Celebrating the joys and successes of members of our inner circle is expected, and a steady source of happiness when we can do it sincerely. “I’ve had friends who were doing wildly well–even at something I was struggling with–and I remember always feeling I got something good from their success, hope or shared pleasure,” says Lisa, a 53-year-old editor. When you feel bad instead, you lose out. You’re probably ashamed as well. Lisa, however, does feel envious of her talented daughter. “It’s squashed a lot by my breathtaking love for her. If she were just a friend I might be swamped by it and unable to be her friend, and I’d hate myself for that.”
“At any time, with any person, you may feel a twinge of envy,” says psychologist Gregory Jantz, author of “Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking,” in which he helps readers navigate the particular pain of online envy.
Online, envy is fed not by intimacy, but ignorance. “Face-braggers” omit the less glowing details. The same applies to bloggers, with their apparently charmed lives and productivity. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become entirely un-envious,” says one knitting blogger. I know it’s a façade – that their homes get messy, and they fight with their husbands.”
How to Identify Envy in Others
Some people are so afraid of being envied that they hold themselves back. As Nina, a 45-year- old entrepreneur recalls, “As a girl, I knew I was pretty and was afraid that other girls would be envious of me. So, I didn’t try to look my best.” Tara, a 50-year-old writer, recalls when a book agent called her, saying her first novel was “brilliant.” “My first emotion was fear. I thought, ‘I’m going to lose all my friends.’”
Silence or dismissal when you report successes may indeed be a sign of dark envy in others. You might keep your distance “if you tend to feel deflated and defeated after conversations–online or off,” says Jantz. Lisa describes a friend in graduate school who never finished his first-year project. “He often lashed out at me when I’d pass some hurdle. He’d say, “Sure, I could do my qualifying paper, too, if it weren’t on such a stupid topic.’”
Once you recognize envy, however, it may lose its sting. As Lisa says of her graduate school buddy, “Otherwise, he was dear and supportive and a great friend.”
The solution may be to crow less, applaud your friend more, pay more attention to her or find other topics and arenas where you don’t compete.
Stilling Your Own Envy
Solomon Schimmel, a professor of Jewish Education and Psychology at Hebrew College in Boston, suggests thinking about what you have that your friend doesn’t. Recall the price she paid for her success and your own choices. Finally, remind yourself that your envy hurts and doesn’t give you what you’re missing.
With your closest connections, confess. Maria, a 30-year-old TV producer, was annoyed when a childhood friend–a gay man–seemed to be boasting too much about his boyfriend’s new apartment. “We grew up together and have similar jobs, so inevitably we compete,” she says. Maria and her own mate weren’t yet ready for an apartment purchase. When she talked to her friend about her envy, “He said he would feel the same way. I think part of me did feel excited about him. When I got that off my chest, all of me got a chance to be happy.”
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