“In jealousy there is more self-love than love.”
François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld – Maxims, 1665
“It is not love that is blind, but jealousy.”
Lawrence Durrell – Justine, 1957
“Jealousy is the great exaggerator.”
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller – The Conspiracy of Fiesco, 1783
This morning I experienced an emotion I don’t often feel – jealousy. It was odd. It came up when I saw a friend who had done something that I viewed as an indicator of his success. It’s come up before when I’ve seen friends who are published authors or who are realizing their personal and professional dreams. Not only that, but they are doing it full-time and they’re making money doing it.
It’s not that I’m not genuinely happy for my friends. I am. It’s not that I don’t want them to be successful. I do. Jealousy is not really about what someone else has; it’s about what I don’t have or what I perceive I don’t have. It’s also about the fear of losing what I do have. While jealousy at its most extreme can lead to feelings of hatred or even murder, I’m certainly not at that place. But it does bring up some uncomfortable feelings. I notice there are two kinds of jealousy – envy and possessiveness.
Envy is what I felt today when I saw my friend’s success. It brought up not only fears about my own “lack of success,” but also the inability to truly enjoy my friend’s achievements. Once a friend told me she might be on the Oprah show. My first words were not congratulatory, but envious. I blurted out, “I want to be on the Oprah show!”
I apologized immediately and again the next day. She said my words were hurtful. They were. I was ashamed of myself. I had tarnished a wonderful moment. I wrecked the celebration. Sometimes I understand when people are sad or angry. I can empathize with those feelings and be supportive. I need to do the same when people are happy. I need to empathize with their feelings. I need to ask myself how I would feel if the same thing happened to me and how I would want others to respond. It is said that happiness shared is happiness doubled and sadness shared is sadness divided. But one person’s happiness mixed with one person’s sadness only reduces the happiness and increases the sadness.
This requires thought before speaking. If a friend has a successful experience, I need to look at it through his or her eyes and not my own. I need to feel as if the success were also mine. I have often felt this way when a long-unemployed person gets a job. I feel like I got the job, too. This feels much better than jealousy.
The other kind of jealousy is possessiveness. I don’t experience this very often, but it’s happened. I have been a “taker,” that is, someone who has taken more from the relationship than I have given, usually from friends. I have taken time and energy from others, focusing on what I can get from the relationship rather than what I can give. When I “possess” something, then I don’t have to give. This is why possession is dangerous. It’s not love and therefore I can treat my “object” any way I like. I can abuse it or neglect it. I can imprison it. I treat it with value only to the degree I believe it brings value to me. What I have forgotten is that people, all people, have an intrinsic value that has nothing to do with what they can do for me.
I had a friend who was extremely possessive of his relationship with his girlfriend. Though I had no designs on his girlfriend, he believed I did. He believed everyone did. It destroyed our friendship. Fortunately, he grew out of it and the friendship was restored, but it was a painful experience. It was born out of his insecurity, but my own insecurity is no better.
So what is the solution to envy and possessiveness? Love.
Love says (and this is not an original thought) I value you for who you are, not what you can do for me. Yes, there are some people I want relationship with and relationships may be somewhat reciprocal in order to be healthy. But love doesn’t have to be reciprocal. Love just is. As St. Paul said in 1st Corinthians 13, love hopes for the best and believes the best. He also said, “Love is not jealous.”
There are people I love just because I love them and that is enough. This is how I feel about my children. This is how God feels about us. This is how I feel about people who are looking for work and for my students.
This is how my Muse feels about me. She gives more to me than I can ever give back to her, but I won’t stop trying. This is why I write. This is why I work towards my house on the beach. By focusing on my own goals, I realize that my jealousy is based in fear, which is untruthful. No, I’m not where I want to be, but I’m also not where I was. Action is the other solution for jealousy. I work in my Purpose. I happily let others have their successes as I reach for my own. I Get Started and Keep Going…and suddenly I have neither the time nor the need to be jealous.