“Have you seen Julie?” Matt asked me. “She’s pregnant and she’s sitting back there.”
Julie is a casual friend who got married last year. I don’t know her that well and I rarely see her. I had just walked into a restaurant for dinner Friday evening and an employee told me the news.
My first reaction was to express happiness for Julie and her husband, but I suddenly realized I felt something unexpected. My inner emotional mask slipped slightly and I felt … what was this?
Instead of pure happiness for Julie — who will be a great mother, by the way — I felt something ugly in my gut. My heart felt cold and hard. There was a powerful hint of anger — self-directed? — and then I realized it was hard to put labels on the things I was feeling.
Nothing I experienced was about Julie. It was all about me. And I hated the way I felt.
When I first encountered the Enneagram personality-typing system, I quickly identified myself as a Type 4. In so many ways — both the good ways and the bad ways — I saw parts of myself in the Type 4 patterns. (My “wings” are balanced between 3 and 5.) But I never could quite identify with the vice that’s said to be the core flaw of the type: Envy.
I intellectualize my envy. I’ve always told myself it’s not really envy. It’s just a realization that I wish I could do better for myself in some ways. It’s a desire for self-improvement. I don’t wish bad things on anyone. I don’t wish I were them. I don’t want to take good things from them.
But as I politely exchanged pleasantries a few minutes ago with Julie and her husband, there was nothing detached or intellectual about the feeling. It was burning envy. It was an angry and irrational frustration that someone else had what I so desperately want.
I try to be honest with myself about my many flaws, but I’m just as prone to self-deception as everyone else is. (You, too. Yes. You.) In fact, I know — at least in theory — that there’s no one in the world who I can deceive as easily as I can deceive myself.
In the middle of the burning envy that I feel right now, I realize I can’t lie to myself. This is envy. This is anger. This is a raging frustration that I don’t have the things I need and want the most. I don’t want other people to be unhappy or to not have the things they need. But there is an ugly part of me hidden inside that whispers, “Why does he have something I desperately want — when he doesn’t even deserve what he has?”
Caught in the grips of this envy, it’s easy for me to think there must be something unfair about other people having what I want, especially when so many of those people don’t seem any more “deserving” than I do. Why does he have the financial success that I used to want so much? Why don’t I have it? Why does he have a loving wife and adoring children? He doesn’t even appreciate her. Why don’t I have that adoring family? The ugly questions go on and they mock me.
The rational side of my brain has answers to all the questions. I know why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made. I regret some of them. I don’t regret others. But I understand why I made every decision I’ve made. I know the factors which created me in the past. And I know I’m responsible for what I currently have — and for what I don’t have.
I know that. I accept that. But as the envy and anger rise within me in a moment such as this, none of that cool intellectual certainty matters. I feel like a child who has been denied the love and care and attention which he needs.
Just barely underneath the calm and composed exterior — the one that allows me to gracefully congratulate Julie and her husband about their wonderful news — there is rage and boiling envy.
“I deserve better!” this envious and childish self screams in foolish self-righteousness.
I know why I’m where I am.
I know why I’m alone.
I know the decisions that have led me here. I really do.
But that doesn’t stop me from feeling pain and anger. It doesn’t stop me from resenting other people who have what I want — even if I normally lie to myself and say that what I feel isn’t resentment at all.
I’m glad I was able to say the right things to Julie and her husband. I’m glad that neither my words nor my face gave me away. I’m happy that I know how to be such a liar in a socially acceptable way.
It’s not appropriate for me to feel this way — not socially and not psychologically. It’s not healthy. I know that. But there are times when the mask slips enough that I have to see the ugly parts of myself that I prefer to hide from.
I know from studying the Enneagram why I feel the ways that I do. I know that it has to do with fears of being abandoned. I know it has to do with fears of not being good enough. I know that it comes from the deep dread of being flawed and incapable of being what everyone else can be. I know all that.
But that intellectual knowledge doesn’t help. For the moment, I’m just a scared and abandoned child who is terrified and in desperate need. I don’t look that way. I look like a well-dressed businessman sitting in a restaurant in dress clothes and a nice tie.
But there is a tremendous gap between the calm exterior and the raging envy which is screaming in my heart tonight. I don’t like it, but sometimes the truth is too obvious to deny, even to myself.