In our post I’m Not Envious, Am I? we discussed insights into the feelings of jealousy and envy, and how to tell if this was part of your personality make-up. We know that feeling jealous or envious can lead to feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and even acts of verbal or physical abuse.
And it’s not just the person feeling jealous whose psyche is damaged–it’s the person who is the object of jealousy and envy, too. Jealousy and envy are dangerous. They can even lead to serious harm.
Certain forms of jealousy and envy are accepted in many cultures and sub-cultures, especially envy that motivates a person to achieve. Film, fiction and even historical documents acknowledge how people have been motivated by jealousy and envy. But people can be harmed by them too.
When a child “picks on” another child, the victim is often told that the other child is “just jealous” of them. This is meant to placate them. They are told they should be “flattered.” Often, this isn’t actually the case. Children and adults are bullied and abused for all kinds of reasons, and jealousy is only one among many.
But if in fact it is the case, that someone is indeed jealous or envious of you, it isn’t always something that can or should be brushed off. It may be a way to mollify your conscience or boost your ego, but these aren’t necessarily benefits.
If you’ve been doing your utmost to attract envy, then you might want to reconsider. It’s time to think about living for your own approval and not any one else’s. If your self-esteem is overly tied in with others’ admiration of you, then it could be time to switch gears.
Not Your Fault?
But what if you are reasonably modest, don’t brag about your achievements or try to attract too much attention to your successes or talents or gifts, and someone else is envious of you anyway?
Some people can feel so inadequate that they simply can’t stand it if someone else has something they don’t.
I (C.R.) have a friend, a former client, who is uber-talented. Whatever she touches turns to the figurative gold. She is very successful financially and has raised some children of tremendous character as well. She is also truly warm and kind. To me it’s just a given that whoever knows her likes her. But she confided in me that a woman in her social circle is jealous of her and has even bad-mouthed her to the point of causing her quite a bit of heartache. (It was her story that prompted us to write I’m Not Envious, Am I?)
I asked her how she deals with it, and she told me the only thing that has gotten her through it is her faith. She said she tried befriending this woman and it only got worse. She tried confronting her (it’s hard to imagine her confronting anyone) and it only added fuel to the fire. After she was confronted, this person went around saying she had been unjustly attacked and vilified. Over time, some of my friend’s acquaintances then began badmouthing her as well, saying they knew all along she was “too good to be true.”
Envy reared it’s ugly head.
This is not a one-off.
A colleague was in a similar situation, and in fact, his situation overlapped yet another envy situation, this one I was involved in. In my colleague’s situation, the jealous guy did his best to undermine his leadership position in his community. Being gossiped about with distortions of truth is bad enough, but there were outright lies, too. In my situation, something similar happened, though my situation wasn’t as extreme.
How did the three of us solve our problems? Everyone used a variety of tactics, from direct confrontation, to going to friends and acquaintances and telling them outright that we were lied about. And we were the fortunate ones because each of us had good friends who (at least eventually) told us what was going on so we knew what we were dealing with.
Most important, once we thought about what was going on, none of us allowed it to harm our self-esteem (although it made all of us more leery about being so quick to trust others.)
Not everyone’s so fortunate.
The Dark Side of Envy
It may have begun with Cain and Abel, but it doesn’t end there.
Adrianne Reynolds, a teenager in East Moline, Illinois, was pretty and popular. And she was murdered because of it. Sara Kolb and Corey Gregory strangled, burned, and dismembered their classmate because of a jealous argument. They were both tried and sentenced to more than 40 years in prison.
Melanie Smith burned an entire family to death because of jealousy and envy both. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Christine Paolilla killed four of her friends in a complicated situation that was exacerbated by both jealousy and envy.
And of course, there are many more such examples.
We have to remember: Jealousy and envy are toxic, misplaced anger. (More on that in a future post.)
For most of us, the dark side of having someone envy us is finding out we were the subject of gossip, perhaps not invited to party–no worse. But for some who are the objects of envy or jealousy, losing a job, relationship, or friendships can result. Or worse.
Dealing with the Damage
If you find out you’re the subject of jealousy or envy before damage is done, talking might clear the air. Certainly you have the right to confront someone. And if your behavior has been boastful or arrogant or you flaunt any of your material or intellectual gifts, well, that behavior won’t win you true friends in any case. It might be time for some self-evaluation.
But if some damage has already been done–to your reputation or relationships–you have two options. Hold your head high and ignore it. Or, talk to anyone and everyone and tell them what’s really been going on. Sometimes, that’s enough to totally take the power out of someone’s jealous gossip.