Carolyn Hax: Handling an ugly emotion called envy

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 31, 2013

Adapted from recent online discussions .

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

A column of yours from Decemberraised a rarely-talked-about issue between friends: envy. It’s human to envy those who have what we want, but it isn’t an easy emotion. What do you think is the best way to navigate this minefield of (privately) acknowledging the ugly emotion but also caring genuinely for your friend?

Anonymous

One way is to accept that we all have ugly thoughts and feelings sometimes. One of our jobs on Earth is to master them, which means not letting them corrupt our behavior — and making the necessary repairs when they do get the best of us.


(Nick Galifianakis)

Another is a mental exercise I use all the time. When I feel envy, I ask myself whether I’d trade lives with that person if I could — not the part I envy, but all of it. There’s always at least one part of their world (although typically dozens) that I wouldn’t want, enough to make me say, “No thanks, I’ll keep mine.”

A third way is so obvious I almost didn’t think to mention it: Keep friends you actually like. So many times, when someone’s successes or spoils really get under your skin, the truth ends up being that you’re not all that crazy about the person to begin with, and envy is just the delivery system for your dislike. It’s so much easier to be happy for people when they’re a pleasure to have around.

Hi, Carolyn:

I went through a breakup about four months ago. The relationship didn’t end in the best way; I simply stopped taking calls from him because I could no longer take the lies and deception.

Now I am terribly lonely and missing companionship. I am seeing a therapist to make sure I’m taking care of myself while going through the healing process. But I’m sad and I miss him (or I miss companionship). How do I get through this?

I feel dumb for missing the man who caused so much drama and distress in my life, but we also had many good times. How do I get through this time without being a downer?

Heartbreak Hotel

Branch out, please. I won’t suggest how, because it has to be in ways that have personal meaning to you — but the way you present this situation, it sounds as if you see your world generally as the Past With Your Ex, the Present Without Your Ex and the Future You Construct So You Don’t Think About Your Ex — and there’s so much out there that’s better than someone who lies to you on a regular basis.

Whenever you’re not sure what that is, exactly, start by finding ways to give to others. It’s such a reliable way to get out of yourself and also to stay positive about your worth when you need it.

Also, instead of beating yourself up for being “dumb,” which is unfair, please use therapy also to explore why someone so antithetical to comfort — a liar — apparently served as your comfort zone. Your loneliness in his absence means his presence probably filled more than a superficial need.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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