The Practice of Creativity

Who is in Your ‘Envy Hall of Fame’? Coming to Terms with Envy, Jealousy and the Creative Process

Posted on: July 27, 2012

Envy is a vocational hazard for most writers. It festers in one’s mind, distracting one from one’s own work, at its most virulent even capable of rousing the sufferer from sleep to brood over another’s triumph. Bonnie Friedman, ‘Envy, The Writer’s Disease’ in Writing Past Dark

What role does envy play in your creative life? While preparing for a creativity workshop, I found a list that I created several years ago, ‘Ways to help with the inner critic/judge’. One entry was ‘Write or collage your ‘Envy Hall of Fame’ and move on’. This made me reflect on my ongoing relationship with envy and jealousy.

For a long time I struggled with the sting of persistent feelings of envy and jealousy toward other writers and creative folk. I felt I was the only one. And, for many years I felt ashamed of my feelings and kept silent about them. As a culture, we rarely seem to acknowledge envy and jealousy in a healthy way.

When I came across the musings on jealousy by creativity author Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy (SARK) in her book, The Bodacious Book of Succulence, I felt seen and witnessed:

“I wish we would all have more clear, truthful, jealous outbursts. We all feel jealousy. I feel it often, about both odd and common things…Jealousy only points the way towards where we might like to go. It is a gift(an oddly wrapped gift)…Practice saying loudly and firmly I AM SO JEALOUS.”

She notes that most of us believe that we’re inferior if we feel jealous yet when “jealousy is shared consciously when felt, its power disappears”. She also says we try to protect others from being jealous of us by sometimes denying our own good fortune. And that our silence and a sense of scarcity is what “feeds” jealously. Agreed!

Bonnie Friedman reminds us in her excellent meditation on jealousy (‘Envy, The Writer’s Disease), that jealousy is about projecting the perfect and good onto others which is often illusory. She argues that with any projection we unconsciously give our power away to someone to judge our talent, or accept our work, or even accept our vital self. And, of course once you’ve given away a part of yourself, you resent the other person and then become metaphorically hungry, unable to find fulfillment except fleetingly. According to Friedman, we long to say ‘yes’ to ourselves.

This brings me to the ‘Envy Hall of Fame’. I came up with the idea in the midst of doing a liver cleanse and a 40-day Kundalini practice for anger, grudge holding and jealousy (many alternative health modalities believe that anger is stored in the liver). I came to realize that intense envy and jealousy are often our inner critics’ favorite weapons. So sitting down and writing or making a collage of folks that one is truly envious of can be therapeutic and can help redirect our inner critics. And, once you release that energy, you can move on. It’s not like you’re never going to feel those feelings ever again, you will, but your inner critics can’t beat you up in the same way.

Over the years I’ve found the best antidote for envy and jealousy is good self-care, a return to my own creative work and creative community. The work waits for us in all its possibilities and imperfections, to be settled into and explored.

Do you admit to your envy and jealousy? Do you write about it? Confide in friends? If you were going to create an Envy Hall of Fame, who would be in it?

(Photo credit-image blossoms)


7 Responses to "Who is in Your ‘Envy Hall of Fame’? Coming to Terms with Envy, Jealousy and the Creative Process"

Yes, I’ve been bitten by the green bug of envy. My novel, “Husbands May Come and Go but Friends are Forever,” had just been optioned for the big screen when I attended a luncheon for author Joyce Maynard. She read from her most recent book, after which she sat at my table for lunch. We got to talking and she told me her novel, “Labor Day,” had been optioned, too. How exciting for both of us! She autographed my copy of her book, “See you at the movies!”.

Fast forward a year or so and Joyce’s movie is in production starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. My movie, well… Sure Joyce has connections, but I can’t help being jealous. I would love to be one of those people who is nothing but happy for her success. But I’m not. So there!

Hey Judith,
Thanks for this admission! We’re all in it together! Speaking it and claiming it takes the sting away from it, at least for a little while.

I write about a variety of topics, including this one briefly once, but it’s not a subject I dwell on. As you pointed out, it’s one of the more destructive emotions and can jade a person. If I find myself slipping into the darkness I shake if off. We’re all different, in voice, in appearance, in destiny,etc., which makes it hard on oneself to compare and envy another. So when I find myself slipping into the dark, I remind myself of this and climb back out into the light.

Hey Brenda,
Good advice and reminders to embrace what makes us special and worthwhile.

I find in my life that envy is not just a way of “projecting the perfect and good onto others,” it is also a way to not have to live up to my dreams or try new things. I often find I am most envious when I am nervous about taking on some new challenge or unsure about how to do what I want to do creatively. I also find myself to be envious when I don’t want to commit to the work and effort of getting to where I want to go with my art or self. Envy is often my cue that there is something going on with me that needs active tending and mindful awareness. Thank you for sharing this – you have given me food for thought. And you know I love a good chance to collage!

Hey Ashley,
Great to see you here. Your insights are right on point! You insight about when envy is most likely to creep up (tackling something new, or not wanting to commit), feels so true. Yes, I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with creating our ‘Envy Hall of Fames’. Enjoy!

I think a little envy is normal. But I like to be happy for the person too. It’s more of a “That’s great. I’m so happy for you. I hope that will happen for me one day.” sort of thing. If that makes sense. 😉

Thanks for your comment on my blog. I completely agreed with you, by the way. 🙂

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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