Health Care Dialogue
Dr. Kim Hwang
May 31, 2013
Dear Dr. Hwang:
“I’m from Northern Minnesota and work for a food service program. It’s ridiculous, but the environment is competitive and I simply want to do my job to the best of my abilities. Do you have any recommendations for coping with jealousy, even though I don’t understand it?”
Most often, jealousy stems from perceptions or misperceptions that something or someone is better or worse, stronger or weaker, richer or poorer and successful or unsuccessful. Jealousy reveals a dichotomous view, which doesn’t allow for authenticity, rather a highly distorted all or nothing set of beliefs. Jealousy is also a normal feeling, given we are immersed daily in a highly competitive society which advocates comparing ourselves constantly to something or someone else. Some good examples of jealousy are produced in the countless reality television programs that dramatize strengths and weaknesses of human beings into power over models or character flaws. We itch to be like others, yet too often, we operate from a highly mistaken set of assumptions that are out of control.
While jealousy is a natural tendency that has been injected into humans, like an unconscious desire to eat more than one potato chip, it can be dysfunctional and destructive. When we admire another person’s strengths and are able to see a person for who they are, we are less likely to react with jealousy. But if we create a story line that removes human aspects of a person, we are more likely to start a fictitious story about a person’s life that we exaggerate and envy. Yes, some people have lives that are less stressful than others, but no one person can be qualitatively quantified longitudinally.
It sounds like some people in your work place behave in ways that may be psychologically unhealthy? If a system promotes unhealthy competition, jealousy is inevitable because we misperceive others being treated better and as obtaining preferential treatment. These perceptions can be real or imprecise. Misleading and run away beliefs about another person are typically rooted in fear, a lack of communication skills and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness to effect change in their own self-worth.
People who prey on others at work as a way to increase power and decrease fear, likely lack abilities to communicate honestly. At this point in their life, they are unable to respectfully discuss feelings and thoughts about an emotional experience they are having related their perceptions they’ve formed about you. These experiences can range from real or completely made up in another person’s mind. Regardless, healthy enough people are able to confront difficult feelings, be honest and respectfully communicate their perceptions, check them out with others and have fluid dialogues until understanding is the outcome. However, some people do not operate out of rational thought processes and may not engage in perceived conflicts fairly.
Therefore, assess outcome potential. Assess whether the person who is jealous of you is capable of listening, understanding, communicating honestly and with empathy. If the possibility of this is low, especially at work, decide whether or not you want to confront the issues and if it is worth the effort? If you believe in your abilities to move towards resolve, make sure you pick a good time to talk and approach the conversation with an effort to understand first.
If someone is jealous of you, it is likely that they are not trying to understand you. We are often jealous about what we don’t understand. If a colleague treats you badly, then proceed with caution. People typically don’t treat others badly in the work place unless they are threatened or fear filled. This is not to say that you have done anything to provoke this emotional response. But, if someone has already treated you poorly or unfairly, I hate to say this, but it’s likely they won’t be overly motivated to change unless there is an external motivation. However, if the person who is jealous of you presents some possibility of meeting you half way, then it may be a simple misunderstanding?
The essence of jealousy is typically related to a sense of inferiority as well. You may want to appeal to this person’s feelings of insecurity and longing? If this is an ongoing pattern of behavior, then this has allowed jealousy to dictate them in the work place and likely does this in other contexts of their lives as well? The jealousy may be impossible to penetrate in this context?
Jealousy is likely symptomatic of earlier life experiences, personality, values or other variables that have nothing to do with you. If the system you work for promotes unhealthy competition, it is a breeding ground for other unhealthy and unseemly dynamics to surface as well. Dysfunctional, characterological traits tend to surface in unhealthy and unsafe work environments.
The bottom line is that you have the option to attempt honest communication? You can offer empathy, understanding and positive regard? But, if the person you work with or people you work with have an emotional or psychological investment in misusing jealousy (consciously or unconsciously), there is likely little you can do but protect yourself. Try to focus on what’s within your per view and do the very best you can each day to cultivate relationships with those at work operate from a sense of fairness and equality. Jealousy is a complex emotion to deal with when on the receiving end of it. I’m sorry this is happening to you. It requires analysis, examination, empathy, compassion, understanding, stamina and most difficult, relinquishing control over a situation that can feel insufferable at times. Build supportive relationships inside and outside of work. Focus on what’s positive to the extent you are able to and develop some skills to cope with this situation. When jealousy owns a person, misleading notions are difficult to uncover.
Kim S. Hwang, PsyD has a doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology. She is an adjunct professor at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology. Email questions [email protected]
This column is to invite readers’ questions related to psychological and emotional healthcare issues. It is not intended to diagnose and is an informal platform to begin a dialogue with the readers that they would like to discuss. Readers are encouraged to submit questions. Their identity will be protected.
Kim Hwang, PsyD