Envy is the desire of another’s possession. Envy includes a combination of meanings, and it’s a complex emotion that often leads to interplay with other negative emotions.
Because the joint meaning can be broken down into three parts, three various expressions of envy exist. One where the envious simply want a possession that someone else has. A second where the envious only want to deprive someone of a possession. A third where the envious want to deprive someone of a possession and take it for themselves. Although envy can fund a whole range of behaviours, it always has these motives.
Originally, envy’s meaning was to look at with malice. The word “possessions” is used here to refer to the entire array of what people can possess: personal characteristics, talents and abilities – not only simple physical items. Envy is experienced as a will to deprive another of pleasure, delight, happiness or somebody. Wanting to deprive another of something is implicit in most envious expressions. Nevertheless, more recently, envy is sometimes used only to describe the desire to be in another’s position or to have the same talents as they possess – without a malicious will to deprive. Although, unlike admiration, envy is not filled with positive wonder. It does not have a positive moral overtone. It has the reverse.
Envy, in Christianity, is one of the seven deadly sins. This has added a cultural difficulty regarding people owning their feelings of envy. Defence-mechanisms are subconsciously motivated denials of experience. They block people from consciously experiencing aspects of reality that would make them feel anxious. If people feel anxious about owning their envy, their subconscious is more likely to push envy out of their awareness. This is one reason why envy can be such a slippery and elusive emotion to grasp.
Another reason is the entwined relationship envy has with jealousy. Envy is often confused with jealously and vice versa. They both have distinct meanings, yet their entwined relationship causes much confusion.
Envy can lead to jealousy, and jealousy can lead to envy (see Jealousy for greater definition of this dynamic). When someone is envious of another’s possession, the other becomes jealous (fear of loss due to the rivalry of another) because they would potentially lose a possession.
So, when people are jealous, they feel insecure with the thought that they might lose a possession. At these times, they can become envious of the possessions of the person who is perceived to be depriving them. The jealous can resent loss and seek to enviously take a possession from the person responsible. As it feels like justice, this tit-for-tat vengeance is very seductive. People can think of themselves as righteous when in reality they’re simply envious. These emotions can be incredibly powerful. They can be based on fear or lust and associated with idiosyncratic fantastical desires. Hence, both envy and jealousy can have shockingly unpredictable and volatile characteristics.
Although envy can be induced by jealousy, resentment can fuel envy’s initial development too. Also, the envious form relationships with others who resent the same people. Envious and resentful people are vulnerable to being used by one another. As the resentful allow the envious to harm those they find offensive, the envious can use the resentment of others as justification for their malice. Malicious intentions of envious people are condoned, encouraged, and may even be performed by another’s resentment. The envious and the resentful use each other. One has their feelings of vengeance satisfied as the other takes a possession.
When the envious or resentful hurt someone, they can rationalise the malice into an act of justice or even a divine restitution. Rather than own their malice, people are willing to believe in a crooked fantasy, something like karma, that conveniently puts their intentions in line with a god. In one swipe of believing in a dishonest perception they absolve themselves of guilt and the fear of punishment, and they may also develop pride.
Partnerships can form due to both parties having a shared goal. Envious resentment of one person, or people, can be created and sustained from such convergent relationships. In reality, this maliciously destructive force is insidious. For example, a parent’s actions can be resented by an immature offspring who then forms a relationship with someone who is envious of the parent. Royal or working class, these motives are narcissistic and have the potential to effect us all. They are not concerned with creating a nourishing environment for children. They are based on obsessive malicious intentions.
Envy has different levels of intensity and pettiness. For example, when people who are perceived as superior do not have a possession their subordinate owns, and cannot get whatever the possession is because they cannot afford it, envy can result. Injustice is perceived and resentment is felt. In this situation, people may become envious of the subordinate’s possession. The superior may develop envious intentions of wanting to deprive the subordinate of the possession as it’s perceived to threaten their superior social status, yet they perhaps secretly want it for themselves too. This is envy related to resentment, jealousy, pride and vanity. Even mundane experiences of envy often involve multiple emotions that are created from complicated perceptions.
In Western societies envy and jealousy are thought of as bad and somewhat pathetic emotions. This can lead people to avoid addressing their feelings of envy and jealousy. The way for people to dispel envy is for them to accept and recognise what they are envious of and work out why. The emotion is there for a reason. Cutting it out or ignoring envy is not a solution. Ignoring (cognitively avoiding) envy and jealousy does not make them disappear. It leaves the potentially harmful emotions out of conscious awareness and subconsciously motivating behaviours – referred to as acting-out.
Envy offers people insights into the makeup of their personality. Should a person justly be deprived of something or are people being malicious due to unreasonable resentment? Why do people want what another person has? Do they feel cheated at heart? Do people believe another’s possession would make them happy? Are people in a relationship with a resentful person because it helps to satisfy their envious intentions?
Envy is a complex emotion that is very revealing of people’s inner workings and rewarding to work through in therapy.
Latin. Invidia from invid-us related to invidere = to look at with malice, to envy.
1. Malignant or hostile feeling; ill-will, malice, enmity.
2. To feel displeasure and ill-will at the superiority of (another person) in happiness, success, reputation, or the possession of anything desirable; to regard with discontent another’s possession of (some superior advantage which one would like to have for oneself).
3. Also in a less unfavourable sense: to wish oneself on a level with (another) in happiness or in the possession of something desirable; to wish oneself possessed (of something which another has).