I never thought envy was a problem for me. I really didn’t.
When I discovered the Enneagram personality typing system a few years ago, it was scary how correct most of it was — both the flattering parts and the ugly parts. But descriptions I read said the “deadly sin” or passion of the Type 4 was envy.
“That couldn’t be me,” I thought, “because I don’t feel jealous of other people. I don’t wish bad things on those who have more than I do. I’m happy for those who do well.”
I didn’t give it much thought, because I was so certain it didn’t apply to me. But I’ve recently had to rethink that. It’s been painful. I’ve had to accept that what Shakespeare called “the green sickness” is hiding in my heart and eating at me.
It was hard to admit this to myself. I’m humiliated to admit it to you.
I was listening to an episode of the Typeolgy podcast which used a panel of people who identify as Type 4 when my delusion was shattered. Envy came up among the guests and all admitted it was an issue for them. Show host Ian Cron — who is a Type 4 himself — explained what envy really means in this context.
“Fours envy the normalcy, the happiness, and the apparent ease with which other people seem to move in the world,” Cron wrote in his discussion of the episode. “We just look at other people and think they just haven’t suffered as much as we have. We just have this perception that other people have had an easier time of it in this life.”
Cron pointed out that envy wasn’t necessarily the desire to tear others down. It could also be the simple feeling that we deserve what others have — that there’s something terribly missing in us — something which others seem to have.
And with that, I could no longer deny the green-eyed monster of envy that lived inside me. In one way, it felt like a relief to finally have such a painful insight. In another way, it was a humiliation, because it felt like one more horrible piece of overinflated ego or false self which needed to be resolved in my life.
Over the past few months, I’ve become painfully aware of my feelings of envy about specific people. It hasn’t gone so far for me that I wish bad things on those people. I’m just painfully aware of those who have what I want — and it hurts me to realize they have what I want so badly.
— I feel envy for men who are happily married to the sorts of women who I admire. I don’t want any random woman who might fall for me. No, I want a woman who is beautiful and brilliant and talented and amazing. I want to be admired and adored by a woman who I admire and adore. There aren’t many of them who I’ve known, but when I know of a man happily married to a woman I see in this way, I am full of envy. I don’t want his wife. I simply rage against the fates or my own decisions or someone else’s decision — whatever it is that keeps me from having what I see as my ideal.
— I have friends who are filmmakers and I’ve realized that I’m incredibly envious of their success. I don’t want to take away their success. I don’t want to sabotage them and I don’t wish they would fail. But I’m very envious that they’re doing what I wish I was doing. I have a friend right now who is in the middle of shooting his latest feature. (It’s about his fourth feature film and each has been better than the previous. He’s doing really good work.) As he posts updates on Facebook and Instagram about production, I’m happy for him — but I’m also incredibly envious. It upsets me that he’s able to do something I’m not yet doing.
— I’m envious of people who come from emotionally healthy families. They have love and support from parents and extended families. Their relationships are healthy and they have wonderful memories of childhood. I don’t wish they had experiences such as mine. I don’t wish they felt as though they had no families. But I’m really envious that they have the love and family happiness that has eluded me.
I hate admitting these things. This isn’t someone I want to be. When I realize I feel this way, I know I’m feeling sorry for myself instead of fixing the things that are wrong. I’m seeing myself as fatally flawed in some basic way — and that’s not a path toward becoming the healthier version of myself which I’ve been struggling to become.
I know that becoming more honest with myself — and admitting the truth to you — is another step on the long road to becoming the best version of me that I can be. It’s not a pleasant part of the journey, but I have to get through the self-denial to get to the self-improvement I need.
I’ve had to shatter a lot of my illusions about myself over the last decade or so. I’ve had to humble myself, but I’ve come to realize that admitting these issues and working to fix them makes me a far stronger person than someone who’s still in denial — as I was for so long.
Maybe that just my way of trying to tell myself I’m not so bad after all. It’s hard to say.
Note: If you really want to really understand the Enneagram Type 4 — including me — listen to the podcast episode (and the second part of it) which I linked above.