Envy & Neurodivergent Brains
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
Aristotle defined envy as pain at the sight of another's good fortune, stirred by "those who have what we ought to have."
Brene Brown included a primer on envy vs. jealousy in her latest book, “Atlas of the Heart.” She paraphrases these definitions from researchers Richard H. Smith and Sung Hee Kim:
Envy occurs when we want something another person has
Jealousy is when we fear losing a relationship or a valued part of a relationship we already have
Brown also mentions the occurrence of hostility in some envy. Someone might be envious of what someone has without an ill will toward them while someone else might be envious and want the other person to have it taken away or suffer some consequence for having it. (Atlas of the Heart, pg. 26)
In my ideal world, envy would not be accompanied with hostility and we would find ourselves inspired and motivated by what others have and accomplish.
What happens when envy strikes those who carry identities the world rejects?
We’re beckoned to envy by the very systems that will never allow us to operate freely within them.
If the core message of envy is “I want what you have,” then what happens if the object of envy embodies a privilege we can not? Most of us learned to assume we are the problem, we need fixing if we can’t manage to get what they have.
When envy emerges be on the lookout for hostility directed at the Self.
We exist in systems that tell us we cannot have what “they” have. For many of us, the learned response is to be self-deprecating. We become hostile toward our very being and the ways it is keeping us from what we want.
This can sound like:
If only I could…
I’m fed up with not being able to…
Why can’t I just…
I hate my brain sometimes.
Why not me?
I wish I was… I wish I wasn’t…
I’m all for self-improvement, growth, and healing. But! if the catalyst is a form of self-punishment for not being like or able to attain something someone else has, it’s worth reflecting on the long-term cost to you.
Envy demands validation.
Feeling envious lights up the brain and nervous system without our permission. When we feel this rush of adrenaline, we need ways to work through it like a stress cycle.
This is where our choice to pursue validation can lead us to pain or inspiration... or perhaps no feeling at all about the thing. All of the strategies you learn to soothe your nervous system will work to calm the envy storm, too.
Consider this an invitation to curiosity about the influence envy has on your relationship to yourself.
What is your relationship with envy like? Do you let yourself feel envious?
Share a time you felt envy and it resulted in hostility toward yourself.
What does it feel like in your body when you are envious? What sensations do you notice? How do you know it is envy?
If you'd like to explore topics like this with like-minded folks, come hang with us in The Enclave!