Growing up, I was a giant nerd. I was quiet, I was studious and got straight As, played an instrument and spent my spare time drawing. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, and my mom worked at the school so there was no applying it after I left the house. My clothes were hand-me-downs and I had zero sense of fashion style. I was what I called a “late bloomer.” I used to be jealous of the ‘popular’ girls, the ones who seemed happy and effortlessly pretty. I never wanted to be a cheerleader, but I was envious of having whatever it took to be one…until I saw what happened to one girl who made it and for some reason, didn’t fit in. This was my first memorable experience with bitterness and jealousy.
The morning after the announcements were made, the hallways were abuzz with the excitement many felt about who was on the next year’s squad. Then word got out that a surprise had occurred. Someone who had previously been thought of as a band nerd got the hallowed title of cheerleader and a girl that had been seen as a shoe-in didn’t make it. Whispers, comments, side eye began. The hazing that happened to no one else. It was an eye-opening moment of how mean people can be and how jealousy can affect someone so strongly. The girl ended up leaving the squad a few months later. I honestly don’t remember who took her spot, which speaks to the fact that in the big picture, who cares who made the cheerleading squad…yet I am pretty sure it wasn’t that simple for the one who grew tired of the bad way she was treated and quit.
Jealousy is a nasty emotion that is often a by-product of insecurity and unhappiness in your own life. When you’re wallowing in your own sadness or envy, it’s harder to see others succeed or get things you want. That envy can so easily develop into resentment or jealousy, and if we’re not careful, it turns into a bitterness so heavy that we can’t get beyond it.
We’ve all been there — we have at least a few times seen someone else get something we want, and it hits us hard. We can be upset that it wasn’t us, we don’t understand why it can’t be us or we can even be angry that we’ve tried so hard or been so deserving, the good thing didn’t come our way. It’s natural to envy but we have to know where to draw the line, to know when it’s time to acknowledge our negative emotions and say “okay, I felt it, I dealt with it and now I’m moving on.” It doesn’t even have to mean that we fixed our problem or that whatever we want is coming our way, but it’s an acknowledgement that the negativity is seeping into our life and affecting other things, so it’s time to let it go.
Problem is, not everyone can handle that. I’ve been there, I get it. I see some people travel what feels like all the time, and I’m envious that I can’t travel more. I see people get more business clients than me and I wish I could make that happen. When someone safely loses a lot of weight, I’m like “wow, I wish I could do that!” Sometimes, it takes longer than other times to shake it off, but I have to realize that the person is not the problem and that I need to not let my envy detract from my happiness for them. Instead, I need to think: how can I travel more? get more clients? lose my last 6 pounds of extra weight?
I don’t want to be that person that doesn’t clap when a friend succeeds. Got a promotion? Lost weight? Traveling to Iceland for pleasure? WAY TO GO! Them being able to do that does not make them a bad person — it means that maybe I need to do better or something differently on my own to make it happen, but it in no way gives me the right to take away from whatever hard work other people put in.
And so often, we don’t even see the work they put in. It may look like it comes easy, and really, even if it did, who cares? Who are we to determine what others deserve and get mad at them for somehow making it happen?
Much like many people, my life wasn’t always easy. I had a friend tell me not long ago “But you don’t really have big problems.” On one hand, yeah, you’re right — but that doesn’t mean I haven’t. Today, I’m on day #3 with a broken water heater. Big, life changing problem? No, but still a problem. And why are we judging others’ problems anyway? Chances are, most people aren’t entirely honest with us and we don’t know what really is going on.
Just because you think someone else’s problems aren’t as bad as your own doesn’t mean you should diminish what they are dealing with. Life is not a competition of problems.
A friend of mine’s business is taking off. I mean, huge. Big. Gangbusters. Mine is growing but hers literally took off overnight. I could be jealous of it, but instead, I congratulated her and am looking at what she’s doing to succeed. I’m taking notes and trying to learn from it. Meanwhile, I know she’s busted her backside to get to this point and I’m thrilled for her. Why wouldn’t I be? We’re in similar fields but regardless, her doing good is NOT hurting me. Being jealous of her would only hurt me, because then I’d have to live with those negative feelings, they’d rub off on our relationship, I could possibly lose my friend and maybe even others.
I saw a phrase on Pinterest earlier that made me laugh: Ewww, your bitter and jealous is getting all over my happy.
Another good phrase is: Your light shining brighter doesn’t make mine shine any less.
I don’t want to be that person, the one that has to have a bitter comeback for anything positive you share. I don’t want to try to belittle someone else’s circumstances because I’m having a bad day, week, month. Why should I only be happy for people when it suits me? My circumstances aren’t your problem and you should be able to count on me to be happy for you.
So what do you do to shield yourself from bitterness and jealousy?
First, I think it’s okay to remember that you do not need to tolerate it. It doesn’t matter if it’s friends or family, because some people think that family means you have to shake it off. My feelings on that? Family shouldn’t do it in the first place. They have even less of an excuse to be a jerk to you.
It’s okay to hold people accountable for their actions. When you create a pattern of letting people treat you a certain way, they will continue to do so. If someone treats you badly, or one of your kids badly and they expect you to ignore it, you aren’t obligated to let that happen. It says that you’re okay with how they treat you or your child/ren.
Speak up. You don’t need to say “you’re a negative jerk!” but you can say “I worked really hard on this.” When someone says “Now you’ll just have to work harder” when you announce a promotion, it’s okay to respond with “No, I’ll just continue to work smarter, not harder.” There are simple, shortly-worded responses that indicate you’re not letting their negativity rub off without dwelling on it.
Unfollow them on Facebook. Or unfriend entirely. We’re allowed to not have that stuff in our faces. Being a friend on Facebook is not a requirement for being a friend offline. When someone uses Facebook as a weapon to you — intentionally avoiding your stuff, ignoring your stuff but liking everyone else’s, showing preferential treatment to one of your kids, making snide comments or solely coming to your page when they can argue with you — you don’t need to allow that. If you don’t shut the door, you are responsible partially for the interaction. If they ask? “I only allow people on my page who interact” or add “in a positive manner.” You do not have to give people the opportunity to use social media against you. Take away their window into your life and lock the door, too.
Speaking of social media, you don’t have to “see” everything someone says and even moreso, you don’t have to react. You can scroll onwards. Social media is at worst a time-suck, pulling us away from our relationships, but if we are bothered by what others say, or we feel we have to compete, that is OUR problem, not the poster’s. No one likes a humble bragger or an attention-seeker, but how we react is the issue, not what is posted. Being a sanctimonious schmuck, telling others how to think or what to do, or insisting they parent the same or seek the same social justice — those are all things we don’t like to see, but we also are responsible for our behavior when we do. I like to take the high road, agreeing to disagree and moving on rather than trying to come off as self-righteous because I spend less time on social. Who, in the end, really cares? You do you, but be nice or be quiet.
Boundaries. They are everything. Set limits on how long you’ll visit your mother-in-law, how often you’ll host gatherings, or how many times you’ll allow your kids to get excluded from an event before you nip it. If you talk to a one-upper or Debbie Downer frequently, set a limit on how many minutes you’ll talk on the phone, how many times you’ll repeat the same answer or how many texts you’ll answer before you move on. If there’s something you just can’t listen to — negative rants about the same person, stories of infidelity where you’ll be complicit, gossip about others you know — be ready to redirect or say you have to go now.
Don’t forget the power of NO. You aren’t a bad person, even if they try to make you feel like one. People often like to provoke and treat you badly, then act like the victim when you say “enough.” Sometimes you learn a lot about people when you discontinue to allow their behavior towards you.
We teach people how to treat us. I say that all the time and this is just one more area where I really believe it. If we allow others’ bitterness or jealousy — the real kind, not just imagined slights — we are doing it wrong. We are giving them a power they shouldn’t have. Don’t allow others’ negativity, insecurity or unhappiness to ruin your day.