Musings On Friend Envy & Managing The Guilt Cycle

Dear Audy,

I am incredibly moved by the responses I received to the last post. It is inspiring and enlightening to hear what the experience of friend envy is like for other CRPS sufferers and also those suffering a variety of life altering illnesses. We all know that jealousy is only going to bring us down, but everyone is forced to deal with it at some point and it’s been great to discuss this with people without feeling judged.

I have been thinking a lot about this emotion, Envy. Why is it so taboo to admit jealousy? Is this common in other cultures or is this a by-product of being raised in a predominantly Christian country? (I would love to hear your thoughts if you have any insights into how jealousy perceived in other cultures)

When I was in primary school, we still made Christmas decorations in class and attended RE (Religious Education). Religious education, that is, as long as you believe Christianity is the only religion. There was no education regarding any others. In fact, if you happened to be Muslim and attending my primary school in the early 90s, you spent RE sitting outside the classroom. Perhaps those Muslim children have grown up to feel less guilty about their jealousy, unless Islam also has a rule like this:

Exodus 20:17 “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

In a perfect world, jealousy wouldn’t exist, but we all know that little ‘being nonexistent’ secret about perfection. By growing up believing something written so definitively as the quote above, we grow up to deny a part of our psyche its existence. We cannot help thoughts that appear, only deal with them once they get here. If we believe from the get go that all envious thoughts are bad or wrong then our initial reaction to having them is going to be one of guilt. Once guilt gets a foothold it will spread like mint through your herb garden. Perhaps you can relate to feeling jealous of a friend, followed by feeling guilty that you aren’t just happy for them, followed by feeling guilty that you haven’t achieved whatever they have achieved, followed by feeling guilty for feeling guilty when you feel like you should be happy with the things you do have, followed by feeling guilty for feeling guilty and miserable when there are people in the world without even a bed to lie down and feel guilty in.

20091030 Vintage Guilt by Greenchild
Vintage Guilt by Greenchild

I don’t believe that envious thoughts are wrong. I don’t believe any thoughts are wrong. How can a few impulses fleeting through synapses in our brain be ‘wrong’ in the sense of good and evil? We certainly don’t create them with intention. A thought is a lot different to the process of thinking. I can’t stop the jealous thoughts appearing, but I can reason them down to emotional blips by thinking about them in the right manner. That thought process might be reminding myself of the concurrent emotion of happiness for my friend, remembering the things in my life I am grateful for, the positive mental growth that living with CRPS has afforded me, the friends I have made, the steps I am taking, however small and the still achievable dreams I have for the future. It’s a lot harder to get onto this productive thought trail when everything is turned a darker shade by guilt piled on top of the jealousy.

Thought about from a primitive perspective, jealousy can be a useful emotion. If we covet the good things that others have, then we are motivated to do well for ourselves…or simply club the owner and steal what he has, thereby procuring a better future for ourselves and our offspring. In modern society, I hope more people are using their jealousy for the former rather than the latter, although I realise my rose-coloured glasses are getting a little well worn. Like everything, the thought process I’ve described above for overcoming envy is fallible and doesn’t work all the time. I might think I know better, but I still plummet into guilt potholes and have to climb back out of them again. Those are the times I am so grateful to have found others I can discuss these feelings with, openly, and just get ‘em out of my system. Venting is the saviour of my sanity.

Love & Pondering,

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  • 7 thoughts on “Musings On Friend Envy & Managing The Guilt Cycle

    1. Tracey

      It’s amazing how much we can be buoyed up by simply sharing our thoughts with others… and thank goodness for being able to do that, otherwise I think we’d never be able to cope.

    2. Maria (Tough Cookie)

      The problem with envy is that to experience it, we are living outside of ourselves and comparing ourselves to others. It means we are not content with where we are in our journeys… but how can we be in so much pain, right? Sort of right. I totally get that. I think what happens is we need to be content and feel OK that this is where we are supposed to be RIGHT NOW. It is all a part of our journey to enlightenment, to our best selves, and it will pass. When it passes, we need to be OK where we are at that point, too. Sending love! xoxoxo


    3. Matthew Smith

      Hi there,

      I’m a Muslim myself, and there are certainly rules about envy – there is a difference between ordinary envy, meaning wanting what someone else has, and resentful envy, which is wanting them not to have it if you can’t have it (or worse, wanting someone else not to have something while not even wanting it yourself). There is also a difference between feeling something momentarily and holding onto it. It’s OK to want what someone else has, as long as you don’t nurse a feeling of resenting them having it.

      As far as I know there’s nothing wrong with being upset that you’re stuck in bed or in pain while everyone else is up and running around. What’s not OK is wanting other people to be ill as well.

    4. Kate

      Firstly, just on the last sentence in the comment above from a chronically ill person’s perspective- we never wish someone to feel our pain, or to be ill as well. We just want to be more like them, rather than for them to be more like us!

      On the RE at schools thing-
      I grew up in a very devout Christian family, I went to a Christian high school, Church youth group Saturday night, Church services twice on Sundays, and was taught that being a Christian was the only life to live- which caused me a lot of turmoil as I grew older and started working out for myself what I wanted to believe and how biased my life had been.

      Fast forward to a couple of years ago when my husband, myself and our kids moved to this area of Australia, we decided that our kids would not take part in the “scripture” classes at their new public primary school, as it was very biased and taught by a Minister’s wife. We let the school know, they said no worries.

      A few weeks later, our 7 year old son came home singing Bible verses songs. I asked him how he knew it, he said he stays in the classroom when scripture is on, he just does different work. Which is ridiculous- if he (and our two daughters as well, we found out) were still in the classroom, then they’re still listening to the same one sided teaching.

      Then it got worse- we found out that the Muslim students were leaving the classroom during Scripture, going to the library to do other school work, but my kids weren’t, even though we’d requested that they would. How come the Muslim parents’ beliefs were respected, but ours weren’t? We then had a big talk with the Principal as it was just plain wrong. Finally it was sorted and our kids were allowed to leave the room as well.

      If they taught a general religion class and said “this is what some people believe, this is what others believe” that would be entirely ok, and that’s what we talk to the kids about at home. We want them to get an understanding of all different cultures and beliefs, then when they’re older they can decide whether they want to follow one of those paths. But the way it’s taught in even public schools these days is that Christianity is the only real religion and everyone else is wrong. :-S That’s just going to carry on the prejudices and ignorance for another generation.

      x Kate

    5. Matthew Smith

      In reply to the last comment, I didn’t mean that most sick or disabled people actually wished their conditions on others. I was using it as a hypothetical situation. But if you’ve ever seen Pollyanna (I saw a recent British TV version of it, so I don’t know if that scene is in the well-known film), there is a scene before Pollyanna gets ill herself in which another character does, and asks Pollyanna what there is to be ‘glad’ about in her situation. She thinks for a minute and says, “I know … everyone else isn’t ill” or something to that effect. The sick woman gets angry and says “I think you’d better leave”.

    6. Jeanne


      Excellent post. You are an amazing writer!

      Re: Kate’s comment, “We want them to get an understanding of all different cultures and beliefs, then when they’re older they can decide whether they want to follow one of those paths”… I agree with the idea of educating children that there are all sorts of beliefs and allowing them to make their own choices as they get older in this regard.

      If the schools here did what Kate described, I’d be upset too. She had communicated her wishes and the school disregarded them.

      I believe the separation of church and state is important. I believe some religions do impose guilt on people that, frankly, isn’t healthy.

      Caf, as a fellow Tori Amos fan… I know you are familiar with her songs about religious guilt and you’re probably aware that she is a minister’s daughter and how that has influenced her. (By the way, did you go the the concert yet?)

      Great post!


    7. outoftheboxalex

      Hi Caf, Envy/Jealousy is pervasive, i have been in very different cultures, African, caribbean and western. i am pretty adapt & maneuvering between them and the jealousy taboo is in every one of those worlds. I think it is natural for a mammal that evolved in an environment with scarce resources to have hardwired into its system “get food(resource) when i see it, even when other members have it”
      Its on a genetic level & you have to allow for it in your thinking & in the thinking of those around you.

      I think they is a reason jealousy or its variants made up, what is it? 3 or 4 of the ten commandments, because unchecked its very disruptive to complex social networks/societies. But you have to get past the guilt thing with reason.

      I remember fondly religious :-) education, islam i think is full of similar guilt causing dogma…

      Jealously is always with us, so is self pity, resentment, rationalizing ridiculous behavior because it suits us..but i ramble…


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