Envy: Your Comparative Self-Worth Isn’t Doing You Any Favors.

Every Wednesday for the next 7 weeks, I’ll examine how we internalize and externalize the seven deadly sins.


While researching the seven deadly sins, I’ve come to the conclusion that these so-called sins are not “deadly” because they lead to a hellish afterlife. Rather, they are “deadly” because they destroy the life that we currently live.

They each do this in a different way and infect our lives to varying extents. Envy seems to be the most prevalent in our culture and the most destructive to our happiness.

 What Is Envy?

 The driving motivation of envy is a comparative and competitive view of the world. 

Envy is not merely wanting what someone else has. We not only want it, but we want them to not have it.  Deeper than that, we hate them because they have what we want and we hate ourselves because we don’t have it.

The self-esteem of the envious hinges on the success or failure of others. When someone else succeeds, we hate them because we want that attention and that perceived glory. When someone else fails, we love it because seeing people fail makes us feel better about ourselves.

The other side of envy is that it drives us to compete in unhealthy ways. We aren’t competing to achieve our goals. The envious compete to take something away from someone else.

Envy is based on the belief that there can be only competition and never collaboration. Power cannot be shared and all self-worth is not equal. Someone’s power, someone’s successes are a direct threat to you.

Taken even further, the envious evolve to such a state where they view everything another says or does as a direct slight or attack against them.

We dehumanize those we see as competition. We ignore their self-worth, because their self-worth is in direct opposition to ours. 

You Deserve It So Much More.

Not only does envy make us want what another has, but it also makes us examine the value of the person who has what we want.

We rationalize our envy by focusing on the person’s faults. They don’t deserve to have it. We are more moral, more good, etc… We spiral into the “why not me?” frame of mind. Life, and more specifically the object of your envy, has cheated you out of what you deserve. 

We don’t live in a world where good things only happen to good people. Even if we did, your desire to take away what someone else has takes you out of the running as a good person.

Contemplating why your behavior does not yield the success that you feel you deserve is at the heart of why you don’t have what you want.  Your goal is not to achieve your own success. Instead, your goal is to remove success from others.

If You Can’t Have It, Neither Can Anyone Else. 

Envy is not only about physical objects. Most often, envy is about the intangible. You envy the whole of someone else’s life. You envy their confidence, their intelligence, their talent.

This is more than examining the faults of the person you envy. You view (and tell everyone else) that the person is lying about the things that you envy.

They aren’t really as intelligent as they seem. They aren’t really as great as everyone thinks. The love that people feel for them is based on false pretenses. Etc…

Because everything you do is driven by the false pretenses of envy, you view everything they do as false, as well.

You do anything you can to make the object of your envy less superior. (Of course, in reality, the only thing that makes them more superior is their lack of envy.)

Not only do you want everyone else to see them as fake, but you want them to see themselves as that as well. 

You belittle them behind their back. Gossip about them. Share any personal, trusted information you may have on them. You do anything you can to damage their reputation. 

You do anything that you can do to tear them down and take away what you perceive as their superiority to you. 

You Create a False Relationship with the Object of Your Envy.

“If unassuaged, envy can even lead to a full-scale hatred of a rival.”

– Rebecca DeYoung

One of the most painful things about envy is that the person whom we envy is not as invested in us as we are in them. This leads to its own form of rage, because if we cannot have what they have, we at least want to be a significant part of their life.

But if we can’t be as important to us as we are to them, then we must make them an actual villain. 

When we take everything another does as a personal offense, we make them our ultimate rival.

A few years ago, several people clued me into the fact that a former friend was calling me her “mortal enemy.” I found this interesting because I certainly didn’t think of her as such and if we didn’t run in a similar circle, I wouldn’t have thought of her much at all.

But that label stuck with me.

The relationship between mortal enemies is such that one cannot exist without the other – that’s where the “mortal” comes in. It’s Harry Potter and Voldemort. Buffy and the Master. Peter Pan and Captain Hook.The White Witch and Aslan.

When you label someone as your mortal enemy, you tie your self-worth with theirs in a dangerous way. You cannot have happiness unless they have suffering. If they are happy, then by default you cannot be happy.

There is no sharing of the universal good. 

The Real Sin of Envy

In the end, envy does not tear down the people around you. You may hurt them, you may even hurt them irrevocably, but you are the real victim of envy.

You spend so much time hating other people’s lives that you are incapable of living your own.

This series of blog posts was inspired by Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung.

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