Envy As a Guidepost

Have you ever been hijacked by envy? I created the term, envy hijacking, because apparently the half comatose individual that wrote Webster’s definition was so sedated they hadn’t ever actually truly experienced envy. Webster’s version goes like this (insert British accent): painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. What? If you didn’t just pop three Xanax, envy feels more like rage, terror, or complete and utter disbelief.

Envy resides on a continuum. Subtle envy is when your neighbor gets a new sofa, and you think, damn, I wish we had it in our budget to replace our cruddy old sofa, versus full-fledged pull your eyelashes out kind of envy; now that’s an envy hijacking! This type of envy carries vital goods that warrant attention - for real!

When envy hijacks you, you can think of little other than the maddening trigger. Options tend to be: kick someone’s ass or pull the covers over your head and give up. I used to hate envy. I would make myself wrong for feeling it, and the other person wrong for having the coveted goods. In the past when envy invaded my body, I would attempt to deny its existence. Since that approach usually landed me in front of The Housewives of Orange County with a package of full of double-stuffed Oreos, I’ve since learned to incorporate some other, perhaps more psychologically sophisticated ways to manage the upheaval that envy evokes.

Now, when I get hijacked by envy, as we all do from time to time, if we are honest, I’ve learned to view it as a guidepost. To illustrate how envy might offer directions to one of our values, I’m providing an example of a recent hijack I experienced. I’m going to show you how it went down, CBT style (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) by using the ABC Model. This model assumes that beliefs/thoughts influence emotions and behavior and by identifying and addressing problematic beliefs/thoughts you can help to change your behavior and experiences for the better. Who doesn’t want that?

Envy Hijack: 

A (Activating Event/Trigger): A few nights ago I was lying in bed half asleep scrolling through social media. Images of graduation parties and cute puppies flew by until I stopped dead in my scrolling tracks on a post with a young woman sitting at a table signing books. Beneath the image, she wrote, “I’m so excited today is the release of my new book and my first book signing event!! #blessed #lifeisgood #followyourdreams”

B (Beliefs/Thoughts): #Screwyou. What the hell! Who is this girl? How on earth did she get a book deal from the publishing house that I long to contract with someday (when I’m like 50, and yet here she is, like 19)? Ugh, it’ll never happen for me. What kind of unjust world is this? Good things are reserved for other people, so why even bother!

C (Consequences - Emotions/Actions): I’m in the pantry looking for chocolate as I feel hatred for a complete stranger. Then, I spy on her entire social media history and website. I write an elaborate story (in my head) about her amazing life in NYC where she was born into a wealthy family with tons of connections (hence, the book deal). In my story of her immense privilege, I determine she likely had a ghostwriter because she couldn’t be troubled with actually doing the work of writing a book in the midst of her impressive social calendar, spa treatments, and yoga retreats. To make myself feel better I also add that she’s not married, certainly doesn’t have three noisy kids to care for, a career, or concerns with petty things like bills. Again, I hate her guts.

Needless to say, I’m wide awake at this point. I’ve been completely hijacked by envy. But since I’m in the committed action of practicing what I preach to my client’s, I no longer get stuck (or if I do, it doesn’t last as long). So, in the CBT model we are to consider the following:

Thinking Errors and Assumptions:  Are your beliefs justified, or are they based on false assumptions? Given that I don’t know this chic or her story, it’s pretty clear that my beliefs are erroneous and based out of my fears and insecurities that I won’t accomplish a goal that’s important to me, and that other people are ‘making it happen’ with ease and endless opportunities. I don’t have any evidence that this is true for me since I have a history of accomplishing goals that are meaningful to me.

Balancing Statements: If the belief isn’t justified, then a balancing statement can be a useful tool to keep things in perspective the next time you are activated by this same type of trigger. A strategy for coming up with a balancing statement is to imagine what an objective person might say about the situation. Example: It’s unfair for me to make judgments about a complete stranger; it discredits her as a powerful woman. It’s also unhelpful to imagine a world where good things are reserved for a select few. There is room for many voices.

Explore Your Options: When hijacked by envy what are your options? Do you want to buy into your beliefs and get derailed, or do you want to consider an alternative path by coming up with balancing statements (rational thoughts) and making practical decisions that decrease the likelihood of ending up in your pantry?

Practical Decisions: How do you want to act or respond to this situation that would feel constructive instead of imploding? My practical decision in this envy hijacking was to consider my values and honor them. I value supporting and lifting up women who are working to empower others and creating change to make our world a more beautiful place. I wrote a nice message on her social media post, bought her book and gave a glowing review on Amazon. I also stuck with my writing goals, dreams, and visions for myself and realigned with my conviction that my journey is independent of anyone else’s, and there is room for us all!

So there ya have it - envy hijack resolved. When was the last time you were hardcore hijacked? Could you run through this process above and see if there is an opportunity to use envy as a guidepost to your deepest longings?

Love + Light,