THE PSYCHOSOCIODRAMA OF ENVY: WHO WANTS TO
THROW THE FIRST STONE!
I have never been able to cope with the emotional experience of[ii] envy. Neither my own, horribly embittered inside my thoughts, and nor the others, wisely denied and exteriorized with touches of resentment and rejection.
After reading a vast amount of literature over the last few years, I perceived that, of all human life experiences, Envy is the least studied and about which the least was written, especially in psychology. Only human sexuality had been repressed so much in other times.
Some authors say that there is no dignity in such a feeling. Even extreme rage and hatred may be explained by any noble reason, but Envy always represents an obscure feeling, without legal justification, mean and isolated, futile, hidden as it best suits bandits, thieves and assassins, the scum of human race.
And, however, throw the first stone if you have never felt it, and if you have never wished someone evil based on an attribute you admired, and if you have never avoided situations in which you had to confront people exhibiting qualities that you lack, and if you have never sided with someone just to favor those who possessed aspects you coveted, etc. Practically everything that brings happiness stimulates envy” says Aristotle .
And perhaps you may also have never thought that without Envy, and the consequent capacity of always being comparing and watching ourselves mutually, we wouldn’t have the development of social systems to which we all belong and in which lies Envy, sovereign, like a drab eminence, behind social and economic policies and almost all revolutionary movements of the history of mankind.
According to Helmut Schoeck (1987)  there are crimes caused by envy, policies based on envy, institutions meant to regulate envy and numerous reasons to avoid being envied by others.
Molded in a feeling of injustice by differences (whatever they might be: financial, aesthetic, philosophical) and in the idea that everyone should be equally favored, many policies of expropriation were conducted. From the XVIII century, with the emblematic motto of the French revolution “equality, fraternity and freedom” until the socialist revolutions (XIX and XX centuries) this philosophy of equality is proclaimed an opium for the feeling of envy, which gains demagogic strength in this apparently fair indignation.
According to de La Mora (1987)  Envy is the biggest unspoken human taboo; everyone feels it, but a few admit it, which makes its study hard and indirect. Curiously however when honorably vesting this ideological carcass of equality, it becomes the bastion of human justice. The same author concludes in his bright book ”Equalitarian Envy” arguing for the healthy necessity of the difference, and for the absurd of one’s imagining that equality may be conquered by coercion or demagogy.
Just out of curiosity and already approaching psychology and psychodrama, we know that Envy is a feeling apprehended in cluster one and massively externalized in cluster three (Bustos: 1994-362), cluster of symmetrical, fraternal and amorous roles, with the dynamics of cooperation, competition and rivalry .We do not usually envy kings and queens and their fortunes accumulated without manual work, but we may envy our next door neighbor, because he bought a brand new car. Cain and Abel’s history appears to be the right metaphor to illustrate this sentiment.
Well, we are all different. And we have to learn how to cope with these differences. Is ever it possible? How can we learn to deal with the differences? How can we better live with the primordial injustice of the human existence? What to do when I feel envious? How to cope with other people’s envy? Have I really provoked their envy? Can someone who envies cause me any harm, the famous “evil eye”? These are the questions that make me research this theme. That’s why I also propose the Psychosociodrama [iii]of Envy, in the hopes that we do not remain silent over shameful themes, but, on the contrary, respectfully united follow this arid path.
ENVY: THE CONCEPT
“The number of those who envy us confirms our capabilities”.
The word envy comes from the Latin In- videre, which means at sight, that is, being seen. Envy manifests itself popularly through the evil eye, the devil’s eye. To be seen seems to be essential to the Envy theme, either to those who are envied (they are seen) or those who envy (they see). This psychological phenomenon presupposes a social context: the co-existence of two people.
Numerous definitions of this feeling range according to the aspect of the phenomenon we want to tackle:
- Envy is a kind of psychological pain felt when comparing ourselves to other people, we conclude that our value, self-esteem and our respect are diminished.
- Envy is a painful observation of what we are lacking..
- We feel envy when another person has characteristics that are superior to ours.
- Envy is a type of admiration and love for something we lack.
- Schadenfreude is a German word also used in other languages to designate the feeling of joy or pleasure for the suffering or misfortune of the others.
- Envy is a feeling that invades us when we observe other people’s success.
In all languages, from the primitive ones to the Hindu-European, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese there is a term that designates an envious person. The primitive polygamous societies already had policies to deal with envy, especially related to the distribution of affection and goods equally among wives and descendents. A lot of conflicts took place due to inequalities and a lot of superstitions were created in order to magically obtain the desired benefits. (Helmut Schoeck3).
Envy is therefore a universal phenomenon and the literature, religion and philosophy are full of studies and metaphors on this subject. Look at the following:
- “Because he possesses herbs and grains…he is envied by the Philistines”. (Bible -Genesis 26:14-15).
- “Envy sees only the bridge, not the span that covers it”; “For envious eyes, a mosquito becomes an elephant”; Envy sees the ship quite well, but not the hole in its hull, (Russian literature).
- “Fear Allah and do not envy his power”.” Envy devours faith like fire devours wood”. (Islamic literature).
- “Envy is the pain caused by the good fortune of the others” (Aristotle, Rhetoric , book II, 10).
- “Envy wishes to destroy the good fortune of the others”. (Kant, Metaphysics of Moral .6: 459).
- “Envy is the passion that sees malign displeasure the superiority of those who have the capacity to deserve the superiority they possess”. (Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 244).
However, to conceptualize this feeling is not an easy task; one can confuse it with the complex feeling of jealousy and this discrimination must be done. Another difficulty emerges from the possible gradations of this feeling. It is then that we hear about good envy, very close to admiration and easy to be admitted, in opposition to “bad envy”, which is really similar to the German word Schadenfreude, consisting of a real torment before the good fortune of the others and an extreme pleasure in their misfortune.
ENVY & JEALOUSY
«Jealousy fears to lose its possessions; envy suffers watching the other having what it wants for itself”
It is not always easy to separate envy from jealousy. Both feelings presuppose social interactions, comparisons among individuals and are extremely harmful for the relationships.
Envy generally refers to a dual relationship[iv], in which the subject misses something the other possesses and wishes he wouldn’t have it. Whereas jealousy has to do with triangular relationships and basically consists of the fear of losing a relationship for another person. Envy prefers to destroy while jealousy aims to control.
A flaw can be found in both feelings. In jealousy the flaw refers to the fear of losing something or someone who is already yours to somebody else. The flaw in envy refers to something that you don’t have, but the other person does.
Both feelings are externalized very similarly: they are partly denied, but appear indirectly under the fear of losing, rage, cheating, insecurity, inferiority, vengeance, paranoia, etc.
Foster (1972: 167) suggests that envy provokes jealousy as a counter-reaction, as if they complemented one another. For instance, if someone feels that his beautiful wife is being coveted, he becomes jealous fearing to lose her. The same happens to any object or attribute that is wanted. He who has something does not want to lose it, and he who does not possess something wants to get it, at least, does not want the other to have it.
GOOD ENVY & BAD ENVY
Maybe to minimize the impact of such a shameful feeling, or to dialectically avoid the false polarities between good and bad, some authors argue that envy has at least one positive factor, since it can be the fuel or an extra motivation to reach success or acquire attributes leading to happiness.
For Carl Gustav Jung  analytical psychology, no matter what trace of character or attitude exists in the conscious and dominating mind, its opposite equally reigns in the unconscious. The repressed content in the unconscious must become conscious in order to produce a tension of the opposites, and thus make the personality flexible and enrich it. Says the author:
“All this process is called “transcendent function”. It is at the same time a process and a method. The production of unconscious compensations is a spontaneous process, whereas the conscious realization is a method. The function is called “transcendent” because it favors the passage of psychic constitution to the other, through the mutual confrontation of the opposites (JUNG, 1991, p. 15)”.
Byington (2002: 21-22)  talks about the creative potential of Envy, which would be only one of the structuring functions of the Psyche, being able to act creatively and provide the healthy development of the personality or, on the contrary, become fixed and begin to act in the Shade[v]·, in an inadequate, repetitive and destructive way.
In an article about the work of Gonzalo Fernandez de La Mora (1987) “Equalitarian Envy”, the author Eduardo O. C. Chaves (1991) shows that, in view of the possibility of the others becoming happier than us, it is possible to assume one of the three attitudes:
- a) Emulation- The desire to be like the others, act like them, and possess the things they possess.
- b) Resignation- To accept our (real or supposed) inferiority.
- c) Envy- To wish the others lost what they have and wish it were ours.
The attitude of emulation is positive; it triggers progress and human development. The more it stimulates competition, the better. Fernández de La Mora says: “Do what you have to do, and do it better than anyone else”− referring to sports in general, which wouldn’t have progressed had people not tried to improve it.
The attitude of resignation may have negative and positive aspects. It is negative because as the subject resigns he fails to contribute for the progress and human development, leading to stagnation. It does not promote involution, though.
The attitude of envy, however, is just negative because it leads to involution. The envious individual wishes misfortune and misery to those he envies; he wants to see those superior to him reduce to his level.
Briefly, I think that it is possible to use envy as a catalyst of energy toward envied objects, more or less like a plan of life or ambition. This would be the good envy, the emulation that causes no harm to anyone, neither to those who try it nor to those serving as its target. To admit it would do good to the self in the sense that Kohut meant to affirm: “we are pushed by our ambitions and led by our ideals”.
However, the focus of my paper today is not this benign envy, but the other one that makes you suffer by the impact of observing other people’s attributes that point to our own inferiority and ends up in a personal impotence and desire to destroy the other. My focus is the so called “Green Envy”, a term coined by Shakespeare in Othelo, referring jealousy, probably an allusion to the hepatic bile, a viscous digestive yellowish green secretion produced by the liver and as bitter as this sentiment.
ORIGINS OF ENVY
“When one of my friends is successful, something dies inside me”.
Why are some people more envious than others? Is envy inborn or is it learned? The The origins of envy are debatable.
The Freudians, led by Freud and Melanie Klein, associate envy with the death pulsion, whose origins would be innate. Freud in 1908, in his article “The Sexual Theories of Children” mentions the interest that girls have for the penis of the boys, interest guided by envy. But only in 1914, “Introduction to Narcissism” , he coined the term “penis envy”, designating the complex of castration in a child of the female sex. In 1920 with the publication of “Beyond the pleasure principle”, Freud postulates that functioning of the psychic apparatus is based on the opposition between two basic pulsions: life and death. The pulsion of death would be omnipresent, would appear generally merged with the pulsion of life, and would manifest itself in various ways, such as: compulsion to repetition, negative therapeutic reaction, aggressiveness, envy, destructive narcissism, etc.
For Melanie Klein (1974), the origins of envy are innate and derive from the constitutional aggression. An excessive load of precocious envy represents a particularly malign and disastrous form of innate aggression. Primarily, the child would be envious of the breast, and later, and by displacement, she would encompass the breast-penis equation, symbols of life. With a greater integration of the self and the appearance of guilt and the desire of reparation, envy tends to give in to gratitude. Whereas envy spoils the fruition of the object through the desire to destroy it, gratitude is the contrary “… the fundament of the appreciation of what is good in the others and in himself ” (Cintra eandFigueiredo, 2004, p. 133) .
The neo-Freudians like Karen Horney and Winnicot, emphasize less the importance of biological forces over the personality, and highlight the impact of social and psychological forces. They also minimize the importance of infantile sexuality and Oedipus’ complex, suggesting that the development of the personality is determined mainly by psychosocial forces and not psychosexual ones.
Karen Horney argues that the “penis envy”, as described by Freud means only envy of masculine power in the patriarchal societies. She proposes the concept of the”uterus envy”, suggesting that men would envy the feminine capacity to generate lives.
Winnicot believes that the newly-born does not experience – by nature – any overflowing or pulsional conflicts; he only has basic needs that have to be met by a good enough mother.
Dave Hiles , a psychotherapist of the Tavistock clinic, revisits the Kleinian theory and translates it in light of the love and hatred dynamics in the relationships. The human child is born in a state of semi-parasitism, totally dependent of her caretakers, especially of the mother who feeds her. All her action and reaction are directed to have her mother for herself, including her reactions of hatred,; this would be a form to draw the mother’s attention and have her around to manage to survive. The child does not want to destroy mother, but control her presence absence.
For him, envy is not a gratuitous aggression towards everything that’s good, but the fragile response of the child before privation, the belief that what he needs is being refrained by someone who does not to give it to her. The resulting rage would be an effort to induce the mother to realize her desires, not to destroy her. He cites Ian Suttie, a Scottish psychiatrist, prior to Melanie Klein, and inspirer of ideas of Bowlby, who contested the Freudian sexual theory, and for whom the greatest challenge of the human development is to become independent of the mother, and rage hatred, jealousy , envy take place when this challenge is not reached.
EVOLUTIONARY FUNCTION OF ENVY
From an evolutionary perspective, envy is seen as an important instrument in the struggle for a competitive advantage (Hill & Buss, 2006) . The basic concept of Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection is that favorable characteristics that are hereditary become more common in successive generations of a population of organisms that reproduce themselves, and that unfavorable characteristics, which are hereditary, become less common.
The process of natural selection is inherently competitive. The primitive man struggled for food, shelter, warmth and, if someone had these resources and he didn’t, he would do anything to obtain them, on the account of his survival. We are phylogenetically equipped, in order to observe us and compete, and we manifest these attributes in our social interactions. We continuously struggle to acquire resources or positions that the others simultaneously are struggling to get. This occurs with the physical appearance, as we acquire perishable goods and even when we profess ideologies, beliefs, etc.
The use of social comparison is a survival instrument through which men can evaluate if they are at advantage or disadvantage in the battle of natural selection. Therefore, envy would serve the function to warn when a rival partner is at an advantage and would push the individual in question to try and get that advantage for himself.
The negative affection felt when one perceives the advantage of the others, say the authors, results from an internal alarm that signals that we are losing the competition (which, in primitive times, would mean death for us and our offspring). People feel rage, pain[vi],[vii],,and shame as I will mention later, as if an injustice were happening and try to re-establish their well-being in several ways. Many friendships are broken because one of the partners is at disadvantage and prefers to keep away form this feeling.
To keep envy in secret is also a defense strategy, since admitting it may only maximize other people’s merits and would make it impossible to use other strategies, like gossiping to demoralize the other, and say it was unfair, etc.
WHEN DOES ENVY TAKE PLACE?
Every explanatory theory about envy has its way to predict when an episode of envy will take place.
Psychoanalysts, in general, believe that envy is directly related with the experience of primary child care. That is because the sense of having attributes, commonly called self-esteem, is opposed to being completely impotent, without attributes, without self-esteem.
A Klenian therapist Kate Barrows (2002: 65-67)  says that envy occurs more often in certain types of relationships, in which questions related to how things are given and received are raised. If a person giving something does it in a cordial way, without belittling or humiliating, the person receiving tends to feel grateful and will return something out of gratitude. On the other hand, if the person giving does not like to do it or makes it clear that he is only giving because the other person wants it, this individual will feel offended, resented, inferior and may become envious. The individual does not fee free to appreciate what was given to him.
Richard Smith (2004) in his brilliant article “Envy and its transformations”, summarizes the four conditions for envy to take place:
- Any envy episode starts with the observation of an attribute in another person that we wish to have.
- The envied person is symmetric to us in many aspects: age, socio-economic level, etc. This similarity generates a sensation of injustice, “ if we are equal, we should have the same things”.
- The attribute that the other possesses is of a relevant domain for us.
- Our personal perspectives to obtain this attribute are very scarce.
To summarize: we want to have what the other person has, what our basic similarities suggest that we should have and what would fair for us to have, but we come to the conclusion that it is beyond our reach. All these characteristics are necessary for the onset of envy. If, for instance, the object of comparison is not relevant to us, we may admire it in the other without feeling the pain of envy; if there is a low similarity of attributes, for example, the person we look up to is older, we may think reasonably that when we grow older, we will also have that quality. If we believe that we are able to get that quality, we will fell motivated and we will struggle to obtain it and, again we won’t feel the pain of envy.
Once the four conditions are met, the envy episode will take place, evolve and produce several other emotions (paranoia, resentment, shame) dispelling the initial sensation of envy. For instance, if the focus of comparison is directed to an inferiority of skills, we may feel ashamed of this inferiority, and begin to censure the person in question morally, blaming her for dishonesty. This diverts the focus of our recognized inferiority and justifies our acting malevolently against the envied person. “Merit envies the results”, according to Montaldi’s suggestion, cited by Smith (2004).
Some people, aware of their envy, decide to work hard to make up for a disadvantage and turn it smaller. This is probably the most honorable way to cope with this feeling. Conversely, others remain stuck in the inferiority feeling produced by envy and may fall into depression. It is reasonable to think that a badly resolved envy lies at the bottom of psychopathological cases.
Another configuration that envy might take is the use of slander, gossips, or indirect sabotage to undermine the qualities of the envied person. Gaiarsa  (1978) brightly explores this territory and states that chitchat, intrigue, gossip is a means of social control frequently provoked by envy. He dubs “ Emotional Pest”, this subreptitious form used by envious individuals, once they cannot admit their real motivation.
Avi Berman (2007: 17-32) , a clinical contemporary psychologist and group therapist of Israel, based on his observation of children, thinks that envy contains a component of hope, a desire to have the same qualities.
This author proposes three factors that may distinguish those who tend to feel resentful and destructive when they are envious from those who find self-accomplishment and motivation in these unfavorable situations. The first factor refers to the awareness of envy and may admit this feeling. The second factor refers to self-esteem and above all to a self-evaluation of one’s own capacities. The third factor comprises how far the person reckons he is entitled to those qualities.
People who benefit from situations involving envy are those who admit the feeling, believe in their capacity and think they deserve it. However, those who suffer with this feeling and become aggressive and destructive are those who do not recognize envy, feel incapable and think they deserve much more than their rivals.
SELF-ESTEEM, COMPETITIVENESS, ENVY AND GENDER.
Competitiveness, self-esteem and Envy appear correlated in almost all the texts that I read for this article. If we think of envy as an adaptive emotion that makes us compete to survive, even so the theorists of the human emotion development had to explain to us how we learn to compete, or yet how we learn to evaluate our real capacities so we can compare with our rivals.
If a person assesses herself wrongly, she will compete wrongly. It is no good to have many attributes if the inner sensation is of depreciation and points toward deficiencies. How do we incorporate the notion of what are our real capacities, our self-value, our self-esteem?
Moreover, each culture imbues its citizens with values that condition the criteria for being accepted and valued or not. Our historically patriarchal culture has changed visibly, but some subtle traces take many generations to really settle down. Carol Gilligan (1982)  in her book “A Different Voice” shows that even today there are different competitive forms for men and women. Men are still raised for growing separation from the others and reach autonomy and independence, whereas from women one expects that, above all, they look after the relationships and be friendly and faithful.
If a man is competitive, powerful and well-succeeded, he is still in accordance with the expectations we hold from him, while a powerful, self-sufficient and well-succeeded woman is often threatened to be abandoned by her peers, as if she were a traitor, walking the other direction.
Psychoanalysis also explains this issue, showing that in phases of individuation-separation from the mother toward other relationships and autonomy, boys do not experience conflicts of the kind. If everything goes smoothly, they follow toward the identification with the father and his social roles. The girls, on the other hand, have to individuate-separate from the mother, but at the same time remain identified with their functions and social roles, which presupposes, on the contrary, non-differentiation and intimacy. (Chodorow, 1978, p.109).
To compete with the mother means to separate from the complicity with her, to struggle to become different from her, better than her yet similar is a complex psychological task and carries immense pain and guilt. (Lerner, 1990) . Women permeate their other relationships of the kind with this conflict; that’s why when a woman competes, in general, she seeks a less individualistic and more indirect formula. The win/lose of these situations is based on “everybody wins”, together we win in a team, etc. (Navaro, 2007) . Covered, passive-aggressive styles of fight, modesty and humbleness have been pre-requisites of femininity and to those acting differently, one uses not so noble adjectives, like masculine, aggressive or hysterical. (Lerner, 1990).
And what does envy have to do with this? You must be wondering. Well, if one cannot express openly what he wants and fight openly for what he needs, then he can only envy this capacity in the others. Envy is the best defense mechanism for a self that has been deprived of resources and admires someone who has them. One can relieve the pain of impotence with it, utilizing not so noble hidden attitudes, such as gossip, slander, and anything that weakens his rival.
Although Envy is a universal human phenomenon, and although it affects men and women, it is still more identified as a trace from the feminine culture, and reasonably enough, the witches that were chased and killed in the Middle Age for their evil activity were women.
WHAT ABOUT THE EVIL EYE, DOES IT EXIST, IS IT HARMFUL?
The “Evil Eye” is the belief in which a disease is transmitted – usually unwillingly – from someone who is envious or jealous. This person, normally, is not your enemy, but feeling envious, he/she may harm you, your children, your animals, or your plantation, by casting an envious look. The main victims are the babies and small children because they are very much observed and praised by strangers.
In Hebrew it is “ayin há’ra” (evil eye), in the Italian continent “mal occhio” (bad eye) and in Spanish “mal ojo”. So, there are different connotations for this superstition in every language, as well as records of rituals and amulets for protection in every culture, from the tribal societies to our times of global society. For example, there are reports about envy in the Sumerian writings from 4000 years B.C. (Langdon, 1981) and in the sarcophagus in Egypt in the XXI and XXII centuries B.C. (Rojas- Bermudez, 1998)  there are drawings of eyes symbolizing acting and negative energies.
In table 1, as an illustration, I summarized the most frequent intercultural findings:
TABLE 1- ENVY OBJECTS, CURSINGS AND AMULETS
In the Oriental Mediterranean and in the Aegean Sea region, specially in the whole of Greece and even in Turkey, there is a strong tendency to see blue-eyed people as carrying the “bad eye”, probably because few people have blue eyes in these regions.
In Greece and in Turkey, a glass or porcelain blue eye and a Hamsa hand – mystic artifact showing the palm of the hand with five fingers stretched out – are usually displayed in necklaces and in jewelry, as if to face the “blue eye of envy”. In the Christian countries, making the sign of the cross or a “figa” with the fingers (a gesture using a special crossing of the fingers) seems to be the mostly used antidote.
Alan Dundes  made a multicultural study of the talismans and healings against the “evil eye” and he noticed common features. It seems that the harm caused by the look is often connected to symptoms of dryness and dehydration, as if the look were a kind of micro-wave and many rituals for the healing usually involve humidity. I concluded that the belief in the evil eye is just another way that human beings have found to deal with the enigma of life and death, consisting of creating metaphors and rituals to keep the living humid in opposition to the dead, dry of all the vital fluids. We can see a typical example in the fish used by the Japanese as antidote against the envy because they are always wet. Also, among the Jew, it is a habit to spit at both sides of the envied person.
For Freud (1901: 919) the belief in the “bad eye” is a superstition and as such, it represents the fear of future misfortunes. Besides, the fear that people “wish us harm” would be the conscious manifestation of the unconscious repression of our own bad wishes against the others. However, it is necessary to remember that despite being superstitious, this belief has the power of suggestion effect that cannot be undervalued.
The superstitions are ideas absorbed from the environment. They are emotionally linked to the potent and primitive tendency, either instinctive or ancestral, of reacting with great fear to everything which may have any relation to supernatural powers. Such tendency, clearly expressed in the child and in the primitive man, continues latent in the civilized adult, being about to emerge in critical situations, even in people with high cultural level.
From Franz Anton Mesmer (1734- 1815)  who, using his animal magnetism, healed pains and illnesses by applying magnets to the forehead of people, to Jean Martin Charcot, (1825-1893)  the hypnotizer of the hysterical women and Freud – who abandoned the hypnosis concluding that it was just the power of suggestion, culminating with the contemporary Cognitive therapies (Beck and Kuyken, 2003)  – we know that the beliefs we have about ourselves, about the world and about the future, determine the way we feel and how we behave, deeply affecting our well-being.
So, yes, “the evil eye” is harmful. Both envied and envious are damaged by believing in this superstition: the envious one for believing that he/she is inferior to the person with whom he compares to and for obsessively losing his/her time and creativity trying to control the envied one. As to the person who believes having been infected by “the evil eye”, will also present, for the power of suggestion, the corresponding harm and will feel impelled to perform a ritual for healing.
MARKETING AND ENVY- THE POWER AND THE DANGER OF BEING ENVIED
Most of the studies about envy focus their observation on the envious person. The target of envy, the person who is envied or who makes himself/herself envied, is scarcely studied. Having qualities, facilities in life, being in an outstanding position cause various sensations, from power to guilt, discomfort and fear that something bad is about to happen.
The Greek, according to Helmut Shoeck (1987: p.141-152), mentioned the Gods’ envy in several myths, as if there were a divine justice in the distribution of wealth with a guaranteed punishment for those who dare trespass the limits. In the same line of reasoning, we can see the idea that the pleasure is prohibited in many religions or at least taxed with the tithing that proceeds with the redistributive justice and still, all the rituals of knocking on wood, making the sign of the cross, etc., each time we realize that something good is happening.
In a capitalist society, where consumption is encouraged by aggressive marketing which overuses the comparison among people, we are instigated to envy something all the time. We envy the car which is attractively offered on TV by a person even more beautiful than the car, who is clothed and accessorized, more beautifully than her and the car and, above all, she is being photographed at a paradisiacal place, much better than the car, the model, the clothes and the accessories.
Being the target of someone’s envy grants this person a status of power and the reassuring of his/her own value. It predisposes him/her to receive aggressive acts, either direct or indirect, such as moral devaluation, gossips, sabotage, etc. and an uncomfortable feeling of guilt for being the involuntary cause of someone’s suffering.
As well as the consumer, target of the advertisement exemplified above, when we are compared to people who have attributes (objects, beauty, quality, etc.) better than ours, we feel attacked in our self-esteem, which demands a retaliation action to recover our value. Making yourself being envied may be an aggressive act, because the envy is a social emotion and affects, not only isolated individuals, but also groups.
George Foster (1972) suggests that there are two ways to analyze envy: from the competitive point of view, it is useful to be envied; as to the point of view of fearing retaliation, it is safer not to be perceived and conceal your qualities.
Dealing with somebody else’s envy is a complex task. The studies in Social Psychology suggest some strategies commonly used to deal with envious people:
- Minimize our own qualities;
- Value the effort we had to make to achieve these qualities;
- Praise the person who envies us, trying to point out his/her qualities;
- Help the one who envies us, trying to give him/her something good;
- Conceal our qualities under a fake humbleness, modesty.
- Socialize our profits, showing how our qualities help other people, etc.
Being envied after all, is an ambiguous existential position. At the same time in which it represents a solitary way of reassuring, surplus value, it may end up producing relationship isolation, lack of harmonious peers with whom sharing joy.
THE ENVY IN PSYCHODRAMATIC LITERATURE
I have found only one text dedicated to envy in our national and international psychodramatic world. It was Rojas-Bermudez’s paper (1997) – “De La envidia y de La violencia”.
Bermudez studies the relation between envy and violence, concluding that violence is the result of lack of resources of the Self to elaborate the envy provoked by the other.
He conceives the envy as a natural aspect of the human being, like the fountain and the thirst, but it is insatiable, as a consequence, its tragedy (sic). It is unleashed by a social fact, meeting someone whose virtues make our limitations evident. Says the author: (1997:53)
“the envy is an emotional response that emerges due to previous existing lack of affection and that gets established as passion”.
To elaborate further, depending on one’s intra-psychic resources, values and intellectual possibilities transform this suffering in creativity and compensate the lack of affection. If he/she fails, he/she will first try to fight against this passion and later, he/she will cast his/her energy against the source of his/her passion, the other, the envied one, beginning the violence.
Moreno did not directly study the phenomenon of the human envy, he only mentioned it occasionally in his work, although he referred to several questions relevant to the theme, through the sociometric test.
He mentions, for example “the creator’s envy”, referring to the rivalry existing among creative people, either heroes, scientists, or revolutionaries, rivalry that could even be evaluated through the citations the authors of scientific papers make about their colleagues:
… This phenomenon was named “the creator’s envy”. People like him, pioneers of the ones who perform the position of “public-relations” in our illuminated era, may have appeared frequently in the course of history, heroes of the people, acting simultaneously as anti-geniuses and geniuses. … There has often been rival geniuses in conflict with each other; the fire was stolen from each generation and so, gradually the scientific methodology was developed.(he refers to the myth of Prometeus) (1992: v. 1 p. 135).
… I used a cold sociometrics (cold because it is frozen in books).(1992: v. 1 p. 135).
He even seems to believe this competitivity is positive for science, despite being painful for the sociometric stars that may be rejected by their pioneerism. He says:
“the creator’s envy phenomenon also has good social characteristics; it helped the scientific method to be released” (1992: v.1 p.140).
The psychodramatic production revealed intense hostility, being reinforced by one of the two key-individuals and rivals, sometimes resulting in a distorted perception of the pioneer and of his/her work. “The “chain reaction has produced social network denial which may be called antipathy for the pioneer, or ”creator’s envy”. (1992: v.1, p. 136-137)
Moreno also understood the sociometric power of envy, which through direct or indirect boycott, may relegate creative geniuses to ostracism.
… to exalt or to blame, to steal or despise silently, to cite occasionally or not to cite the work of a genius is a dynamic way of determining his/her fortunate career. (1992: v.1, p. 139).
As to social revolutions and their motivations, hidden behind ideologies, Moreno wisely perceived the importance that the feeling of envy has when the disputes involve merit matters versus justice matters[viii]. He says about the Nazism:
… If, as it is stated, the Jew in Germany have a disproportional situation, according to their numerical importance, in liberal professions, in arts, in industry, this may be due to an excessive effort from them, maybe bigger than the effort made by the Germans, equally talented. In this case there are currents both aggressive and protective, in the attempt of balancing conditions that seem to threaten the strength of certain elements from the majoritarian group. (1992: v.3, p. 128).
… As the majority of the dependent groups are German, we can imagine the rage coming up among German groups of leaders, feelings that are joined to the belief that they have more “natural rights” than the Jewish leaders to lead the masses of workers and German farmers. (1992: v.3, p. 130)
From Moreno’s understanding, it was his aim to give relevance to the power a human being has above the other, the importance of being appreciated and accepted, not only in the first affective relationships, but also in all the relationships throughout life. He has always been interested in the rejected minorities, in the sociometric proletariats* (1992: 225) trying to re-integrate them in a certain group. He has done this through sociometry, especially through the Sociometric Test, whose basic proposal was to allow people to choose the relationships and the groups where they wanted to study, work and live.
He did not dedicate directly to the matter of self-esteem or narcissism in any moment of his work. He did not do it probably because of the emphasis he has always given to the relationship aspects instead of intra-psychic matters. The closest he got to reflect the matter of the Self with itself, was the formulation of the concept of “auto-tele” (Moreno, 1992:140) used for speaking about the relationship of the child with itself and with its image, and about the collapse of the psychotics’ self-image.
Sometimes, Moreno seems to refer to the notion of personal value, but the term he uses is “status”. He mentions, for example, “sociometric status” (1974:234-235; 1992 v. III: 194-197) referring to the total of choices the individual has in a group; “status of the men in the cosmic order” (1984: 24) about the commotion the Copernican discoveries represented for men’s pride, etc.
Due to the resistances (1992:202-203) brought about by the sociometric test, Moreno perceives that there is a fear in exposing the relationship preferences. Referring to the sociometric procedures, he states:
“The resistance seems paradoxical at first, since it appears in opposition to the real opportunity of having a basic necessity fulfilled. This resistance of the individual against the group can be explained. It is on one hand, the fear that the individual has of knowing his/her position in the group. Becoming aware of this position, either by himself/herself or through the others, may be painful and unpleasant. Another source of resistance is the fear that it may become apparent to other people we like or even the ones we do not like and which would be the position in the group that we really want and need. The resistance is produced by the extra-individual situation of an individual, by the position he/she has in the group. He/she feels that his/her position in the group does not result from his/her individual efforts. It is mainly the result of how the individuals with whom he/she lives, feel about him/her. He/she may even feel, slightly that besides his social atom there are invisible telestructures influencing his/her position. The fear of expressing the preferential feelings that one person has for the others, is in fact, the fear of the feelings that the others… have for him/her.
… these procedures should be favorably welcomed, since they help in the recognition and in the basic structure of the group. However, this is not the case. They find resistance and even hostility from some people…
Other individuals also expressed fear of the revelations that the sociometric procedure could bring. The fear is more intense in some people and less intense in others. Some may be more anxious to arrange their relationships according to their present wishes, others are afraid of the consequences… These and otherfacts reveal a fundamental phenomenon, the interpersonal resistance way, resistance against expressing the preferential feelings that some have for the others.
As to the social differences and the injustice regarding the distribution of wealth and qualities, the Morenian concept of Sociodynamic Effect, seems to describe this process. According to him we are different and this differentiation is detected and partially softened by the sociometric procedures. However, it would be utopic to imagine absolutely equalitarian societies (1992: v.3, p. 195).
The hypothesis of the sociodynamic effect states that: a – some individuals from a certain group will be persistently excluded from productive communication and social contact; b – some individuals are constantly neglected, very much below their expectations and others are very much favored, in a disproportional way to their demands; c – conflicts and tensions come up in the groups as the sociodynamic effect grows, in other words, with the growing polarity between the favored and the neglected. As the sociodynamic effect is reduced – reduction of the polarity between favored and neglected – the conflicts and the tensions are reduced.
… However, questions emerged about the possibility of having a society without sociodynamic effect, if such a society has ever existed or if it will exist in the future and if it would be superior to the present one. Many religious societies have tried to eliminate the differential trait from the group, through the suppression of perceptions and differential feelings in their minds, according to their system of values that assume all the men are brothers and sisters and equal, children of god. Therefore, the differentiation becomes a mortal sin and sociometrics, the devil’s science. Another possibility would be to accept the sociodynamic effect as our destiny.
Envy is a universal human phenomenon, timeless and inevitable. It makes part of the structure of the human psyche and it operates in the human culture and in our social organization.
However, the way of dealing with this feeling varies according to the emotional balance and the self-evaluation that each one of us makes about our qualities, capacities and merits facing the circumstances of life.
In my book, Emotional Survival (Cukier,R.1998), I developed the idea that the different aspects of our identity, or in the terms of Moreno’s role theory, our different relationship possibilities, are organized according to a kind of “System of Self-esteem Maintenance”. I believe that from the first dependency relationships, the central role of our identity is structured. The value the “SELF” acquires at this first evaluation will determine the compensatory maneuvers that it will have to make to maintain its narcissism at tolerable levels.
In the beginning of the intrauterine life, the child does not know where the pleasure and displeasure come from. It experiments psychosomatic roles,[ix] as an indiscriminate whole – the child, the world, the mother and the breast, the child the colic, the colic and the mother. Just little by little, as the neurological system matures and though the repetition of the experience, the child begins to associate the pleasure with the presence of the mother or provider and the displeasure with her absence (this referring to a normal child, with normally providing parents).
In other words, what initially was decoded as pleasurable because it satiated a survival physiological necessity begins to acquire certain independence and it does not need the physiological necessity to occur (Freud, 1905:1119-1200). [x] The presence of the mother and/or provider(s) begins to produce, even when there is no necessity to be satisfied. It is the pleasure of being seen touched, looked after, listened by someone who potentially is more powerful and that grants me a certain power if he/she chooses to be with me. The opposite is also true, the experience of displeasure begins to exist each time the provider does not show up, or shows up but does not give all the attention the subject expects.
This new kind of pleasure – displeasure is what will constitute what I call “Narcissistic Economy [xi] or System of Self-Esteem Maintenance”, a second system within the psyche, joined to what regulates the pleasure and displeasure of the body, responsible for determining, all the time, the value of the “self” for the other (how much the other likes the “SELF”) and for himself/herself (self-esteem).
We all know from our own experience that there is a pain that is not physical, but Psychological. The self-esteem needs to be maintained within certain levels of value, otherwise the pain is produced – it is the pain of not being loved, the pain of perceiving yourself of little importance for the other, the pain of feeling vulnerable, the pain of feeling deceived, betrayed, etc. and also the pain of envy, feeling that another one has attributes that you wanted for yourself. This is what Kohut (1984:80-121) calls Narcissistic Injury – the sudden perception that the SELF that thought was valued by the other or by himself/herself, in fact may abruptly lose this power.
The criteria for the SELF to feel valued or not, vary according to parameters stated by the family and socio-cultural environment, from which the subject emerges,they are relative criteria and somewhat flexible, because they change according to the development, the moment in life, etc. However, two rules, extremely simple to be formulated, coordinate the central structure of this value system, one inter-relational and the other one intrapsychic:
1- As inter-relational, I understand all the relationships that one person establishes with other people, since the first relationships with the mother and family members to the most complex adult relationships. This way, every time the SELF feels valued by another, gratuitously or for something he/she has done, his/her intrinsic value and his/her self-esteem heighten; the opposite is also true and the person feels devalued when he/she does not get the attention he/she desires.
2- The intrapsychic one consists of the relationships one person maintains with himself/herself, and in this context the rule for the SELF to know if he/she has or does not have value is even more simple: the SELF likes himself/herself when he/she is liked and he/she cannot tolerate himself/herself if he/she is rejected or despised.
Each person probably has an optimum level of personal value that his/her psyche needs to maintain in order to psychologically survive. When this self-value or self-esteem is very low, defensive resources are created to try to optimize it, through certain strength compensation. The violence originated by the pain of envy would be one of these defensive maneuvers, which tries to compensate for our self-value in the presence of the superiority we perceive in the other.
Therefore, to work therapeutically with Envy, implies reviewing the client’s emotional life and his/her narcissism. It is a task that begins from a present conflict, but goes through the client’s life, making use of dramatic associations and the tracing of repetitions and transferences (Cukier, 1998, p. 69-76). The final objective is to promote repairing in the patient’s Self-esteem Maintaining System, or Narcissistic System that, as I explained before, consists of a kind of self-evaluation central, or in Morenian terms, a permanent socio-auto metric central that we have in our psyche and which informs us all the time which our value is for the other and for ourselves.
HOW DO WE WORK PSYCHODRAMATICALLY WITH ENVY?
In general the theme envy appears indirectly through relational conflicts or, more often, through the client’s observation that the others envy him/her. I have never received a case in which the person identified his/her problem as an excess of envy, for the shame this statement would promote.
For this reason, I think we must work this matter in an indirect way, also following the client’s clues. The psychodrama offers us many resources to advance, from the present scenes of a relational conflict, to the intra-psychic drama, where themes such as self-esteem and narcissism are cleared up. The work with regressive scenes (Cukier, R.-1998:69-76) and their present repercussions is, in my opinion, the most profound in this case.
Maybe what is more difficult, is to begin the warming up for the patient to be willing to approach the theme of the envy. I do this in a subtle way, using the inversion of roles every time the demand comes in the way: “the other envies me”. I ask the patient to be this other one, put yourself in his attitude, experiment life a little as if you were him/her. I explore this inversion deeply, even the feeling of rage that the rival’s attributes cause to the client.
The inversion of roles also allows the client to experiment the theme of the envy from both sides: being the envied and the envious. In both roles we can ask for associations with situations already lived and deepen the psychodynamic.
The interpolation of a sculpture of this conflicting relationship is very useful to work this theme from a distance. I had a client that complained about how much her very rich sister-in-law envied her commitment to work and to struggle for life. In playing the sister-in-law’s role, I asked her to tell me how the wealth could be seen in her way of being, if it was in her clothes, attitude, etc. The client immediately began to describe in details, the clothing brands, her stylists made purses, her shopping at Daslu ( a fashionable Brazilian boutique), etc. Her attitude was majestic, she moved like a queen. I asked her, still in the sister-in-law’s role, to talk about my client, and the first thing she said was: she is poor, she dresses badly, goes shopping on José Paulino (a popular shopping street).
Next, I asked the patient to look at this relationship from a distance and create a clay sculpture of two people who interact like this. What would this sculpture be like? Which attitude would the rich have and which attitude would the poor have? Afterwards, I asked her to name the sculpture. The name she chose was: the slave and the queen.
The theme of the slave and the Queen was the main point of this client’s whole therapy and she gradually faced her feeling of inferiority in childhood. Many scenes were dramatized – scenes at her elementary school, where she always had to borrow the school material because her parents could not afford it; scenes at family meals, where there was not meat for everyone and the parents did not eat it, causing the children to feel guilty – after all, scenes where she learned not to wish what she could not have and to hate people who had them.
Understanding the child’s pain and impotence and learning neither to surrender to them nor making use of the same former defenses, the client was able to perceive that she was an adult; she earned a good salary and could give herself things, objects and things that she would like to have. In the last therapy session, she brought a purse, by a famous brand, saying that it had been a present for herself after having had the courage of looking at her life. We never mentioned the word envy during her therapeutic process and her sister-in-law disappeared gradually from her conflicts.
The technique of the double is inadvisable for the theme of envy. Telling the patient that he/she feels envious is almost like slapping his/her face, the opposite idea from a subtle work.
However, the mirror favors a look from a distance of the conflict, it is a great therapeutical aid. In the case reported above, many insights were obtained when the client, looking from a distance the scene that she had just played with the sister-in-law, remembered another scene, in another context, where she also felt like a slave. The mirror favors the perception of the transferential chain.
Metaphors, maximizations, concretizations, drama games, are all useful and desirable action possibilities especially in group psychodrama, where the theme of envy comes up “in situ”, involving all the participants of the group, even the therapist and the auxiliary ego. There were some group situations that happened often in my clinic, in which a certain client would resent from the attention that I, as a therapist, had given to another client. Mixed with this open jealousy, I have often seen, after some work, feelings of inferiority in relation to the rival, associations to situations of the immediate family, etc, emerge.
The magical store, where the client symbolically buys different kinds of characteristics at the same time he/she sells or exchanges character traits or personality, is usually useful to clarify what is envied in the other.
A very important aspect in therapeutic work with Envy is to help the client go through the mourning of the world’s ideal of justice, to accept the unfair reality of life. Equally important is to accept the feeling of envy, without disqualifying himself/herself, perceiving that it is a human emotion, but that it should neither become an obsession, nor lead to revenging actions, hatred, etc. The client also needs to legitimate the desire that is implicit in the envy and take actions to obtain it. The role-playing technique is very good to learn how to test new roles, attitudes, wishes, etc.
Finally, I should say that an efficient therapy for Envy helps the client to reduce his/her shame, heighten his/her self value, look at his/her own desires and to open to the richness of life. Less physical strength will be used to compare to the others, and more will be used to have compassion for himself/herself and for everyone who struggles to have the best life they can.
My first intuition in wanting to study human envy would say that this so hidden and shameful feeling was directly or indirectly related to severe psychopathological episodes, such as the psychosis and the borderline episodes.
In fact, a clinical experience of more than 30 years is the basis for this intuition. I have always found, in approaching the intrapsychic of severe episodes, matters related to self-esteem, apparently unapproachable and, many times, the self-deprecation originated from the fact that there had been in the lives of these clients, as well as in the lives of all of us, people with more abilities, more beauty, intelligence, money, etc.
I would ask myself: why most of us are able to deal with these differences between human beings and try to maximize our own attributes, improve our qualities, study, work, progress, while others among us paralyze in face of the same reality, getting obsessed by iniquities, creating supplemental realities to compensate for their lack, developing aggressive mechanisms to “make justice by their own hands” or, desperately have a self-destructive behavior at the impossibility of this undertaking?
Another fact that became evident in my clinic, is that pointing out the client’s feelings of envy, with some exceptions, unleashes negative reactions, sometimes aggressive and of disharmony between therapist and client. In other words, it is impossible to approach envy in a direct and frank way. So, I developed several resources to work with this matter without ever mentioning the word that could come up or not, in the therapeutical process.
However, I remained curious about this great taboo that was so frequent in the clinic. This work has come to satiate this curiosity and provided me with some conclusions:
- Envy is a universal and timeless human phenomenon. It is part of the human psyche and operates in the human culture and in the social organization.
- Opposite to the equivalent feeling of emulation, which leads the individual to try to be equal or overcome the other, it paralyzes the one who feels it and makes him/her suffer.
- This suffering is the consequence of the perception of a lack or disadvantage, felt as unfair and demanding impossible repairing actions, unless they are achieve through direct or indirect violence (destroying the rival, social revolutions, boycott, gossip, etc.).
- The pain and the violence resulting from this process are proportional to the dysfunctions in the client’s earlier emotional development. In other words, the less developed and differentiated his/her personality, the more dysfunctional his/her original family had been, the worse his/her self-evaluation, self-esteem, the greater will be the damages in the perception of his/her disadvantage.
- Naming it directly to the client causes shame and maximizes the underlying feelings of inferiority. It is necessary to use an indirect way of working which allows access to a relaxed ground.
- [ii] For Antonio Damásio a sentiment is a mental representation, a perception of the state of the body, whereas emotion is a reaction to a stimulus and a behavior associated (for example, a facial expression). Therefore, the sentiment is the recognition of an event that is occurring, while emotion is the visible effect of the same. Emotions are corporal things, whereas sentiments are mental things. Emotions are an automatic response. They do not require any thinking. They are the fundamental mechanism for the regulation of life. Emotions precede sentiments, and are the basis for them. I think that envy is a set of sentiment/emotion, that’s why I decided to adopt the term emotional experience in this text, because it is more inclusive. So the feeling is the recognition that an event is taking place, whereas the emotio Emotions are bodily things, while feelings a Emotions They don’t requireThey are the fundamental mechanism for the Emotions precede feelings, and are the foundations for f
- [iii] I have chosen to use the term psychosociodrama for I believe that the theme of envy is at the same time collective and individual. Moreno (1975, p. 383-385) says that Psychodrama refers to “private” problems, but as soon as individuals are treated as collective representatives of the roles of the community and of the relations of roles, not taking into account their private roles and their relations of private roles, the psychodrama converts into a “sociopsychodrama” or, more briefly into a sociodrama .
- [iv] Lacan is of the few theorists that sees envy as a triangular relationship. The triad in question would involve the envious, the envied and a “Great other” that would observe and judge them. This theory helps to understand how envy and narcisism are related and that they originate in the phase of psychic development, which Lacan calls the stadium of the mirror.
- [v] For Jung, the Shadow is the Center of the Personal Unconscious the nucleus of the material repressed by the conscience. The Shadow includes those tendencies, desires, memories and experiences that are rejected by the individual as incompatible with the Persona and contrary to social standards and ideals. The Shadow represents what we consider inferior in our personality and also what we neglect and never developed in ourselves. In dreams, the Shadow often appears as an animal, a dwarf, a vagabond or any other figure of lower category.
- [vi] Takahashi and collaborators (2009) in a study about the neurology of emotions used a functional magnetic resonance to examine the activation of the human brain when feeling emotions of envy (pain for the merit of the others) and schadenfreude (schaden = loss; freude = joy, feeling happy with other people’s disgrace). They concluded that when envy was stimulated there was greater brain activation in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC), region associated with living conflicts, perception of errors, pain through empathy and pain associated with social exclusion. However, in situations that stimulated Schadenfreude, the brain of the subjects showed to be more activated in the ventral striated region, which is connected with reward processes and gratifying stimuli. Thus, the authors interpret that the activation with schadenfreude causes a sensation of pleasure.
- [vii] The neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky in his book “ Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals” , shows that human beings experience abstract feelings with the same neurological system that they use to experience concrete feelings. The pain of social exclusion, for instance, is registered in the brain like any other physical pain.
- [viii] In fact, the matter of envy is mixed with interrogations about merit and justice: the one who has the merits to have the attributes is not necessarily the one who, for right or justice, (changeable according to time in history) has them. The political fights try to change the laws, to minimize the feeling of difference and injustice. Ironically, it will appear again, in the lower level of the new resulting hierarchy, wrapped up in another demagogical ornament.
- Moreno uses the concept of sociometric proletariat to speak about the isolated groups, neglected and rejected, whose feelings do not find reciprocity
- [ix] Says Moreno (1975): “The first roles to appear are the physiological or psychosomatic”. We know that between the sexual role, the role of the individual who sleeps, of the one who dreams and of the one who eats, operational bonds are developed which link these roles and integrate them in a unit. At a certain point we could consider this unit as a kind of physiological self, a “partial” self, a conglomerate of physiological roles.
- [x] Freud (1905) in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, develops the theory that in the origin, the first sexual satisfactions appear by the time of the functioning of the organs that are meant to preserve the life. He speaks about object Anaclitical Choice, showing how the sexual pulsions are based on the self-preserving ones. I think that not only the sexual satisfaction is based on these first experiences of pleasure-displeasure, but also the narcissistic satisfaction of perceiving oneself as target of the attention and value from others.
- [xi] The use of the term “Narcissistic Economy” is analogical, it uses the idea of self-interest (Narcissus who only thinks about himself) but also the idea of hemeostasis or economy, showing the self-protective function of this mechanism in the psyche. The pleasure in this narcissistic system is achieved when the individual’s self-esteem is high and the displeasure or narcissistic pain, when the self-esteem is low.
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