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Psych Your Mind: Green eyes of envy look at others

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | October 31st, 2011



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This past summer, I attended the wedding celebration of a dear friend of mine. Because I strongly believe that one should get decked out for special occasions (and, well, I like any excuse to dress up, really), I purchased myself a fine little Jessica Rabbit-inspired number and styled my hair and makeup la 1940s era. Not to toot my own horn, but if I do say so myself, I looked rather smashing. Indeed, my friend the bride and I were exchanging compliments all night.

Before the formal ceremony began, I excused myself from my date in order to "powder my nose." While I was in the loo, I encountered an older woman (likely in her 50s or 60s) who was accompanied by a little girl I can only assume was her grandchild. Upon seeing me, the little girl's face lit up. She turned to the older woman and expressed that she was a great fan of my personal style.

Despite being in the position of "role model," the older woman commented under her breath (but loud enough so I could hear) in a snarky tone, "Well, some people feel they need to get all dressed up for weddings." At this point, it's imperative to note that the older lady was draped head-to-toe in a bland, well-worn tracksuit, and her hair and makeup appeared equally neglected. I should also note that while there were a few other stragglers dressed questionably for such a formal gala, the aforementioned older woman definitely took the cake in terms of a clear lack of effort.

Perhaps she had given up on herself long ago, perhaps she didn't buy into socially constructed ideas of formality or tradition, perhaps she never conceived of herself as an attractive woman; irrespective of the deepseated subconscious underpinnings informing her reaction, one thing was/is clear: she felt threatened by me. Like defensiveness and "people pleasing," unprovoked jealousy (a.k.a. cattiness or envy) comes from a place of insecurity. As academic/author James Leonard Park explains, unprovoked "jealousy arises because of three (related) factors: 1) comparison, 2) competition and 3) the fear of being replaced."

Now, the important factor that distinguishes unprovoked jealousy versus provoked jealousy (we'll be discussing this next week) is "rational thinking" or a lack thereof, I should say. In the above described example, it is not as though I deliberately selected my outfit and styling in an attempt to "show up" the older woman. For that matter, we had never been acquainted before that very moment, nor did either of us know the other would be in attendance. Yet, somehow, on a subconscious level, my appearance was perceived by her as an "attack" to her self-concept. Accordingly, instead of acknowledging the truth of the matter (i.e.: that she was under-dressed), she projected her insecurities onto me via criticism in an attempt to regain her confidence and win back the perceived lost respect from her granddaughter. As per Park's three factors, the older woman compared herself to me, saw me as competition in terms of being a potential role model for the little girl, and because the older woman feared being replaced in her position as role model, she used the only ammunition she had available to her: defensive criticism. As we've already discussed at length, this falls into the psychologically IMmature response category.

I'd be bending the truth if I didn't come right out and say we all get jealous (myself included) from time to time. What sets apart the psychologically mature and immature, however, is how said "green" feelings are dealt with:

How to Overcome Unprovoked Jealousy
1. For starters, acknowledge there will ALWAYS be those who are MORE talented, beautiful, intelligent and well-off than you are, BUT also acknowledge that you will be perceived exactly that same way by others.

2. Develop a self concept defined by what Parks refers to as "irreplac-ability," in which you identify all of the factors about yourself that make you uniquely you. Take pride in your uniqueness.

3. Self-talk is crucial: if you find yourself becoming catty toward someone (and this applies to guys and gals alike, don't kid yourself), ask yourself what it is about this other individual that you find so threatening.

4. And finally, acknowledge that those you're jealous of can actually be fantastic resources as well as sources of motivation. If they have something you want, instead of wasting energy putting them down (and making yourself look like a jerk in the process), re-direct that energy toward selfdeveloping exercises in which you strive to achieve that which you feel you are lacking. Respect what others have to offer and what you can learn from them. Who knows? They may even turn out to become some of your greatest allies.

One final caveat: There's nothing "sexy" about real-life arguments between women. Any guy who thinks that "cat fights" will miraculously turn into stripteases in which he'll merit an invitation for a threesome is an idiot.

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