I am single and have a few single friends, but most of my friends are couples. And one of these couples is very tight—they met a few years ago and have been in constant bliss ever since. I am incredibly happy for them, but I also find myself increasingly envious, to the point where I find myself not wanting to be around them and actually hoping that they’ll have problems! (They report that they never do.) This is so not me. I know it happens because I long for what they have, but how can I stop being such a catty, hateful person when they share their happiness? – C.A.
Envy is one of the toughest emotions to deal with because it packs a two-fold punch. First, there is the envy itself, that terrible feeling of loneliness and deprivation you get when your friend’s guy impulsively kisses her hair or laces his fingers through hers.
It sucks–we all get that. But then we make it so much worse because we immediately criticize ourselves for feeling it. You are not a catty, hateful person because you envy your friend—you’re about average. Envy is a completely normal emotion that everyone experiences sometimes, so first understand that feeling envy is no big deal.
That doesn’t make it easy. It still feels like someone stuck a screwdriver in your heart. But you don’t have to double or triple or quadruple your pain by piling shame and self-loathing (or its close neighbor, resentment) on top of it.
Stick with the original hurt. Instead of judging your pain, allow yourself to feel it. Act like a scientist conducting objective research. What does envy feel like in your body? Does your chest feel heavy? Your jaw tight? Your stomach sour? Whatever it is, let it be there—investigate it. All of those ugly emotions that you’re pushing away because you are too nice a person to feel them, let them in.
That might sound awful, but I have found that when I allow myself to go there, I realize that the feeling—unpleasant as it is—has no meaning. It’s just a neutral sensation. It doesn’t kill me, and it always passes. The fear of the feeling is worse than the feeling itself.
It’s hard when our emotions belie our ideas of who we are (or who we want to be), but instead of hating yourself for not being a perfect person who is always delighted to see other people’s honeymoon photos, just be kind to yourself. Say to yourself what your best single friend would say, “Oh, I know. It’s brutal, isn’t it? But you’re not a bad person. That stuff is just hard to be around.”
This is not self-indulgence or having a pity party. It’s about treating yourself in the healthiest possible way, as a good parent might. The indulgent parent allows unlimited television and junk food; the kind one knows when to tell the kid to eat her vegetables and clean her room (but also when it’s time to curl in front of the television with a bowl of buttered popcorn).
Allowing yourself to dive into those dark feelings, rather than push them away, is a discipline. But I when I do this, I notice that a) it’s not that bad and b) I’m probably not the only person who has felt this way. This enables me to forgive myself a lot more quickly and move on.
Self-kindness means that you can say no sometimes. If you know that having dinner with your friend and her man on Saturday nights always makes you feel like crap, don’t do it. Tell her you miss your one-on-one time together.
Self-kindness can mean saying yes. You know that going to the engagement party or bridal shower will probably bring up a lot of uncool emotions, but you decide to take on the challenge. The more you practice being good to yourself in those situations, the easier they will be. It’s like a muscle—and certain people or situations are like a very heavy weight. If you can figure out just how much to take on, you can build a lot of strength.
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