Stories on the edge of familiarity

Category Archives: Words to Chew on

World Tour, Day 31 Special Edition: Jealousy Is a Collapse, Not an Explosion

I was watching a Tessa Violet music video tonight and I didn’t realize until a little after the video had ended that I’m intensely jealous of her.

It’s not something I’ve ever acknowledged as clearly as that before, jealousy. It starts with a desire to do what that other person is doing, ideally better than they’re doing it. It turns inward after that, after you’ve compared with where you’re at to where this other person is at, and you find yourself wanting. What follows is self-directed accusations.

“You’ll never do something like this.”

“Look at you, you’re so behind you’ll never catch up.”

“You’re too lazy to put in the work to get here.”

“Even if you put in all the work, it’s too late for you. You’ve missed the window and you’ll never have what she does.”

How can you be jealous of someone you admire?

I always thought that jealousy required a dislike, a hatred, and that such things are mutually exclusive with admiration and respect.

They’re not.

I’m jealous of people who are good at art, business, music. I’m jealous of people who are deeply empathetic, others-focused, and emotionally mature. I’m jealous of people who can write stories and characters that make my heart sing. I’m jealous of people with assured self-respect and who flow through life confident enough in their own skin that they don’t care if people can see their wounds.

To put it simply, I’m jealous of the people I wish I could be like in ways I believe I am not good enough.

It’s not how I thought jealousy worked.

I thought it was when you felt this emotion heavy in the bottom of your gut where you despised someone who was good at something.

I never realized how much closer jealousy is to despair.

Back in September, I said something to someone I care about that was deeply hurtful, and they told me that what they’d heard in my words was jealousy and hatred.

They were right, and the only reason I didn’t recognize it in the moment was because I didn’t know then how much those emotions look like self-loathing.

I thought jealousy and hatred were an outward force, a push, a lashing out. When I watched the movie Amadeus and saw how Salieri treated Mozart, I understood it was out of jealousy, but I thought that his experience of that jealousy came from an inward rigidity that lunged toward Mozart to injure him. Now I see that jealousy is really an inward collapse and you hurt the people you are jealous of as you try to keep yourself from falling.

Maybe, in pulling them down, you can prop yourself up again.

Maybe, if you lean on them as they crash, you can get back to your feet.

It is at once a vulnerable and alienating move, because you’re crying out for a way to be saved from destruction, but you’re doing it in a way that causes the very destruction you seek to avoid.

Why?

Why do we think that hurting others will heal us?

I think it’s because we have been hurting ourselves so much in an attempt to brace ourselves that we’ve become committed to the strategy. We don’t know any other way of dealing with our emotions. We are so unused to resisting them that we’ve forgotten that there is another path, even if we don’t know what that other path is yet.

I’m threatened by the people I’m jealous of- if I get too close to them, then people will see all the ways I don’t measure up, won’t they?

You’ll see that I’m insecure. That I’m self-centred far more than I’m others-centred. That I care about my time more than the time of others. That I beat myself up on a regular basis. That I can be downright afraid of people- yes, I’m an introvert, but that doesn’t explain everything about my tendencies to be alone. That I haven’t a clue how to make friends. That I don’t know how to deal with my anger in a healthy way- all I have are coping mechanisms. That I walk on eggshells so often because I’m afraid I’ll lose control and irreparably hurt someone I care about- I want freedom from this straitjacket so badly, but I can’t trust myself with it (sometimes, the person who talks the most about the freedom to feel is the person who feels the least like they have that freedom). I talk about myself a lot before asking about other people. That there are so many things where I feel like I’m stunted compared to my peers simply because they’ve had so many experiences I’d thought I’d have by now, but haven’t.

(This isn’t just angst, either. This all comes from empirical evidence, as I’ve observed in the pattern of my behaviour over time.)

So I hide all these things, and try to make a good impression instead. If I don’t let anyone get too close to the plaster, they won’t see the cracks.

And then, when I can’t hide, I pour out all the self-directed ugliness in my heart on the person unfortunate enough to have found me.

This is what happens when someone spews jealousy- they release their pent-up rage about their own inadequacies as compared to the abilities of others. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. If it says anything about you, it’s that they see your abilities and accomplishments as praiseworthy in a way that’s deeply meaningful to them.

(Yes, they have a very funny way of showing it.)

Listen to me: experiencing jealousy doesn’t make you an awful, terrible person. Another part of my resistance to admitting to my jealousy was this horror of the shame I thought it would bring for me, a Christian, to be jealous of others. While it’s not a healthy emotion to nurture long-term, it can give you valuable insight into the kind of person you really want to be and the skills/life you really want to pursue. And it’s healthy to be honest about those things.

It’s also healthy to admit to your own capacity for jealousy.

Even if it’s of someone you admire.

(This post was written while I was in Miami.)

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