I’ve been thinking a lot lately about jealousy.
I don’t consider myself to be a terribly jealous person, but I’m certainly not immune to the feeling. When I see a person who is stunningly beautiful or crazy talented or has access to resources (money, mainly) that I wish I had for myself. I feel a pang, for sure. When I was younger, I was often consumed by my jealousies. I knew them for what they were and hated them. Now I value them. Jealousies have a place in us.
I’m not a fan of dividing feelings into “good” and “bad.” I know folks who go through life trying to repress all their “negative” (anger/jealousy/selfishness) feelings. I don’t live inside their heads and won’t presume to criticize the way they live their lives and manage their emotions, but I choose a different attitude in regards to my “negative” feelings. Our anger, our jealousy, our insecurity, our selfishness–they have a place inside us. And I believe that if we endeavor to accept them, examine them, and then release them (rather than repress them or right them), we stand a greater chance of being happy.
Jealousy as a Clue
Much as anger can clue us in to when our boundaries are being crossed, jealousy can clue us in to some interesting crappola as well. Jealousy helps us know what we value, what we want, and what might be missing.. Do you feel jealousy pangs when you witness undeniable talent? Great beauty? Happy family life? Power? Possessions? Clue in on what makes you jealous and go from there. It might not always be straightforward or easy. It might not always be pleasant. You might find that what your jealousies reveal to you are not things you like to see in yourself, in which case you might have some major work to do. But it starts by playing Sherlock Holmes and figuring out what your jealousies are telling you.
Comparing Leads to Despairing
Jealousy stops being productive once it starts controlling us. Because that shit can take over your life, and that helps no one.
When I was a very young adult (late teens/early twenties), I was obsessed with two things (well, three things, but “getting a boyfriend” isn’t relevant to this). The two things were: being beautiful and being talented. I had been told since childhood that I was those two things and came to believe that any chance at happiness or success would only occur if I remained beautiful and talented. So I spent several years of my life preoccupied with a ranking system in my head, that I was constantly updating. “She’s a better singer, but I’m a better actress.” “She’s funnier but I’m smarter.” “She’s thinner but I have a prettier face.” “She’s talented but I work harder.” “Oh fuck, she’s prettier AND more talented.” “Oh, thank God, I’m the prettiest one here.” “Oh no! My scene was the worst!” “She’s so skinny why am I not that skinny it doesn’t matter if you’re pretty if you’re fat and I’m not even pretty anymore I haven’t been pretty since I was 16 and now I can’t even count on being smart everyone’s smart and I’m not good at anything and my life is over.”
It was exhausting and ruining and shameful. And it left no time or attention to actually bettering myself in those and other aspects of my life. You can’t be brave in acting class if you’re trying like hell to claw your way up to “best” and are afraid to take risks or look foolish. You can’t fully participate in school if you’re too busy figuring out if you’re the smartest or best looking one in the class. And you sure as fuck can’t be a good friend, teammate, or person when you’re so fucking self-absorbed that you can’t see past your nose and where it ranks in some bullshit, made-up system. But that was my life. Until I hit 23 or so, and decided I was sick of being a despicable human being and started to wise up.
I saw how far I had come in an acting class a few years later. A friend was performing her scene, and she was killing it. The familiar thought came to my head: I wish I could do what she can do. But then, unbidden, a second thought followed: but there are things I can do that she can’t do. This wasn’t (mentally) said with a sense of superiority or comparison or ranking. It simply meant that I can’t be anyone other than who I am. But, on the flip side, no one else can be me. I can learn from what other people do and are, but it will always come through the filter of me. And that’s a GOOD THING. It’s silly and pointless to compare yourself to another in a toxic way–but more than that, it’s arrogant. How dare I assume that someone else’s life is perfect from the few little clues I’m privy to? I have no idea what they struggle with or fight for or cry about.
Who Drives the Car?
I’ve become obsessed recently with this idea of “driving the car.” I am an emotional person who believes in feeling my feelings. But I don’t want my reason to be a slave to my emotional life. And I certainly don’t want my emotional life to be so central that I’m blind to what is going on with other people. It’s something I struggle with constantly and probably will forever. But recently I heard just a snippet of an NPR interview (I didn’t hear who was being interviewed and can’t properly credit–apologies) where the interviewee made a reference to knowing when to let the intellect “drive the car” while the emotions took to the backseat.
It really, really resonated with me.
A day or so later, I found myself in one of those difficult-but-necessary relationship talks. My boyfriend was laying some truth on me, and before I even knew what was happening, I opened my mouth and replied: “Something about what you just said upset me, but I’m choosing to let my reason drive the car right now. Just know that we’ll have to come back to it.”
Of course, I was so busy congratulating myself on what a mature and responsible response I had just given that I didn’t hear a damn word of the next three or so things he said after that, but…baby steps.
I think the idea of driving the car can be applied in moments when we’re experiencing pangs of jealousy. It might be helpful to say to ourselves (and as cheesy as it sounds, I think we LEGIT have to say it to ourselves): “I’m feeling jealous right now, but I’m not going to let that drive the car in this moment. I’ll look at it later.”
So What I’m Saying Is
From where I stand, jealousy is a natural part of life. And if we’re smart about it, our jealousies can reveal things to us. Just always remember that we are only getting a small piece of the narrative, and we never know the details of another person’s experience. And while jealousy is valuable, we should try to keep it from driving the car.
Oh, and for the record, I fail at this all the time.
But we keep on.