I wrote this before I became self-aware. I have struggled with envy my entire life because I always felt defective and yet entitled at the same time (due to mixed messages I received as a child of being both “special” and “unique” but at the same time “bad” and “incompetent.”). Such parenting is a recipe for covert narcissism, in my opinion. If you do not want your child to become a narcissist, DO NOT give them messages from either extreme–your child is not perfect nor is she all bad. Have realistic expectations. I think inconsistent messages and impossible expectations are especially dangerous to the development of a growing child’s real self. At they very least she could develop BPD.
While I’ve never attempted to sabotage the good fortune of another person (at least not consciously), the bitterness of envy tends to fester inside me and colors my entire outlook on everything, most of all myself. It fosters self-hatred and ensuing overcompensation which can lead to grandiose and entitled behavior. In the past, when I envied someone, I used to do things like change the subject, pretend I didn’t hear (similar to the silent treatment), make snide or passive aggressive remarks, and one time I even flew into a BPD rage. 😳 That was a long time ago. I’ve become much more mindful when I’m envious but it’s still an emotion I struggle with and do not want in my life. It’s getting better. Besides mindfulness (to control my reactions), prayer seems to help me a lot with actually lessening the pain of envy (and it is VERY painful).
I have a trait I’m ashamed of, and I’ve been struggling with it my entire life: envy.
It’s been getting a lot better since I went No Contact and started blogging. I’m generally less envious than I used to be, but today it reared its ugly head again.
What distinguishes my envy from narcissistic envy though, is the fact I have never, no matter how much I envied someone, wanted to take away what they had or ruin it for them. Sometimes (not often enough, but sometimes) envy has a plus side: it sometimes inspires us to want to improve our own lot.
When I’m envious, I brood about it and feel resentful that I don’t have the same.
I clean houses part time (this is actually not an awful job) and some of the houses belong to very wealthy people. There’s one family whose house I clean every two weeks–it’s a damned McMansion–who seem to have everything and then some. I had to clean their house today.
The wife, Wendy, is actually very sweet, and always gives generous tips. She’s probably in her 40s and very attractive, with a perfect body and always dresssed in new designer outfits. Her husband is some kind of high level executive and obviously earns a high income. They have three very attractive daughters, one who is going to be going away to college soon. The other two are 16 and 8. This family can pay for their daughters to go to the best schools. Wendy takes lessons in Tai Kwando, and the daughters all get music and dance lessons. They are all involved in sports. Wendy drives a late model SUV and this is just one of their three cars. They go on vacations several times a year. Their Christmas tree was 12 feet tall and scattered all over the house, in every room, are photos of the three girls at different ages, on vacation, or at some sporting event, at a party, or dressed in Christmas dresses and seated under their huge tree. Wendy seems very maternal and nurturing from everything I can see.
I’m extremely envious of Wendy and her family. I compare myself to her, and of course I come up far shorter in just about every area: I’m not married anymore; I struggle to support myself, my daughter and my pets (I’m what most people would consider poor); my son is gay (which is not a problem for me at all but probably means he won’t ever have children); and my daughter is disordered (probably BPD) and shows no interest in getting a higher education although she is very intelligent. I drive a 13 year old car which is in need of repairs. I don’t get to take vacations or even getaway weekends. I’m attractive but Wendy is much more so. I am not athletic or particularly musical. I can’t dance. I’m uncoordinated.
I would never do anything to try to make Wendy’s life miserable though. I like her as a person. The envy I feel may not even be true envy. It’s almost an admiring, slightly awestruck feeling, that someone can be as fortunate as Wendy and her family. I marvel at how lives can turn out so vastly different.
The funny thing is, I probably would dislike living Wendy’s sort of life. It’s way too conventional for me and I can’t stand their house, which is too big, too cold, and it’s a f*cking McMansion and I would rather live in a cabin in the woods.
Of course I don’t know what may be going on behind closed doors. Wendy does seem a bit like the codependent type, and there’s a slightly sad look in her eyes. I wonder about that. Her husband doesn’t seem to be home a lot because he travels so much. In the family photos that include him, he looks a little reptilian. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a narc and Wendy might be being abused in some way. But I prefer my envy and imagine they have the perfect marriage and the family is functional and happy all the time. I like to think of them as the family I wanted to be raised in and the family I wanted to have.
Sometimes I remind myself of the late Robin Williams’ character in the 2002 psychological thriller “One Hour Photo.” Sy (played by Williams) is a pathetic, lonely photo-developing technician with no life to speak of who experiences pathological envy over a family whose photos he develops. His envy eventually turns into a dangerous obsession. It’s an interesting psychological profile of a man who is most likely a malignant covert narcissist who has become sociopathic in his envious obsession with an innocent family (I’m not as bad as he is, and would never go to these extremes, but I can relate to what he’s feeling just the same). “One Hour Photo” is a dark and creepy thriller, and is definitely worth watching for anyone interested in the way a sociopath thinks. Of course Williams’ acting is superb.
Here’s the trailer for “One Hour Photo.”
If you liked Marta Dahlig’s beautiful depiction of Envy at the beginning of this article, please check out the rest of her “Seven Deadly Sins” series in this article.