognize the specific envious thoughts and urges you have, then go opposite. For example, practice being kind and nonjudgmental to the other person instead of thinking horrible thoughts about them, Block any revenge fantasies. Reveal your envy to someone you trust. Consider turning unhelpful envy into adoration and admiration. Celebrate the person’s success, reminding yourself it doesn’t take anything away from you and is not a judgement of you. Reward yourself for living according to your values.


Interested in emotional sensitivity? Listen to the Emotionally Sensitive Person Podcast here.  



When Envy Erupts

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Hall, K. (2018). When Envy Erupts. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Dec 2018
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.