Last month, Dinner Confidential (currently known as Between Us) hosted 9 global dinners on the topics of ENVY and JEALOUSY. Women around the world — from Singapore to Rome — spoke with courage and listened to one another with compassion, as we each shared our journeys with these powerful emotions.
Envy and jealousy are some of the most provocative and intimidating feelings we’ve explored so far (and we’ve explored some very taboo topics like anger, sexuality and grief). Even many of us hosts — who are seasoned facilitators — felt uncomfortable holding a space for this conversation. But we made it through and we are so glad. The time has come to destigmatize these “dark” and uncomfortable emotions so we can experience, and become more intimate, with the full range of our humanity.
Here are our key takeaways…
Out of all emotions, envy and jealousy get the worst rep
These emotions can lead to hurtful or shameful behaviors, like trying to bring someone down at work or becoming obsessive with our partners. We’ve all heard of stories like those (or have seen them in movies). A “jealous woman” is often portrayed as a “horrible person”, but is that true?
Are all women who feel jealousy or envy insecure, volatile or “horrible”? Does everyone who feels these emotions always behave in a hurtful or shameful way?
Across our dinners, we realized that it’s easier to talk about those emotions in past tense. As children and teenagers, it is OK — even endearing — to feel jealous: acting out when a sibling gets more attention or getting upset when someone we like likes someone else. Talking about jealousy and envy in the present tense is a bit more challenging. Some say they’ve never experienced such emotions. Others feel shame and guilt so it’s hard to share; this conversation feels way too vulnerable. Problem is, we end up avoiding this topic and living it in isolation.
How can we change the dominant narrative so these emotions become more culturally accepted?
I don’t consider myself a jealous/ envious person but… (sometimes the body says otherwise).
Because of the bad rep, we distance ourselves from these emotions. We don’t want to see ourselves nor do we want to be associated with the image of the “typical jealous woman” that we have in our heads. So when we are asked: are you jealous or envious, the initial response for many of us is “no.”
Yet, these emotions can take up different degrees — from a momentary trigger to an all consuming experience.
As we dove deeper into our conversations, we started to challenge our preconceived notions and realized how mundane these emotions are. Most of us sometimes desire things that we don’t have, and isn’t that a sign of envy or jealousy?
We can rationalize a lot of these emotions. For instance, our heads can tell us “be happy” for our friend who got a promotion (while we didn’t), but our bodies may experience something visceral and deep, often followed by a sense of shame (there’s something wrong with us for feeling something so flawed).
What’s the most nourishing way of relating to these emotions?
The journey of envy and jealousy: from triggers to aligned action
Triggers — many things can trigger feelings of envy or jealousy, here are some common examples
Comparison: comparing ourselves to others i.e., looks, style, level of success, material wealth, etc.
Not feeling validated: our parents favoring our sibling, partner prioritizing work/other relationships, etc.
Lack of belonging: feeling separated from a group.
Other people getting what WE want, but can’t have.
Many of us become REACTIONARY as soon as we are triggered. We either express our frustration (and hurt our relationships) or we suppress it (and hurt ourselves). But there are other ways…
Curiosity — becoming more aware, open and curious when we are triggered. Asking what may be underneath the surface. Our triggers hold a mirror into what we value.
Expansion — getting a macro view of all the present emotions. Instead of focusing on the strongest, most potent feeling (anger, guilt, shame, envy, jealousy), noticing what else is there. Allowing ourselves to also feel the love, the pain, the longing (for connection, safety, validation, etc.), etc. What happens when you feel ALL the different parts inside of you?
Aligned Action — once we get a fuller picture of ALL the feelings inside of us, we can see more clearly what we really want and need. And then, we can align our actions with our deeper intentions: i.e.: choosing to celebrate the other person even though a part of us wishes they didn’t succeed, trying to turn our envy into inspiration (identifying what can we learn from the person that triggers us), grieving what we don’t have and so deeply desire, taking a risk, saying I am sorry, etc.
If and when we are not able to align our actions with our deeper intentions i.e.: we become obsessive in our jealousy or can’t stop comparing ourselves and we do things that are hurtful and make us feel shame or regret. It is very important that we practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness AND and at the same time, connect with a deeper commitment to do better — so we continue to expand in order for our actions to align with what we truly want (for ourselves and for others).
This is a process that requires equal doses of Courage AND Humility. But as author Glennon Doyle says, we can do hard things!
Women + Envy + Jealousy + Culture
As with every topic we’ve explored, culture plays a huge role in influencing how many of us relate to these emotions. The patriarchal cultures that we live in are filled with hierarchies, where those at the top i.e., people with more financial wealth or higher intellect, people of a certain race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation etc., hold most of the power and are seen as more valuable and better than the rest. This perpetuates a culture of comparison, separation and oppression.
At work, many women have witnessed male privilege. Where men have more opportunities and better salaries that women with similar (or more) experience. In many industries there’s a “scarcity mindset” around women’s success (i.e: few positions at the top), further contributing to rivalry and division between women.
In some cultures (Asia/LatAm/Southern Europe) women’s jealousy is portrayed negatively while male jealousy can have an endearing quality “it’s because he cares so much.” How can we continue to challenge these notions?
It’s time that we destigmatize these emotions for our collective healing.
When we shine light into these “difficult” feelings and talk about them, we remove the separation and sense of inadequacy and loneliness that they generate. We start to see others and ourselves as whole humans. We build intimacy, we build deeper connections and we dismantle systems that keep us small, oppressed, divided. Connecting with our envy and jealousy is doing shadow work. And shadow work leads to freedom and deeper authenticity.
As women who are often pigeon hole in certain roles when it comes to these emotions, we have to rise up together and celebrate our full selves. And yes, we can feel envy and jealousy but we can also feel courageous, loving and generous. We have room for all.
Journal: How do you respond or react when you compare yourself to someone else? What triggers that comparison? What is serving / hurting you?
When you feel a powerful emotion like envy or jealousy try to take a step back and see what other feelings or parts of you are present in that moment. What changes when you are able to connect with ALL the parts within yourself (as opposed to just the “darker” emotions)
Written by Veronica in Miami, Julie in Rome and Roxanne in Edinburg, in collaboration with Dinner Confidential hosts Vanina and Mariasu in Buenos Aires, Yolanda in Singapore, Rosalind in San Francisco, Dee in Toronto, and Onna in Seattle. And thank you to our special contributor Maria Bailey in Colorado.