In part one of this blog I made the point that envy is one of the most dangerous emotions because it wants to spoil or destroy what another person has or even destroy the person themselves.  You need to be very alert indeed if somebody envies you.  I also explored the origins of envy as understood by the famous psychoanalyst Melanie Klein.

In this second part of the blog I want to think about possible triggers for envy.

Triggers for envy

  • Ambition

Rampant ambition can be highly instrumental in triggering envy.  Klein says that’s back to the severely envious baby’s feelings about the mother who can generate lots of food (ie milk).  Whether or not that’s true, I’ve noticed over the years the occasional ruthlessly ambitious boss in an organisation showing very clear signs of destructive envy towards junior colleagues.  I’ve even heard these bosses talking about themselves and admitting they are envious, spiteful people.  That sounds disarmingly and admirably honest but it hasn’t stopped their behaviour.

  • Creativity

Another trigger for envy can be seeing someone else’s creativity.  A long time ago I witnessed a family being driven out of their home by envious neighbours.  The family had children whereas the neighbours wanted children but couldn’t have any.  The children playing in the garden were not particularly noisy and not badly behaved but the neighbours launched an endless series of verbal attacks on or about the children for what looked like imagined offences.  This reached such a pitch that the parents of the children decided that the only way to resolve the situation was for them to move house – which they did.

I link this particular story to creativity because the ultimate creative act is having children but envy of creativity can arise in many other situations.  In the workplace once more it’s sometimes displayed when there is an especially creative colleague present.

It’s interesting that Melanie Klein thought that creativity was the deepest cause of all envy.  She quoted Milton’s Paradise Lost where Satan who is envious of God decides to become the usurper of heaven and to make war on God.  Satan becomes the destructive force which tries to destroy what God creates.

Klein traced the theology of this back to St Augustine who described life as a creative force opposed to envy, a destructive force.  And before that where was St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthinans:  ‘Love does not envy’, which Klein also quotes.

  • Lack of envy

Strangely, a final cause of envy that Klein gives is when a very envious person encounters someone who is not envious.  If you’re the one who’s not eaten up with envy (and isn’t it interesting how food analogies attach themselves to envy – eaten up, consumed etc) then you may arouse envy in the other person because you have what they want most:  freedom from the pain of being devoured (there’s another of them) by envy.  Instead you have inner peace.  And above all your lack of envy will convey the fact of having been loved, having been given enough, the fact of being secure.

Next time ….

In the third and final part of this blog, we’ll look at the intriguing ways in which envy can camouflage itself so that you may not even realize that you’re on the receiving end of someone’s envious attack.  We’ll also think about how you could respond if you are.