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It all started with two lollipops. I recently witnessed a young mother take two lollipops out of her purse and hand one to each of her children. The candy was to occupy them quietly so that she could return to her conversation. However, her strategy backfired as her daughter shouted that she wanted the red lollipop that her brother had been given. Thus began the back and forth tussle of jealousy that robbed both children of the pleasure of enjoying an unexpected, sweet treat and their mother of enjoying a much-needed adult conversation. Feelings of jealousy, envy, and competition can enter our lives early. As the eldest of three daughters, I often had tussles with my middle sister; I usually gave in to her. I did not say, “I gave up,” but, “I gave in.” I let her have her way to let her know she meant more to me than the item she was quarreling over. If we competed for something, I invariably won and would still give it to her. As we grow older, and hopefully, wiser, we learn that life is not fair anywhere. We do not have equal skills, charm, beauty, wealth, or health. The animal kingdom testifies to the face of cruel brutality for creatures driven by the survival of beast against beast. We also see cruel brutality in humanity, as groups attack groups for power, money, and perceived injustices.
Jealousy, coupled with envy, rarely can do good. We experience envy when we covet what another has. We experience jealousy when we feel threatened that the accomplishments, attainment, and position of another may impede our own. Together, envy and jealousy seek to take down, take away, or disempower. Envy robs us of seeing the blessings and good before us because we are so focused on our perceived good fortune of another. Ever notice that we are most envious of those to whom we are closest? We often readily accept the good news of someone we do not intimately know than of someone for whom we care deeply. That is because we tend to compare ourselves, and our lives, by the merits of others that we admire and love. Comparison-theory addresses this phenomenon. I have a life-long friend who struggles with comparing herself regularly to those closest to her, at work, and in her personal life. She is aware of this and calls me to process her feelings and thoughts when the green-eyed monster visits her door. Thankfully, she has learned to counter the negative thoughts and feelings that taunted her in her youth. However, she is much more vulnerable during times of transition. The truth is, she brings fantastic creativity and energy to life and teamwork. Healthy competition is good, but envy and jealousy can assault the strategy and outcome of a respectable contest and relationship.
When we experience feelings of jealousy or envy, we do not need to act on them. Indeed, it is better not to do so immediately. It is helpful to identify the emotions associated with our jealousy and observe our sequence of thoughts. We can then piece out reality from perceived fears. Doing this small yet essential exercise allows us to validate our emotions without bottling them up. It can lower our fears and anxiety levels and enable us to think in a more balanced and clear manner.
Now, back to the children and their lollipops. How much more delightful would the lollipop have tasted if the children were simply appreciative of the sweet gift? I laugh as I write this! For haven’t we all contributed to such similar scenes at one point in life? Jealousy is a normal emotion that we each have from time to time. Some experience it more deeply and more often than others. If possible, find someone trustworthy with whom you can process—no need to allow the green-eyed monster to sabotage the sweetness of life. By the way, two dear friends gifted me with a bag of Tootsie Pops for my birthday. My sister laughed and asked me why. “Because I love lollipops,” I answered.
Until next week!
Dr. Marie Yvette Hernandez-Seltz is the founder of Candescent Counseling, Consulting & Coaching. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and an M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She has spent the past 15 years studying self-esteem, self-confidence, responsibility, and the effects of environment and culture on the individual.