Published in response to Human Parts’ Weekend Writing Prompt.
Envy versus Empathy
Jennifer Kindera, CTRC-S, CHSP, TICC, CLC
Envy is grief and shame externalized. It’s rooted in unhappiness. How people see themselves, perception of their actual value, within context of tribe or community. We have different names for this internal disapproval, in essence it’s poor opinion of self. Developmental trauma teaches, you are damaged goods. You feel inferior to others. As a result of this internal battle, envy thrives. Envy is a bi-product of shame, the underlying feeling that you are somehow tainted, unworthy and other people are better, simply by being them.
You can never measure up.
You have to be taught to value yourself, based on how your primary caregivers treat you. The brain is powerful, it adapts to your conditions.
Little girl, envying escape to peace.
My first memories of suicidal ideation start at six years of age. My Mom would lock me out of the house on weekend afternoons. The midwest winter clutched with bitter winds and the snow was deep. I would tunnel in the enormous piles left by Jerry, who plowed our quarter mile driveway in his bright red truck.
Using a small shovel, I unearthed from the garage, I would create caverns and tunnels. When I could squeeze my small blue snow-suited body in, I would carve a hole through the roof and lay there. It was peaceful. I knew because my Dad told me, not to fall asleep in the snowy cold. Red nose, wet eyes, I would play with his words, if I went to sleep I would die. Ruminating, eyes closed, feeling the coldness seeping through.
It would have been so easy. A couple of times I dozed off, but fear grabbed my heart, I would jump up, start digging again, fighting off the urge.
As a child, envying having a caring Mother.
Growing up, there was a little girl named Melinda, who lived two-doors down from us. Watching her family, was the first inkling my family was abusive. I would sneak over, we would play. We could dance in the living room, practicing high-kicks, being silly, listening to music on her record player. We loved Chinese jump-rope. Her Mom would walk by, smile at our giggling antics. These are some of my happiest childhood memories.
As a teenager, envying the self-confident girls because I was invisible.
At 15, we moved from our small town to the city. There were as many students in my new high school, as lived in my previous town. Overwhelmed at 16 year olds driving BMW’s, partying on weekends, shopping with Daddy’s credit card. I still rode my ten-speed bike everywhere, and worked two jobs. Boys scared me, boys meant sex and sex hurt. I lived in shadows, tried to fit in, but I was a misshappen puzzle piece on a chessboard. I retreated even more, amped up my fascade and pretended to be quiet, screaming inside.
As an adult, envying people who look like they had easy lives.
My journey has not been easy. Pragmatically, I don’t state that out of a victim-mentality, it just is. As an adult, I’ve had moments of envy looking at other’s lives who seem like they have it all together. Perfect lives where nothing bad ever happens, one marriage, children, white-picket-fence kind of thing. I have battled with complex PTSD, depression, anxiety, fear, relationships, shame, codependency, addiction.
Here is what I know today. Everyone struggles. It looks different for each person. It’s part of being a human being. It’s a level-playing field, we are in this together. Empathy is the great defeater of shame and envy.
No matter how hard I have struggled, fanning the flames of envy would burn down my heart. It takes focus off the many gifts my path has brought me. It obliterates any chance to be helpful to others, because it’s rooted in self-centeredness.
I believe completely in self-care, not selfishness.
I nurture me, take care of my needs, then I can nurture others on their path. Today, gratitude is overwhelming, beating down any thought of envy.
It boils down to one impenetrable truth.
We have the power of choice. To love or to hate. To envy, covet or step on others to gain stature? It would never be enough, I’d be onto the next envy, it would feed the shame demon, an endless cycle of exhausting grass-is-greener.
How do we want to expend our lives, in love and kindness, or selfishness and envy?