Jealousy and Projecting

How Jealousy Happens

I had a conversation about jealousy with my friends. At MIT, like all places, there are jealous people. But what might be unique to MIT is that most students have previously been the sole holder of their talents, the very best in their town or school, perhaps even state. Once they come to MIT, young students find that they are no longer the apex of the community. The foundation of their personality or sense of self is undermined. Worse, this happens right as teenagers are far from home, trying to find and distinguish themselves from an incoming class of 1,000 people.

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Look at all these talented focused young people! What if they’re smarter than me? What if their job offers are better than mine? What if they smell better than I do???

We talked about how a lot of students at MIT were awkward and how this awkwardness affects jealousy.

Jealous people are people who can’t confront their own emotions: there’s something inside themselves that they turn on to someone or something outside. Jealous people might be unable to express their feelings to others due to social awkwardness or meanness. People who have been harshly bullied in high school might have learned from receiving how harsh a truth wrapped up in meanness is.

When someone is projecting because it’s really about how they feel and/or what they’ve done, we get accused of stuff that’s often completely out of left field, or innocent stuff gets twisted around to suit the story that’s already in their head. They often don’t want to budge from the story! (Via Baggage Reclaim)

Jealousy happens because of a fear. Jealousy is about taking an internal truth and turning it against someone else. Instead, of addressing the root of the fear, jealous comments and actions allow the suffering person to get a hit of superiority.

As my friend said, “She wants what I have, my success or whatever. But no matter how bad she tries to make me feel, it’s not like she’s actually doing any better at her own stuff.”

How Jealousy Feels

But here’s the secret: Jealousy isn’t a positive emotion. It doesn’t feel good to be jealous of someone. Jealousy is about belittling yourself, your achievements, in order to prize those qualities in another person. Jealousy creates guilt in me; I feel bad for being jealous of my friends even if I don’t take it out on them.

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Sunflower with support from a stick Rosemary growing free standing

My friend said she totally understood this: when we’re jealous of our friends it’s complicated. It feels complicated, irrational and guilty. We’re glad that good things are happening for them but also wish those same events could have come for us. Good friends will recognize that good things can happen to both of us. More so, good friends will be sensitive to jealousy, not showing off a great job offer to a friend who is still job searching.

Growing plants is kind of like this:

Some of us are like sunflower babies. We need a little bit of support from something external while we grow. We’re going to make it to a radiant yellow burst, but we can’t make it without a bit of reassurance. Others are like rosemary, green growth turns to thick woody stems quickly. Rosemary doesn’t need much external support to grow quickly up towards a sunny goal.

Looking over, we can be like, “Why aren’t I like that? I wish I could be like the rosemary. What’s rosemary doing differently that it’s so stable? huh? Who even likes woody branches?” or “Why that’s so unfair that sunflowers get all that extra support? I don’t get that; what a loser to need a stick to stand up. Floopy green weed!”

But the reality is this: we’re both growing. We’re both going to make it up to our full growth if we keep doing what we specifically need. Being jealous putting down others doesn’t get us there any faster. Our plant awesome-ness might be really different; we’re not the only plant in the garden anymore, but we’re still beautiful and lush.

Why does that cat have a snack? I should have the snack - I rub my face on waaaaay more stuff
Why does that cat have a snack? I should have the snack – I rub my face on waaaaay more stuff

And the really dark truth: Even the jealous people, the choking vines who attach themselves to successful striving people. You know what? When they finally manage to strangle the plant that’s been holding them up – they don’t have anything to support them and they never learned how to grow on their own!

How to deal with being Jealous

Jealousy is a natural emotion.

  • Just let jealous pass.
  • Learn what traits you wish you had. Cultivate them.
  • Take jealousy as a learning opportunity.

Jealous she went sky diving? Even though you said you didn’t care? Then realize you did care and you did want to do that. Go sky diving yourself. Ask her to suggest a good sky diving location and instructor.

  • Remind yourself that a friend’s good fortune can lead to good things for you too.
  • Remove jealous people from your circle.

Jealous people don’t have anything positive to offer. It’s not your responsibility to teach them how to be better or kinder people, nor is it your responsibility to deal with their projections while they learn.

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