“The more you hide your feelings, the more they show. The more you deny your feelings, the more they grow.” ~Unknown
Envy is such an overpowering and overwhelming feeling, often something hidden, or masked by a smiley face, or fuelled into rage and resentment. I've experienced all of these emotions in my life, and as I neared my fortieth birthday, I felt that I could not go on. I was crippled by the “envy story” stuck on repeat mode inside my mind.
As I watched friends and family swoop by me in terms of outer achievements and success, the envy door took me to places within that I'd not expected.
Envy began to feel like this creepy character, always waiting to erode my self-esteem and to crush those around me through criticism and put-downs.
What I discovered was that life will give us more and more reasons to be envious until it teaches us the power of deep surrender to what is. It can show us that sometimes what appears rosy on the outside is not always the case.
My envy had begun in primary school when my best girlfriends made new friends and I was left on the sidelines.
I lacked social confidence; I was quiet and quite shy, and my envy grew as most of my friends signed up for the school show, got boyfriends and I didn't.
Envy continued into my adult life because I had tried to avoid it and managed to stuff it down with food and distractions, but it found new reasons for me to be envious. This time it was not friendships, but appearance and achievements.
It brought me to a crucial stage in my life where almost everyone I knew was getting every single thing I had ever wanted.
My bucket list was empty while everyone else's was overflowing, with nice houses, greater financial prosperity, lots of vacations overseas, and so on.
At one point it felt like life was having one big cosmic joke on me as I looked into my purse and saw nothing there, while people on social networks were complaining they could not afford a new smartphone.
And so it continued until it amplified.
This experience gave me no choice but to do the one thing I had been avoiding all along—surrender to what is.
In 2013 I began a practice of mindfulness, after what felt like a long time of failing to positive-think my way into a better life.
Through mindfulness I saw how great this envious feeling was within me. I could no longer avoid it, ignore it, or smother it with over-working or over-eating. I knew this emotion had a great gift for me and now was the time for me to find out what it was.
As life showed me other people's higher levels of outer achievements, I realized that I could no longer keep re-playing my failure story. It wasn't possible that I was here to fail forever.
I noticed that I couldn’t fight envy by amassing greater riches than my neighbors. Envy wouldn't go away if I got my teeth straightened, lost weight, met someone new, or became top in my chosen career.
There would always be more that my ego wanted. There would always be somebody who had straighter teeth, who was slimmer, who was higher up the professional ladder than me.
If an envy story is playing, it will always seep into our way of viewing the world until we meet it at the front door and welcome it in.
Recently, I attended my younger sister's wedding. She's twenty-five, in her ideal job, now married to the love of her life, and they are about to buy their first home.
Together, they are financially abundant and she is socially confident. Because of this, my comparison junkie reared its ugly head, with loud flashing lights and alarm bells. My sister, through no fault of her own, was a red flag to my envy bull.
As a single woman, in my late thirties, renting my tiny flat and currently living on a tight budget, the wedding threw up so much envy.
It was pelting me like tomatoes and rotten eggs at a criminal in the medieval stocks, but this time I knew how to handle what was coming up in me. I welcomed it all in.
Being more of a social introvert, I watched as more gregarious characters interacted at the wedding, as extroverts mingled easily and took to the dance floor during the evening, and I felt this whoosh of envy plough through me, starting at my solar plexus and rushing up through my heart and becoming lodged in my throat.
The envy wanted to scream, “Give me a break!” I breathed slowly, and gently said inwardly “Welcome envy, welcome.”
This did not take the envy away. It's not a fast-food approach to personal growth; it's a mindful acceptance of what is and an act of self-kindness to the hurt, sad child within who remembers times before when she didn't feel good enough.
And by welcoming envy, I left the wedding soothed—not upbeat, not calm, not even happy, but a bit more at peace, and I was okay with this. This was a new experience for me, and I was grateful that envy had something to teach me.
Envy can pervade our identity, close our hearts to loved ones, and prevent us from experiencing meaningful relationships.
It can also be a gift, but not until we are willing to unwrap this gift can we see it for what it really is—a journey inward to the place where a more compassionate understanding can be revealed.
To bring relief from the pain of envy, you need to accept it, not resist or suppress it. It may feel scary to embrace this feeling, but it can help tremendously to acknowledge it and tell yourself, “I'm feeling envious at the moment, and that's okay.”
You can then use your envy as a driving force toward achieving your goals or passions in life, but make sure they are your goals.
Sometimes in the heat of envy we can get lost in the achievements and outer reality of others and believe that we need to be like them to be popular, confident, likeable, and so much more.
Make sure you do a check-in with your own values. Are your goals based on your true inner passions, wants, and needs? Or are you pursuing something because you have compared your life with another's and are feeling inferior?
Woman at peace image via Shutterstock