An up close image of woman's face as she exhales and places her hand on her neck

Befriending envy is a counter-intuitive response to an emotion that is often judged harshly. It can leave us feeling all kinds of yuck inside, too. Yet, underneath this green monster of an emotion is powerful data that can inform and guide you in all areas of your life.

It can inspire iteration, improvement and a healthier side of competition that fosters the best out of people. Throwing envy under the bus all together would be missing some important nuances. 

A neutral—or as some circles of psychology or philosophy call benign—envy can help inspire us to action while also allowing space for the success and well-being of others. Instead of seeing envy exclusively as a character flaw or getting swept up in the waves of longing, befriending envy can be useful inspiration during seasons of feeling stuck or creative dry spells.

Befriending envy can be useful inspiration during seasons of feeling stuck or creative dry spells.

Use envy as a directive to dig deeper into the what’s and how’s of those who have already arrived at goals or achievements you desire. This can offer a road map for you to customize your unique gifts and goals.

An awareness of the nuances of envy can also help us catch the more insidious aspects of envy before we end up in the deep end of this emotion. Especially when envy is focused on status, power and objects, you can develop clarity on areas of your heart that may need deeper reflection, healing and support. 

The Impact of Leading from the Dark Side of Envy

When the protector of a more toxic aspect of envy takes over our perspective, it can mess with how we view ourselves and the world around us. With this kind of envy leading the way, we end up making decisions informed by the scarcity mindset, aka FOMO (fear of missing out). We begin to believe there’s not enough success, love and connection to go around.

Our confidence, generosity and compassion suffer from this kind of envy. Life will feel like a win-lose game that has to be conquered at all costs. This binary lens creates tunnel vision, causing us to lose our perspective beyond what we are lacking.

An unhealthy competition arises in this space and is deeply contagious. Our brains love certainty and safety. They are always assessing how to protect. What used to be an assessment of who is the biggest threat to our lives in very primitive forms, has shifted in our modern brains to assess who is the smartest, funniest, best dressed, most liked, wealthiest, most fit and so on. It is a black hole of comparison that is destructive when left unchecked. 

Envy as a Sales Tool

Resentment and longing are powerful tools to get people to take action, but they also move us away from our peace. In a social media-driven world that profits off of cultivating a longing for what others have, reclaiming our agency when envy arises is important in this comparison culture.

Reclaiming our agency when envy arises is important in this comparison culture.

When we learn to embrace envy and gain awareness from it, the power this emotion has over our moods and identities dissipates. We can reclaim our agency and build more resilience to the often used tools of persuasion that target our pain, insecurities and worries. 

Responding to Envy

When you are trying to identify and respond to envy:

  • Take time to assess it.
    This way you can understand and learn from it instead of letting it take the lead.
  • Notice where the feeling of envy shows up in your body.
    This is a powerful way to identify it. The sooner you catch it, the sooner you can redirect it to the more benign aspect of envy
  • Slow down your response to envy. 
    This is especially valuable when it involves spending time and resources.
  • Get curious about what it is connected to.
    Reflect on how to use this envy to better your life, work and decisions before shrinking from it.
  • Practice gratitude.
    Be gracious for the inspiration that can come from envy and toward those your envy is focused on.
  • Develop your ability to discern the difference between toxic and benign envy.
    This allows you to better respond and control your responses while staying aligned to your values.

Have you ever experienced envy? What did you learn about yourself from it?

Image via Kathryna Hancock, Darling Issue No. 15

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3 comments

  1. I thought I out-grew this, but it’s something I battle with every day. I personally am very hard on myself and coupled with the constant comparison game (which is born out of almost necessity, because social media, mainly IG, is a necessary part of my media platform I started out of a passion project.) It’s grown into something good – mostly – but I can’t help but think it’s turned me into a bit of a monster, as well. Ugh. Struggles. Anyway, thank you for the insightful and educative piece!

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