I have a long history with envy and with comparing myself to other people. It started in school when I realised all my wonderful and lovely new friends had mothers, and I was the only one who didn’t. It carried on from there.
Like a powerful electromagnet, I diligently picked up all the other ways that I believed made me lesser than other people, and I used these to batter myself bloody for most of my life. I’m ashamed to admit that this went on for decades. Reaching middle age now, I feel I’m only starting to learn the things I should have learned when I was a child.
I have been acutely aware of this harmful habit of mine for some time (habit seems like the wrong word for something that’s like second nature to me though). And I have been working hard to heal and to change. But it seemed that feeling envy and comparing myself to others had been so much a part of my life in the past, that the feelings can still arise again swiftly and effortlessly as if no time had passed, like a reunion between two old friends.
It happened again the other day, while I was standing in the bathroom in front of the sink. I thought about my life and the conditions of it, and I judged myself. I saw myself as a pathetic loser and a strange weirdo, like I’d always done in the past. Those old feelings hit me so quickly and deeply that it made me unsteady and unsure — in less than a minute, I’d managed to “time travel” to become my 16 year old self again. Meaning, I became a tight ball of anxiety and insecurity, trying to rein in a quivering sense of rising panic that there was something wrong with me, and that I would never be like other people (who were whole and perfect, and had perfect and happy lives because they were good. i.e. something I was not and could never be).
I tried to get a handle on those feelings because the past few days before that, I had been feeling really good. I had been feeling thankful to God and praying a lot. I had also been trying to forgive myself, and having some success with it. I had been feeling at peace and happy.
So to suddenly feel the old horrible feelings again, and to feel so so low was quite upsetting. I did not want to backslide.
So I tried to think it through and I asked God for help.
I thought about my life again, such as it was. I thought that if I were to judge my life as a typical person today, I can say that there are good and bad circumstances about it.
And I reminded myself that judgement was a feat that I cannot accomplish. This is because judgement is really just ideas we came up with, and poor ones at that. As we do not have God’s perception and knowledge, what “judgement” we can think up about others or ourselves will be laughably inaccurate. 1
I also asked myself that if I believe that a person’s life circumstances mattered so much (like mine did to me at that moment), then why have so many wealthy and famous people felt so distraught and so lost that they have ended their own lives prematurely? Their life circumstances seem to have had all of modern society’s markers of success — wealth, fame, freedom, family, and love. But to them, their lives had been unbearable. 2
So if circumstances don’t really matter AND my judgement of my circumstances were in fact useless, then I need to remember what does matter. This to me included feeling close to God as well as strengthening my faith and trust in God and in life, that they will only guide me to what is good.
And since life itself is an illusion, then any “judgement” of my life circumstances or who I am are only my own conjurings thought up within a dream.
So after thinking on these things for a little while, I started to feel better again…
The heavy cloud over me and the tightness in my person eased bit by bit until I felt okay again.
While I survived that round, I fully expect my old friends to appear again and again to me. But hopefully when envy and self-comparison come knocking at the door next time, I would be able to say hello, sit with them for a little while, and then bid them a fond farewell again. 3
1 Here are a few useful teachings about judgement (guidance about judgement against others can also be applied to judgement about ourselves, as why should the wisdom apply any less to ourselves): 1) ACIM: No one can judge on partial evidence. That is not judgment. 2) Quran: [49:11] O you who believe, no people shall ridicule other people, for they may be better than they. Nor shall any women ridicule other women, for they may be better than they. 3) Matthew 7: Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
2 I do not judge suicides, not morally or any other way. Having been at the edge myself and stared into that particularly dark abyss, I have some small understanding of why they did what they did.
3 I’m trying not to think about my faults or difficult feelings as weeds that I need to kill or root out. To do so would mean they do not belong, but I think they do have a place. We experience feelings of envy, hatred, sadness, loneliness, guilt, shame etc while on earth for a reason, otherwise why have them? These feelings do not exist in Heaven, there there is only pure unconditional love and acceptance. So in a way, life on earth is something special and different, and we are perhaps meant to experience the dark and the light together. Maybe it is better to accept the darkness when it appears for it has gifts to teach us as well. Also helpful to remember that some seeds can only ever germinate in darkness (meaning that maybe it is only after our deepest suffering that we can break through who we used to be, and start to grow into who we need to be in that next phase of our lives), and what we resist, persists.