This post offers a practical pathway along with compassionate suggestions to unpack and mend the disruptive states of envy and jealousy.
Audio version here:
'Whenever a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies' - runs a well-known quip.
It makes sense. A stranger's success is a statistical abstraction, yet the triumphs of those closer by are often more pertinent - and may even represent a potential threat.
I'd just begun employment - working with a small team at British Telecom in Oxford, England. It was pretty smooth running until Richard - my new co-worker - schmoozed onto the scene.
Easy, charming, and Hollywood handsome, Richard was a model of stellar engineering - optimised to aggravate insecure young men. And hoo boy, was I insecure.
I had to manage his onboarding. It felt like a punishment. The truth - I gulp to admit it - was that effective onboarding would require a firm nudge onto a wooden board leading out of the (fifth-floor) office window.
Did I want to help this person be any more awesome? Nope.
I'd worked hard to establish a modest morsel of acknowledgement. Some newbie hotshot blazing through life and straight across my lane in his barrel full of honey?
In reality, Richard was a decent person, and the suffering was all mine. He was holding up a mirror to my lack of self-esteem. As much as I resented it, this was my baggage to own.
Have you ever felt jealous of a colleague?
Have you ever felt jealous of a friend or colleague? Many - even most - of us have been there in some form. Envy is universal, and we're each vulnerable.
Imagine you've met a friend for lunch. They're in a buoyant mood. After a nudge, they breezily share their glowing performance review.
Plus, a forthcoming promise of a promotion. Before you can even proffer a fake grin, there's a call from their partner.
It sounds like confirmation for next weekend's celebratory getaway.
Things, it seems, are going well. And while part of you wants to share in their joy, it's somehow going down like a cup of cold sick.
Lunch ruined, you swallow the turd and fake a smile. While inside, you burn up and count down to getting away. You just need a moment for a damage assessment.
The destructive power of envy
Envy is destructive. It harms relationships, shrinks opportunities, disrupts collaboration and hurts performance.
Envy and jealousy are also challenging to manage because it's hard to admit harbouring such socially unacceptable emotions. Our discomfort causes us to conceal and deny our responses, making things worse.
Whereas other people's success may provoke contradictory feelings, an explanation is simple. We wrap a lot of our identity, value and fulfilment in our careers. For instance, our sense of status, competence, autonomy and belonging are bound to our work. This investment means our jobs are ripe with the potential for jealousy.
A greedy joy parasite, envy leads to negative and draining behaviour.
Signs of envy/ jealousy at work include:
Focussing on flaws and failures: You find it tough to share in successes and achievements. Instead, you prefer to downplay the positives and dial up the shortcomings of other people's wins.
Increased conflict: You formulate work disagreements as a vessel for personal grievances. This warping feels insincere, yet you'll take it. At least a bit of covert war lets you discharge some frustration. Liberating at the moment, and ultimately empty. It's not who you want to be.
Avoidance and isolation: On the one hand, you obsess over your interactions with a rival. On the other hand, you nurse a desire to avoid exposure to that person and the feelings they evoke within you.
In a sense, you become consumed with steering clear of yourself. Where can you turn, then?
Negative non-verbal cues. You exhibit closed body language and dismissive expressions towards the subject of jealousy. Tutting and eye-rolling gestures lifted straight from the pages of the schoolyard playbook.
This behaviour represents the physical embodiment of inner turmoil - an external reflection of internal resentment.
Together, all this represents a joyless and lacklustre day at the office.
And one in which you become so fixated on someone else that you lose sight of your own performance.
So if you find the green-eyed jealousy monster rearing its head, you want to recover some safe territory - fast.
Five Steps to Overcome Envy and Jealousy
Step 1 - Name Your Animals
Your animals are those sensitive little satellites floating around in your brain orbit, waiting to get knocked out of position by other people's existence.
Naming Your Animals is a helpful gateway technique for managing envy and jealousy. The method involves identifying your potential triggers and sore points.
Introduced to me in therapist training, you can imagine how envy and jealousy would get in the way of offering impartial and emotional support to someone.
It can feel tough to invest in helping a person when you judge their problems to be trivial - perhaps even more so if you begrudge the weight of your own mental load.
Naming Your Animals cultivates an ability to step back into your observing self.
Your observing self is the part of you that can apply neutral discretion to personal emotional triggers.
First, you learn to recognise the triggers in others that activate your envy.
In essence, you're calling out the emotional threats that someone represents - and how this impacts your sense of safety.
By acknowledging any emotions that arise, your first job is to put them aside - for now. Strong emotions that lock to your brain's steering wheel compromise your intelligence. And that means one thing - your decision-making radar will be unreliable. You don't want that.
Step 2 - Pinpoint the source - The Five Whys(?)
With your emotions identified, it's time to diffuse and appraise what's going on, i.e. You want to start gaining some ownership of your emotions - these powerful behaviour drivers.
Here, the Five Whys method will help you unwrap your emotional experience.
To illustrate: The office newbie is hoovering up the team's attention, and it's doing your head in. Smart, sassy, witty and confident - pleasing on the eye, to top it off.
Oh, and they've received a new snazzy title for doing less than you. What's not to drive you mad?
Using the Five Whys
The Five Why's involve asking 'Why?' five times in consecutive responses.
'I'm annoyed about the new person on the team.'
'I want to be given more chances for development.'
'I mostly like my job and want to have a fair chance to advance here.'
'I'm worried I might get stuck and face job hunting.'
'I hate applying for new jobs and putting myself out there.'
Posing the five whys can be revealing. Now, instead of one piece of information, you have two.
These concern 1) the success of your colleague and 2) Your discomfort regarding moving on.
This deeper information is helpful. Instead of getting sucked into the jealousy drama, you now have a chance to address the broader theme. In this case, how to confront a sense of unease when exposed to judgment.
Here, you can begin to address your situation from a healthier perspective.
So far, you've named your animals (identified our emotional triggers) and sought clarity on the source of the issue. Next, you want to consider the role of your imagination.
Step 3 - The use (and misuse) of imagination
Your imagination is one of the most potent resources you own. It's also the one most susceptible to abuse, which causes all manner of upset.
For a quick test, do you ever find yourself:
Mind-reading: Assuming you know what other people are thinking?
'There she goes again - thinking her smile gets a project complete!'
Fortune-telling: Assuming a negative outcome without due consideration?
'It's obvious I'll get overlooked, again. Being modest gets you nowhere.'
Catastrophising: Assuming the worst-case scenario - magnifying the negative and minimising the positive?
'That's it, then. Stuck here forever. Might as well start saving for my funeral.'
Emotional reasoning: Assuming if you feel something, it must be true.
'This brick in my stomach is always a bad sign!'
Self-focussing: Assuming personal significance behind random events?
'The computer keeps shutting down - it hates me!'
If these thinking distortions resonate, you likely make many assumptions.
That's okay - we're all prone to speculation. Only this way of thinking won't serve you well. You deserve better than that.
I'll never forget a health and safety officer I once met. He took pride in the boring but shared one thing that's always stayed with me. He said, 'Never assume - it makes an ass- out of -u and -me.'
Takeaway: Stay mindful of what you're telling yourself about the situation. Suspend rash judgements, and follow the next step …
Step 4 - Focus on your progress
Comparing ourselves to others is normal - it may even motivate us to improve. Yet, excess comparisons generate stress when you are ungenerous with yourself.
Self-comparisons are the original fake news. You don't know what someone else's journey has entailed or where it will lead. And neither does it matter.
Instead of external comparisons, aim to measure your current self with your previous self. Your consistent efforts have likely led you in a positive direction. It's this progress that matters most.
Maintaining personal focus also softens the edges of envy and resentment towards others. Now better positioned and back in the driving seat, the focus is on you.
Step 5 - Affirm your personal qualities
Envy and jealousy keep you small-minded. You want to remain broad-minded. One way to do this involves practising self-affirmation.
No, we're not talking about fluffy slogans, like 'Every day, in every way, I get better and better.' While well-meaning, these have minimal impact.
Meaningful self-affirmation requires precision. The habit involves acknowledging your strengths and achievements ('I'm a strong and effective communicator') and retaining awareness of your dearly-held beliefs ("Open your arms to change but don't let go of your values.").
It's also about appreciating the life resources that remain available to you (e.g. friends, family and other circles of support).
Self-affirmation is practising gratitude for the life you have. With regular practice, this will keep your eye on the bigger picture. It's your wide-angle perspective when the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head.
You deserve more than getting bashed around and bullied by jealousy and envy.
While you were jealous for a month, there's a strong likelihood that their enjoyment was far shorter-lived (admittedly, George Clooney is probably still glad he's George Clooney. There's always one!).
From this perspective, the green-eyed monster is worth neither your time nor emotional expenditure.
Give yourself a break, and remember - angels fly because they take themselves lightly. Thanks for reading.