Help! I’m so jealous of pregnant women and mothers!

The Why Factor - Envy photo

A guest post by GW+ Community Member: Marjon Bakker

A few weeks ago I listened to a BBC World Service radio programme about envy. It features a British writer, Jessica Hepburn, who is experiencing severe ‘baby envy’ because she cannot have a child. She tells us how envious she can be because she longs for something other women have achieved so easily. On the Gateway Women Google Plus community (or GW+ for short!) someone wrote that she thought it was in interesting programme, but that it was a pity that no answer was given to the question of how to deal with envy. When I listened to the programme, I found that to be untrue. But the answers are a bit hidden.

I’ve been examining the issue of jealousy and envy for a few years now, since my Zen teacher held a talk on the subject. Understanding them has helped me deal with my childlessness and get to know myself. They’ve been very useful emotions.

Firstly, it’s good to be aware of the difference between jealousy and envy. We tend to use the two interchangeably and use the word ‘jealous’ when we actually mean ‘envious’. In psychology, there are clear definitions:

  • Jealousy is the fear of losing something or someone to someone else. Jealousy involves three people. In the case of jealousy, you are better off than the person you are jealous of. For now, anyway, hence the fear. For example: Imagine you have two female friends. One is a mother, the other isn’t. As long as you and the other are both not mothers, there’s not a big problem. But jealousy rears its head as soon as the other announces her pregnancy. You may lose your friend to motherhood, or to other mother-friends.
  • Envy develops when someone has something (be it a relationship, an object, a quality or a skill) that you also want. Envy involves two people, where the other is better off than you. She has a child, you don’t.

I think perhaps that in the case of being ‘still hopeful’ of having a baby, jealousy plays the main role. Once your childlessness is final, envy is the term to use. Roughly.

Daniel Kahneman, the world-famous psychologist, summed up a number of facts about jealousy and envy in this short radio programme:

a. We are most jealous/envious of people who are most similar or close to us. Eg: It bothers us when someone on our street wins the lottery, but not so much if they’re on the other side of the country.

b. There’s black/malicious envy which makes you want to run the other person down. Eg: Think of how you can suddenly be annoyed by almost anything your pregnant/new mum friend says. Or how you can play down someone else’s happiness by saying it doesn’t mean that much or look very convincing. Black envy makes you bitter.

c. And then there’s white/benign envy, which makes you want to improve yourself. White envy makes you grow.

So, with this knowledge in mind, I though of ways that as childless-by-circumstance women we can hack envy and turn it into something that’s useful to us. Here are two ways to go about it:

1. Surround yourself with people who are not similar to you. Whilst coming to terms with childlessness, I’ve made new friends: older friends, younger friends, just not friends in the same life stage as me (who were too busy anyway). Also: Get off Facebook if it bothers you! You really don’t need to keep being reminded of those friends at a similar life stage to you and their ‘perfect’ families. Not helpful!

2. Trying looking at yourself through your mother friend’s eyes: What is it about you that they are envious of? What is your life about, what are your abilities and opportunities? Turn your black envy into white envy by improving and strengthening those parts of yourself. Or any part that you would like to improve. Once you start making the most of your childless life you regain a much-needed sense of control.

But most importantly: Learn to know what you want (besides a baby), because you want it. Not because others have it.

I’m not saying this is easy. I’ve had to deal with my grief. I needed help. I had to find and then get to know my soul. But it is possible to use envy as a positive emotion.

Hope this is helpful to some of you. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


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marjon bakker author photoMarjon Bakker is a Dutch life coach (based in Holland) who specialises in guiding childless-by-circumstance women towards a fulfilling, connected and meaningful life. She does not shy away from the dark side of life, and is convinced that seemingly negative emotions can have very positive influences on our lives if we examine them and come to understand their true meaning. She’s a Zen student and works from a Buddhist philosophy of mindfulness, common humanity and compassion. Marjon is childless-by-circumstance and has chosen to pass on her knowledge about the process of creating a meaningful future. If you’d like to read more about Marjon’s work visit her website Eigen Plan (in Dutch or English) She’s also on Twitter @marjonbakker and Facebook (if you’re still on it!) And of course you can connect with her as a member of the Gateway Women Online Community. 

11 Comments on Help! I’m so jealous of pregnant women and mothers!

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I’m dealing with not having kids due to relationship and financial issues and advancing age. I do feel that this is a great topic that needs more discussion.

    I also agree that I cringed at the black/white connotation. For so long blackness has been described as a negative and an evil thing. I don’t try to see racial issues, yet I am aware when these terms are used casually by those who may not understand the impact as it may not really impact their own lives.

    I prefer thinking of positive versus negative jealousy/envy, in that one Dan help you to grow and achieve and reach your potential and the other robs us of our joy and our ability to see the positivity in our lives.

    Great article! 🙂

  2. I am unsure how to deal with this at moment but I found your article a good read and something I will have to think about a bit more. I am terrified of being the bitter woman. I won’t use the white/black references so not to offend future readers although I understand it doesn’t come from you, but I shall say I do not want to be part of the yucky envy. I only don’t know where to begin. The pain is so much right now. I am in tears daily and our world surrounds us by this mother child love that I would so like to be a part of and i have been told no.

  3. Thank you for sharing these helpful reframing tips. I’ve been reading widely on this topic for five years now through several unsuccessful attempts at IVF treatments and finally, acceptance/embracing of life as a non-parent. This is the single most helpful blog I’ve ever come across. Like others have mentioned, I very much appreciate the idea of using ‘white envy’ for one’s own positive transformation. I would rather acknowledge/own those envious feelings when they arise rather then try to block/stuff them down as if they’re not happening.. And I certainly don’t want to turn into a bitter hater/avoider of parents. Marjon’s suggestion gives us something positive to DO with those feelings.

    Thankfully, I do find that over time feelings of envy come up much much less often and with less intensity.

    I am not white but I wasn’t offended by the phrase “white envy.” I can understand the previous poster’s point about the bias she perceived in those loaded terms– hard to avoid, I suppose, with our centuries of religious/cultural symbolism about light being purifying, holy, awakened, etc and darkness signifying being lost, asleep, unenlightened (I just realized the word “enlightened” is loaded in this manner as well!). For me, I associated the descriptor “white” with meaning “benign” as in “little white lies” (I.e., minor untruths spoken to protect someone’s feelings or to maintain boundaries.)

    Anyway, enough rambling from me. Thank you for this gift of positive ideas.

  4. Thank you Marjon – I found your post interesting and inspiring. I hadn’t ever thought that there were two kinds of envy, and I agree with Anna that the feelings of loss and pain are very complex and can sometimes still consume me. It is helpful to try and understand them and be able to see what they are. xx

  5. A great post until I got to the part about black envy being bad and white envy being good: yet another example of a negative association with blackness. How is it that in 2014, this comparison continues to be used and a writer doesn’t think that it might rankle certain readers?
    However, I loved the clear distinction between jealousy and envy – this was excellent. We often use the terms synonymously when clearly there is a difference. Some practical steps about how to cope with feelings of jealousy all in all a helpful piece.

    • Hi Loraine – it’s a good point you make about the black/white correlations and one I’m sure Marjon will be interested to have pointed out. I confess that I didn’t see it – a certain colourblindness on my part too. Now you’ve raised it, I will be more mindful to look out for such correlations in future. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece – it’s certainly helpful to start unpacking the complex emotions that childlessness brings and find ways to work with them going forward. Jody x

    • Hi Loraine, I’m sorry about the negative association with blackness. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and I didn’t come up with the terms myself, I just borrowed them. Thank you for pointing it out though: It raised my awareness.

  6. This is very enlightening. It is so useful to be guided to separate out emotions and feelings, rather than let them take over you in one big ‘blob’ of negativity. We GWs have to work hard to break down all those complex feelings of loss and pain. It so helps to name it. I am at the ‘grief chapter’ of Jody’s book and it has been more helpful than I can say to be able to NAME it! To be able to say ‘I am feeling this right now’ rather than simply wailing and howling at the moon in a general way.

    I love this contribution Marjon, thanks for the guidance on the black blob that is envy/jeaousy!

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