Hot Button Topic ~ENVY~ June 26, 2017
When Lynea Spears from LifeAfterPlacement.org asked me if I would write about envy, of course I said yes. Mostly because I would do (almost) anything for another Birth Mom! And also because when I thought about the word envy, I felt it, gave it some time and really let it sink in. It was only then that I came to realize just how present and how impactful the concept of envy has been in my life. In fact it has been a running theme for as long as I can remember.
Envy is described as an “emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession”. It is also considered one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. Boy, did this ever hit home for me.
When I look back at my family of origin, this makes perfect sense. Our household baseline temperament was that of unhappiness, discontent, and victimhood. My mother was detached and resentful (understandable) that she had to work full-time to support the family when she would have much preferred to be home caring for me, her only child. She was also resentful of those who had more than we had. And so was I after all, I learned this behavior from her. I now see that her resentment was wrapped up in the fact that my father was a philandering alcoholic who didn’t want more children (he already had a family that he abandoned) who floated from job to job, unable to substantially contribute to the household income.
I envied my friends who had stay at home moms who made breakfast and dinner for their families and had snacks ready when school was out and made sure homework was done before dinner was ready. This was definitely not my childhood experience. I had little to no structure and I thrived when I spent time at the homes of my friends who did.
I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, as did my mom. Her grandmother had come from France. My dad grew up in rural Oklahoma and his father had come from Germany as a child, alone. We were your generic, small-town southern, alcoholic and co-dependent family, appearing normal enough on the outside to anyone looking in. I still always envied those who were from more normal families. Although there was love (from my mom and grandma) there was still neglect, volatility, abuse and secrecy. I wanted so desperately to have what I perceived as safe and normal.
My whole life I have felt like a bit of an outcast. Not quite cool enough, pretty enough, smart enough or accomplished enough. Just generally not enough... I have struggled often with the pangs of envy in my daily life in competitive Los Angeles, a ripe breeding ground for envy, where everyone is carefully crafting and presenting the perfect image of success, always reaching for what’s next to take them to the next level. Los Angeles is a challenging place to live and thrive on a long-term basis, and it has somehow, miraculously worked for me for over 30 years. Simply living here, it is unfathomable to think that anyone could be immune to the seductive lure of envy, particularly someone like me. However, instead of giving myself credit for what I have accomplished, I still compare myself to others (like I did as a kid) and too easily find that familiar negative voice, like a devil on my shoulder, that tells me I “should” have achieved more, I “should” own a home, “should” have a loving relationship, I should, I should, I should….you get the picture.
As a Birth Mom, I envy the women who were from “good” families, who weren’t promiscuous, who weren’t wounded and who had solid self-esteem and the good sense to wait until they were mature enough to raise healthy children. I envy the women who didn’t struggle financially, who didn’t have abortions, who didn’t drown their self-hatred in alcohol and drugs, who had parents that were interested in them. I envy those from wonderful, supportive families with the resources to help and support, both monetarily and emotionally. I mostly now envy the amazing women who were courageous enough to buck up and raise healthy children in spite of the odds.
As a woman at 53 years of age, I envy those who are smarter, more fit, better looking, younger, friendlier, who are better connected, who have healthy loving partners, who make more money. I envy anyone who is better at anything than I am, and according to me, that is pretty much everyone. Which, when I really break it down is ridiculous since I am smart, fit, well traveled and have lots of friends, a solid career and most importantly, I am healthy. The most shocking, and almost ridiculous realization is that I am clearly envious of everyone!
I am not sure if the envy was made more or less significant by my experience as a birth mom and the placement of my child, or if it was what led me to choose adoption to begin with. To me this is a vast and confusing topic, a little bit “chicken or egg”, and a topic that could easily take me to dark places. Thus, it’s time I prefer best spend more productively. After all, it’s water under the bridge.
One thing is for sure. As significant as envy is in my life, I know I am not the only one who feels this way. As sure as I am envious of someone or something, I know that someone else out there is feeling that same way about someone or something else. It seems to be human nature, therefore envy can be healthy if not misdirected or used as a tool or as a reason not to love ourselves.
For example, I think about the other side of the equation, the adoptive parents. I think about the woman (or the couple) who for whatever reason is unable to conceive or carry a biological child of her own and her/their envy for someone like me who could, and did. Or for those who lose a child, or a spouse, or a beloved pet… And so it goes.
One of my bigger life lessons has been to learn compassion and empathy for others, as well as for myself. That requires talking off the rose-colored glasses that we so often use to observe the lives of others. The problem starts when we view everyone else as “perfect” rather than just seeing people for who and what they are which is flawed, scared and likely insecure, just like all of us. When we being to see how we are really all the same at our core essence, we can begin to see the perfection in everyone, ourselves included. We can also then see that life is always flowing. We change, our feelings change, up and down like a wave…always different, never stopping. We may all be in different places in our lives and in our up and down “wave” cycles, buy we really aren’t all that different. We all have stuff.
For me, writing about envy has not only been hugely transformational, it has helped me see that like all emotions, it is simply part of being human, and it’s perfectly normal and okay. I am reminded not to “live” there and to go with the flow and give myself a break while allowing myself to flow with the emotions. Never stopping, never getting stuck, always flowing.
Like a wave~