Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jealousy and Self-Esteem

Jealousy and Envy (quick dictionary definition): painful desire of another's advantages. 

This feeling comes in 2 forms: 

Jealousy is about losing a value to someone else (the context for jealousy is always social). It is a painful feeling regarding a value one has and is afraid of losing - or something a person has difficulty having, but see another enjoying. 
Example: Seeing the object of your romantic interest showing affection to someone else. 
Envy is about something one does not have, does not believe he can have,and yet see another person having and enjoying. 

Example: A chronically fat woman envying a good looking woman for being thinner. (You know the saying, "don't hate me 'cause I'm beautiful"). 

Jealousy, like other emotions, serves human survival. It is a negative emotion alerting a person in a painful way that his values are slipping away or that he is missing something crucial to him. 
To illustrate: a child who feels unloved when his parents take away attention from him onto a new little brother, becomes jealous and upset. This shows in his behavior and alerts his parents that he needs more attention. Jealousy here serves to show that some value is in danger (in this case, it's the parent's affection). 
While this is the normal function of jealousy (to protect life), it can arise as a result of some psychological problem or wrong standard of judging oneself. 

By itself, jealousy is not related to self esteem. In other words the mere emotion of jealousy is not an indication of lack of self esteem. It depends what the subject of the jealousy is. 

In some cases jealousy (or envy) is directed at another person's being, when the desired value in danger is one's own worth. Examples: Being jealous of someone because you consider them a better person morally, professionally, aesthetically, more popular, etc'. 

To illustrate: suppose the person you're romantically interested in dates someone else - there are two types of jealousy possible here: One is being jealous for the woman - wanting the woman and being jealous that someone else has her. The other option is being jealous of the personality of the man who has her and seeing it as reproach for your personality not being good enough. The last type is much more severe and threatening.

The second type of jealousy in this example revolves around a self-doubt - a crack in one's self esteem. 

In this case, a psychological problem (like a wrong premise) is involved and the actual threat indicated by jealousy is one's self-esteem. 

How does this come to be? What makes some people satisfied with what they have, while others are jealous of someone's success?

It all starts with how a person learns to judge himself. Each person has some idea of his own worth in his eyes. Each person has a standard, or a set of ideas with which he judges himself. 
Jealousy of the type associated to other people's success always involves an irrational standard for judging one's worth, and this can largely be based on how he was educated as a child - how his achievements and failures were treated by people the child looks up to for approval. 
Consider the parents who make clear to their child, that to be loved and appreciated, he needs to get the best grades in the class, regardless of his actual ability. This places all the weight of his self worth on the actual concrete - the good grade - and not on his performance. If he did his best, and got an average grade - he is not worthy of a prize, but worthy of contempt or indifference. This kind of education makes self-esteem impossible. And worse, it places one's self esteem on a value that does not naturally arise from one's desires and interests. This child is taught that repression, self-beating and hard, joyless work are his main tools to become a worthy person. The feeling is of having something bigger than oneself, something from above, like a severe judge, that the person has to live up to to be worthy. "One day I will be happy, when I am thin". "One day, I'll be happy, when I am rich". And guess what? When they finally do get thin or rich, they are not happy. Because it has no personal value to them, it is a value gained only to "please the judge". 

To give more examples of irrational standards: A standard for success is that one ought to succeed right away, purely from natural talent. Consider what it does to someone passionate about painting: He does not do as well as Michelangelo in his first attempt and then concludes he's no good and drops the whole thing. Or another example: Someone taking the action of productivity, divorced from his own desires and abilities, as part of his standard for judging people's worth (and his own worth). He immediately finds himself facing his own demand to start producing stuff in order to gain self-esteem. He becomes a slave to his own bad idea. A slave, because he makes himself work overtime without pay. "One day, when I am productive, I'll be happy". 

A rational standard of judging oneself is based on evaluation of one's performance in relation to one's actual abilities. The last part is crucial. It sets the basis for rational self-esteem, which means, evaluation of one's worth rationally, by what is possible in reality, and not by a dream-goal which is unachievable to the individual. 

[A side note: It is also important to choose the goals according to one's personal interests based on how a person feels about various things. A value should never be "something from above"]. 
From this it follows that a person should learn what are his abilities in those fields he wants to pursue (like sports, programming, painting, etc'). He does this by trying the best he can and observing the results and speed of progression in improving his skills in that field. 

Once he has some idea what he can expect from himself, he judges himself by how well he did compared to his ability. This way, so long as the person does his best, he gains self esteem, even if others can do better than him.
In contrast, a person who judges himself only based on achievement of something or failing to achieve it, will always be on the lookout to see what others achieved. If they achieve better, he feels like they "steal" his self-esteem and feels hostility. This is because he places all the emphasis on the concrete. Admitting that he does not have what it takes to achieve that concrete is like death to his self-esteem. He must be all-powerful without limitations. So if someone else achieved it, but he did not, it shows that the concrete can be achieved, and therefore automatically it is a reminder of his personal failure, and a cause of jealousy. In fact, there may be no failure involved. It could be that this person did the best he could. 

On the other side of the rope, telling a child that no matter what he does he is accepted and appreciated is bad too, since it encourages no effort from the child. The correct combination is judging one's success in achieving things but in relation to his abilities and limitations.
This creates an environment of self-acceptance and ambition combined (and I believe this is a rare combination nowadays). 

This is a good place to remind that by itself, jealousy is not related to self esteem. The mere emotion of jealousy is not an indication of lack of self esteem.
It is only an irrational standard of judging one's worth that leads to the jealous type whose self-worth is threatened by other people's success. If one wishes to eliminate the jealousy - one needs to replace his incorrect standard. 

9 comments:

  1. Great post, with good "vertical integration" from the specific emotion, down to core-values and self-esteem.

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  2. Thanks for the feedback. It's well appreciated.

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  3. "It is also important to choose the goals according to one's personal interests based on how a person feels about various things."
    I think Burgess Laughlin's post on central purpose in life (http://aristotleadventure.blogspot.com/2008/05/what-is-central-purpose-in-life.html) described choosing the goals very well.

    "Once he has some idea what he can expect from himself, he judges himself by how well he did compared to his ability."
    I think an example of this would be that I would have been very jealous of how well you write compared to my own blog posts if I didn't know that I am doing the best I can.
    Great post.

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  4. I agree - that post by Burgess Laughlin is great. It's great to add it here, thanks.

    Also, thank you very much for the compliment about my blog. I very much respect your honesty (though, may not be a matter of ability in the realm outside our choice).
    Positive feedback is great fuel for me to write more. So thanks again.

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  5. Hi Ifat, I found your blog through google and just wanted to say that you're really wise and this was a great post. I totally agreed with everything you said especially about false standards. I was raised to never compare myself to others and so I spent 27 years never feeling a need to be competitive with others or to feel jealous. It's peaceful and liberating having the correct standard in one's life. The last couple of years I realized my uncle has always been comparing me with his son (my cousin); for example, if we played football on the same team he would ask who scored the most goals then complain to my cousin about why he scored less than me (although we were teammates); I went on holiday and took some nice pictures of nature and birds and he complained at my cousin that he would never have taken such nice pictures if he went on holiday; I have so many examples but the last couple of years things have just been getting worse and worse until now I just feel so much competitiveness and maybe jealousy from them that I don't really want to see them anymore. I just want people to be happy for me and for me to be happy for them, but when everyone's self-worth is hinged on their achievements and performance, and there are comparisons made on every little thing, it eventually becomes hurtful and that way of seeing things I think can become contagious. I think comparisons ultimately ruin everyone's self-esteem, and like you said we all need to choose the right standard, which is contentment with doing our best. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  6. I am not against comparisons for the purpose of learning to improve oneself. They are OK so long as one's focus is one's creation and not one's worth in relation to someone else.

    In fact as an artist it helps me a lot observing artists with better technique, comparing and seeing what I can improve on. But again, this is a productivity-focused comparison, it is not competitive for the sake of determining my worth.

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  7. Great post, it helps me, thank you very much!

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  8. thank you..really good post. I found it through google. I use to be very artistic and fashion conscious and worked in the industry for a number of years. My father's hope was for me to follow his path in fashion too. I changed career when I settled down and had children to a non glamorous profession. No I see a younger relative seeing the fashion career through and has been enjoying a jet set, social and priveleged lifestyle. while I am really pleased and full of admiration for her, I find myself feeling quite jealous and wishing that I could have that lifestyle too and now yearning to get back into the industry. Now I feel that I am too old and with my family priorities I will not be able to.It hurts that I didnt follow my dream

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    1. I'm really sorry. But I think it is not too late, unless you decide it is. The first steps are scary, but once you push yourself through the fear and surround yourself with the right people, doors start to open and things don't seem so difficult anymore. Maybe you should give it a shot. What's the worst that can happen?

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