As much as I rarely experience jealousy (which for me is an emotion that says “Me ONLY”), I fairly often feel the pangs of envy (again, for me, comes down too an emotion of “Me TOO”).
Looking at it psychologically, while jealousy and envy are similar, they are not exactly the same no matter how many dictionaries attempt to make them synonyms. Their denotation is very similar, but their connotations have a wildly dissimilar emotional impact. Jealousy stems from a place of insecurity, convincing yourself that you just aren’t worthy enough or deserving enough of having whatever it is you are jealous about. Whereas, envy stems from feelings of inferiority. Insecurity is anxiety and nervousness based on your own doubts and fears about yourself. Inferiority, on the other hand, is a pathologically distorted perception of yourself in comparison to others.
It’s sometimes hard not to make comparisons in our lives, particularly if you define yourself as a “have not.” I try not to define myself as a “have not,” but I find myself looking at others sometimes as a matter of: “If they can have it, why can’t I?”
And, particularly with someone in my life that I have always looked at with envy, it is often a habit that is difficult to stop. I’ll freely admit that a part of the emotion I have always felt for my sister has included envy. And it isn’t because she’s spent a goodly portion of her adult life living quite a bit above the poverty level.
When we were children, a lot of the emotion came down to hero worship, at least until the differences in our bodies became a bone of contention for me. As with many siblings, hero worship can invoke frustration and anger in the older sibling because they want to live their lives without the barnacle of a younger sibling hanging around. So, there was always an undertone of “why can’t I get her to love me?” that was involved in my relationship to her. Plus, there is the typical view of the middle child, that the elder sibling is somehow “perfect” because even if the parents aren’t comparing you with your elder sibling, there is some cultural assumptions that encourage a younger sibling to look at the elder with that utter conviction of perfection.
As we both got older, and hit puberty, that perception of her “perfection” gained a new dimension. What it truly comes down to is that undertone changed from ‘why doesn’t she love me?’ to
It’s that sense that I was somehow inferior to her, and never capable of coming even close to equality with her, that sparked the growth of that envy in my heart.
All of the cultural and familial norms that I was steeped in made her superior mostly due to the fact that I had her thinness as an example in front of me pretty much all of the time, but it only really became somewhat important to me as I moved into puberty. I learned later on in life how much our genetics differed simply because of which side of the family that our phenotype more strongly resembled. She always had more dominant genes from my mother’s side of the family, while I pretty much have dominant genes from my father’s side (not just the Buechner genes, but his mother’s side as well). As you can see from this photo from 1988, our size differences were markedly dissimilar.
These last two years have been a huge fracturing of my perception of the world, particularly about my perception of the people in my family. It has required me to step outside of my own perception of the world, and re-evaluate how I saw the people in my family. I can’t learn how not to be a victim to someone like my ex without realizing that many of my assumptions about my family members made it very easy to fall for his charm.
I’ve had to put myself in their shoes, and realize just how human (and therefore imperfect) that they really are. That they make just as many mistakes, just as many bonehead moves as I ever have. That they are not the standard by which I need to judge myself, but simply the support system that I have to become myself, and to be true to myself.
My sister isn’t that perfect goddess I had compared myself against. Even when she was a more culturally appropriate size and shape, she received negative feedback about her body – just like so many people do all over this world. She was often considered too thin, too bony to be beautiful, no matter how much I viewed her as the gorgeous one in the family. And now, she fights with many of the same cultural views that I have always received, because just like many other mothers, she gained weight as she grew older and had children.
I still consider her to be the gorgeous one. But I have learned to see the beauty in myself as well. I have started to learn that just because I personally may think she’s prettier than I am, doesn’t impact my relative beauty.
And, there are some things that I still envy about her. But, they are so much less central to who I am anymore. They are things like the fact that I have always wanted to travel the world, but haven’t ever been further outside the USA than Toronto. She’s been to Germany (twice, in fact, since she was born there on an Army base), to New Zealand. My parents are also far more well traveled than I am. Dad used to travel all the time for work before I was 10 years old. And just a few years ago they visited Scotland. I envy my eldest nephew too, because right now he’s on his second visit to Germany as well.
But, now that I no longer have a barnacle of my own, that limited even my dreaming of visiting all of those places, I can dream of travel again. I don’t know how I’ll be able to do it, but I can always hope for it. Without hope, I can’t do anything. And these last two years has put new life in my ability to hope.