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!
Marjon 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.