The Ugly Feeling of Envy

Envy is the absence of heartfelt acceptance.

Envy has come through a great deal in the Red Interpretations and before I did any specific research about it, I wanted to journal about it here in as much detail as I could muster.

There are several instances in the story processing where my gut reaction to one of the men recounting their experience has been one of jealousy, resentment and envy. These, as far as I can tell, seem to appear when I am particularly stirred by something they have ‘had’ that I have not, or when I perceive that they have been more fortunate than me. A typical example that springs to mind is when one of the guys has been able to hold down a relationship – that someone has actually liked him enough to want to be with him  – something I’ve yet to experience (in terms of longevity of attachment). The language that typically accompanies these emotions reveals how vehemently strong the feelings are, as there are often expletives and judgemental statements about the state of my life compared to theirs.

The other two examples that are worthy of note here are lowest/highest weights and recovery. In the case of the former, it is often when a man has gained a lower weight than me, and at my lowest I had not managed to achieve that (despite fervently trying) or when their highest weights are much lower than mine. Especially when I currently would benefit from losing the seven stone I have gained since I gave up purging and some men have reported losing up to five stone in a year – instead of seeing the negatives associated with such a rapid weight loss, my immediate reaction has been one of envy. In terms of the latter, there are instances where the man has shared about stopping bingeing or made it sound easy to give up the addiction and this has caused me to feel jealous of the relative ‘ease’ I perceive they have experienced. Additionally, envy and resentful feelings have occurred when men shared that they are already recovered and have been moving on with their lives, whilst I feel trapped in this phase of my eating disorder – binge-eating addiction. This has been made more acute because of how I am currently feeling where I utterly loathe my enormous blubbery face, with the folds of fat-laden skin.

Where men have told of the inverse of my own eating disorder – that they cannot put weight on because of food restriction – this also has caused me to feel perversely envious, as I have had to admit harbouring fantasies of wishing that I had the opposite issue to my own (not being able to eat enough). This, in turn, led to enormous amounts of guilt.  All of which has much to say about the place that my own eating disorder is in, that I am still servicing magical thinking to some degree and that I am still retaining a mythological, fantasised view of the horror that restriction and anorexia bring to someone’s life.

I have dedicated a good deal of time reflecting on where this envy comes from, especially given my further reflections extending beyond the bounds of the research about the role of envy and resentment within my personal life. I have often experienced differing shades of envy throughout my life and seem to have developed a belief that many others have a better time of things than I have – Poor Me thinking (Berne 1964; Harris 1996). This in turn leads to over-investment in a ‘grass-is-greener’ situation and often has meant that I have fallen prone to a ‘if I just do X, or if I just had Y, then everything else would all be fine’-style of thought process. I perceive that I have then experienced racket feelings as a result of this (Stewart & Joines 1987: 209) relating to anger. This racket anger is not like when envy has presented genuinely, even when sometimes it has surfaced as resentment, instead it has been fuelled and fed until what emerges is no longer envy but a self-righteous, indignant rage. I somewhere feel that it is wrong, that I have no right to be jealous of others as I have much to be thankful for, which has then led to the racket anger being an automatic response to a(n often) created injustice or injury, which then means anger is expressed in an unhealthy and disingenuous way.

Ultimately, however, the envy exists, I believe, because of a lack of genuinely felt acceptance. Envy is the dearth or absence of heartfelt acceptance, just as I feel envious of the bodies others have, so too do I refuse to accept my own body as it is, in a loving and fulfilling way. The less I accept my own physical embodiment, the more I envy any other’s form, even those who are not conforming to ideals of socially sanctioned perfect versions of physical form. This can then be extended to include my eating disorder. The envy felt at others’ recovery is directly related to my inability to fully see, grasp and accept the place and stage I am in with my own. Instead of seeing others’ speedier recovery as a message of hope and inspiration, I perceive only the negative element – that recovery has not truly happened for me – and I resent it.  This level of negative feeling understandably links into my ability to move between personal, emotive experience in the Red Interpretation and the empathy needed for Yellow Interpretation.