Scripture instructs that envy is like bone cancer to the heart that lets it remain. However, we all, at times, have fallen prey to its grip. Today’s Shepastor, highlights excerpts from a recent article in Psychology Today, written by clinical psychologist, Dr. Julie Exline, entitled, “Envy: What Good Can We Glean from Such a Toxic Emotion?”
Dr. Exline invites us to consider possible root causes of envy and how we can take something toxic and recycle it into something beneficial. Read on and be blessed…
Challenges in religious and spiritual life
by Julie Exline, Ph.D.
Envy: What Good Can We Glean from Such a Toxic Emotion?
Envy has a nasty side, but it can also be a useful signal of what matters to us.
Published on June 29, 2013 by Dr. Julie J. Exline, Ph.D. in Light and Shadow
Envy has a scent of death about it. It seems to creep up, unbidden, from some filthy gutter in the depths of the soul. It grabs you by the throat, squeezing tight. You taste its bitter poison in the back of your mouth. Envy has claws, too. If you see yourself as a kind and decent person, you might be shocked by the nasty thoughts your mind conjures up when envy strikes. You might not admit these bleak fantasies to anyone else (or even, fully, to yourself). But something inside you wants to take what the envied person has. You want to see the person fall—or at least be brought down a notch. And if something bad does happen to the envied person, you might take a certain grim pleasure in it—what Germans term schadenfreude, roughly translated as “shameful joy.” (For more on schadenfreude, check out Dr. Richard Smith’s new book, The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature.)End Quote
It’s little wonder that we call envy the green-eyed monster. Given its destructive power in our emotional lives and relationships, it certainly seems to deserve its time-honored place on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. And in terms of its potential to heap misery upon us, envy is tough to beat. But wait a minute. Even if envy is generally a bad thing, could it contain any seeds that could be used for good in our lives? Before tossing it on the trash heap, let’s see if this ugly feeling called envy contains anything that could possibly be redeemed…
One good aspect of intense negative emotions is that they have “signal value.” In other words, they tell us—often in a loud and obnoxious way—that something’s wrong. And if we pay attention to these signals of trouble, we might be able to turn things around.
Several years ago Richard Smith edited a book entitled Envy: Theory and Research. In one chapter of this book (“Antidotes to Envy: A Conceptual Framework”), Anne Zell and I proposed that envy can serve as a signal of desire, deficit, and disconnection. Listening to these signals may help us to manage feelings of envy. I’ll briefly summarize a few of our ideas here.
Desire. Envy tells us a lot about our desires, because we tend to feel envy in areas that we see as personally relevant and important. I remember feeling an unexpected wave of envy when reading a letter from a friend who had traveled to several exotic locales. It wasn’t until I felt this envy that I recognized a yearning to travel to similar places myself. My friend hadn't done anything wrong, of course; but hearing about her adventures awakened my desire. And since I didn't recognize what was happening inside me, my initial response was to feel envious of my friend. Of course, not every desire that we identify will be healthy or wise to pursue. And some desires we simply can’t meet, such as a wish to be younger or taller. But it’s worth taking a close look at the desires underlying your envy. You just might discover a dream.
To read the entire article written by Dr. Exline, visit,
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Until next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,