How can I manage my envy and feelings of inadequacy?
June 12, 2014 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Last year, I attended a short artistic workshop that I found really valuable. This year, my girlfriend is attending a similar, but much longer and more prestigious workshop, and it's killing me.

She applied on sort of a lark, not really expecting to be accepted (although I privately thought it was much more likely than she did), and did indeed get in. Last year I deliberately avoided this particular program, thinking it was too prestigious, and aimed lower.

Now I find myself plagued with a litany of intrusive thoughts:
  • This is proof that she's "better" than me.
  • She's already ahead of me, artistically, and this is only going to widen the gap.
  • My experience was short and still transformative, how much more could I have learned given a month instead of a week?
  • Obviously I am a failure.
  • How could she do this to me?!
  • Et cetera, ad actual, not figurative, nauseam.
I have arranged to leave town before she leaves, and come home only after she's returned. I will be distracting myself as effectively as I can manage, although I do not have a stellar track record with managing envy in the past. I have a long history of feeling as though I have failed to live up to my potential, both because of laziness on my part and lack of access to opportunities I've seen granted to others. What's happening now could not be more perfectly calculated to exploit my insecurities.

I'm in general a very envious person; it's one of my least favorite parts about myself. But now it threatens to ruin my summer (at the very least), and possibly wreak serious damage on a relationship I value very highly. I haven't had much success with tempering this character flaw in the past, and I would very much like to hear from anyone who has overcome envy of any kind.

I am aware that my envious thoughts are fundamentally fallacious, and that in particular the ones that begrudge my girlfriend her happiness and success are total bullshit. Please do not call me out on this; I am only too aware of how poorly such feelings reflect on me as a human being.

N.B.: I am in therapy.
posted by Sock "Danger" Puppet to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
would it be possible for you to apply to this program as well? Or to apply for it next year, and have her defer her enrollment until then?
posted by rebent at 9:37 AM on June 12, 2014

What would make you proud of yourself? It sounds like you avoid risk, maybe too much.
posted by amtho at 9:40 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you do CBT-ish self-talk each time you catch yourself having envious thoughts? Mostly about you, but they could be about her, too.

Counter the thought:
- "She's better than me" reply with "we both are doing well in our own ways"
- "How much more could I have learned in a month?" Reply with "I will apply for month-long program next year", or "I will spend that month applying what I learned in that week Rigorously".
- "Obviously I am a failure" reply with "My successes include X, Y, and Z" (not all need to be artistic!)
- "How could she do this to me." reply with "she's stretching for new heights with this and I'm so glad for her; I will also stretch by doing X, Y, and Z"
- "She's ahead of me" reply with "I will work on X today to make my own work progress"

It's awkward at first, but you know those thoughts are fallacious - now convince your brain!

You want her to do well. You'd be really sad if she goes and finds it a really horrible experience, right? So go you for addressing this her sake as well as yours.
posted by ldthomps at 9:46 AM on June 12, 2014 [19 favorites]

When I get to feeling like this I start reading lots of WWII history.

Anyway, if you google "distress tolerance module" you'll find a lot of very helpful stuff.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:51 AM on June 12, 2014 [11 favorites]

You say you value this relationship. If you do value it - don't tell her any of this. It would likely impact how much she enjoys the experience if she knows you're waiting at home, feeling all of these messy feelings you described above - and might be the beginning of the end of your relationship.

Talk about this with your therapist, try some of the CBT suggested above, but you need to own your own successes and accomplishments rather than feeling envious of others. And, art? What an ephemeral thing to say she is better at it and more successful than you. Who is to say you're not on a different path, one which may bring you all the things you're looking for in life (recognition, money, whatever) just slower than she is?

Look at your history books and console yourself with all the myriad of great artists whose genius was not recognized until later in life. You're in a marathon, friend, not a sprint.
posted by arnicae at 9:53 AM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

One thing that has helped me is publicly congratulating my friends on their successes, or bragging on the successful friend to mutual friends almost as if their success rubs off on me/us somehow. For example, "we are all so proud that Fred is our friend; now that he has the promotion, we can say we knew him when" or in your case, something like, "I have such an awesome girlfriend; I knew she deserved to get into this program, and she did it!"

If I'm actually envious at the time, it's better if I do that congratulating in writing, like on social media or in email, so that I can make sure I edit out the envious tone that might sneak into my voice or facial expression. I think this helps because it's the old "act as if" idea... acting as if I'm truly happy for them does make me feel a bit happy for them.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:54 AM on June 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you do value it - don't tell her any of this.

That ship, alas, has sailed.

Not to threadsit, but to be completely clear, I think it's critical for our relationship that she go, and that I deal with the feelings I have. I would never want her to refuse an opportunity because of how it might make me feel, and I've said as much, explicitly.
posted by Sock "Danger" Puppet at 9:57 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please do not call me out on this; I am only too aware of how poorly such feelings reflect on me as a human being.

To the contrary, I don't think that experiencing feelings of envy reflects badly on you as a human being. It just means that you are a human being.

That said, feelings are just feelings. Feelings are not facts. That you feel that your girlfriend is "better" than you does not make that true. Same goes for feeling like a failure. I feel like a failure some days, but then I try to step back and look at the big picture and realize that it's not rational to equate my not accomplishing a particular thing on a particular day to being a failure globally.

I think it's good you're in therapy; hopefully your therapist can help you learn to use self-talk to counteract these feelings and associated (distorted) thoughts.

I would also suggest putting yourself in your girlfriend's shoes. Imagine that you had acheived more success than her in a particular area. Would you view her as a failure, or view yourself as better than her? Probably not. Also you would probably appreciate her supporting you and celebrating your success with you, right? So try to do that for her.
posted by Asparagus at 9:57 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really think with envy the best thing to do is not to fight the envy but to try and acknowledge it and redirect it into something more positive. The positive thing could be congratulating/bragging, like Bentobox Humperdinck suggests, or you could channel it into a concrete action you can take that will help you get closer to where you want to be with your art. Redirect. Redirect redirect. Having feelings of envy doesn't have to "ruin your summer" but I suppose dwelling on those feelings could.

Try to learn to say to yourself, "Oh, there's envy again! That feeling sure isn't useful for my art or my relationship! Oh well! Time for dinner!"
posted by mskyle at 10:05 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you do value it - don't tell her any of this.

That ship, alas, has sailed.

Eek. Well, speaking as someone who has been in a long-term relationship for almost a decade, here's my next piece of advice. Lie. Lie consistently, lie persuasively, lie to yourself as well.

Take her out to dinner (or do something else depending on your budget, but make it special) and tell her you are soooooo excited for her. You initially felt kinda jealous because who wouldn't be envious of a person as amazing as her getting an opportunity she wholly and entirely deserves! You can't wait for her to tell you about the experience, in fact, you have made some little post cards that she can send you to tell you all about it. And, most important, you think she is FANTASTIC and couldn't be more supportive.

Are you feeling all of that right now? No. But you value your relationship, you think she is great (and don't want to lose the relationship) and you want her to feel joyous and excited about her experience, not walking-on-eggshells and anxious and angry about it.

And, here is the best thing: by lying repeatedly and consistently to her about your feelings about this, I bet you will start to feel your feelings little by little transform, and when you tell her how excited you are for the 10th time it will feel a little more authentic than the 3rd time. By doing this you're not only actively loving/supporting her, but you're helping to move the dial on your own feelings of envy, little by little.

Am I advocating dishonesty in relationships? No. I'm advocating for actively transforming your own attitude towards her and this experience and demonstrating your love, support and affection for her. I don't use this tool often in my relationship, but I've used it twice when we were dealing with something very difficult with powerful, life-affirming results.
posted by arnicae at 10:23 AM on June 12, 2014 [34 favorites]

Be gentle with yourself at this time. This is a sore spot. This is your brain being a bit hurt and embarrassed, and it bruises. I think the trip away and distractions sound like a good first step.

Give yourself some time to process the big emotions. You will probably feel this in a softer way next week, and softer still the week after that. Trust that easing.

How do I know this? The other week I bought a pull-up bar with the big maybe-unreachable goal of doing a pull-up. My (male, out of shape) partner immediately did 2 pull ups. I could have killed him. What's the point now? Well, this week I feel differently. I want my own pull-up and when I get it it will mean so much because I'll have worked my ass off for it. His accomplishment doesn't reflect on mine. It certainly shouldn't prevent mine. So I'm not letting it.

What you did last year sounds amazing. Keep doing things like that. Talk to your girlfriend about how she had the guts to just apply on a lark -- I don't have that and it holds me back too. I usually apply only for things I'm sure I can get. I see others risk being turned down, and sometimes it works out great!

Is there an art practice/experiment that you can engage in while you're away? This is the time you have. How can you use it to move toward your own goals?
posted by heatherann at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Something that has helped me deal with envy in general is realizing just how different everyone's lives and opportunities are. People have totally different childhood home environments, biological strengths, and lucky chance experiences. Over time it adds up to so much difference that comparing yourself to others is just not really that meaningful.

That doesn't mean I live my life in a vacuum. I still look at the success of those around me to find ways I can learn and improve. It just means I don't take it so personally if I am "losing" at things, since a lot of winning is just luck anyway.
posted by insoluble uncertainty at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have similar insecurities about my talents, and I've had trouble with getting envious and resentful of people who accomplish what I think I should have. At some point - I forget where and when - I heard the advice that being the weakest in your peer group is actually a really good thing, and it changed my perspective. In other words, surround yourself with the people you'd be jealous of, instead of distancing yourself; you can learn a lot and make new connections through them. I'm assuming your girlfriend thinks you're rad, and some of the things she learns from this program will spill over to you. Keep reminding yourself that she's an ally, not a rival, and see if that doesn't help.

Additionally, there's a huge difference between aiming low because it's an attainable step towards getting what you ultimately want, and aiming low as a means to preempt failure or rejection. As long as you keep taking yourself out of the running before the race even begins, you won't get anywhere, and you'll grow even more dissatisfied, bitter, and envious of others who act on their dreams. Work on separating your achievements from your self: you are smart and strong and capable, even when you create something you don't think is good enough.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:32 AM on June 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

I am only too aware of how poorly such feelings reflect on me as a human being.

I disagree, I think part of dealing with these feelings is accepting that just because you feel this way does not make you a bad person. In fact, I would think that you probably direct a lot of anger at yourself for these feelings, which probably helps perpetuate the cycle of feeling inadequate and envious of others.

Echoing what others have said, I think it's perfectly normal and rational that you are envious people sometimes, but what matters is what you do with those feelings.

My partner and I have the same artistic hobby, although I suppose I've had more success than he has. But I honestly owe a lot of it to the fact that we have had each other to talk to about it, encourage each other, bounce ideas off each other, and learn from each other. If he was feeling the way you are feeling, I would tell him that he deserves some of the credit for what I've been able to achieve.
posted by inertia at 10:42 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you at all spiritually inclined?

In Buddhism I've been taught that pain like this is actually the death of the ego. So when you feel pain like this, it's a good thing! You've found an area in your mind where your ego still exists. If you just mindfully feel the pain, your ego will diminish.

Say to yourself: this pain is diminishing my ego, my self-cherishing. It is a painful medicine that can transform me, if I allow it to.

Pro tip: you will never feel her joy if you resent her success. If you can transmute this pain into appreciation for her; if you can imagine how happy she is to be in this seminar, how relaxed and delighted she must feel, and then be glad for that, then you will help release this grip of the ego. From a karmic perspective, this also increase the chances of you experiencing such happiness for yourself in the future. "Rejoicing in others' good fortune" is what they call it. It is a great practice.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:57 AM on June 12, 2014 [23 favorites]

In this particular situation, I don't think your talent is called into question. She applied, you didn't. It's definitely something to kick yourself over, but you have no idea how it would have gone if you did apply for the more prestigious program. You might have gotten in. Heck, you might have gotten in ahead of her. No one knows!

It's definitely a lesson in seizing opportunities, but definitely not a reflection on your ability or hers.

P.S. - If I were you I would go a different direction with your ambitions than your girlfriend. It takes an absolute saint to actually selflessly be happy for someone with whom you are forced to compare yourself. Two salespersons are 100% guaranteed going to break up when one wins the big bonus and the other doesn't. Take a different artistic path and make your abilities incomparable.
posted by Willie0248 at 11:07 AM on June 12, 2014

If you guys are going to be together in the long term, this is good for you as a unit. Think of yourself as a power couple or a partnership, where any victory for one of you is a strategic victory for your team. Like Brad and Angelina, or Frank and Claire Underwood.

You WANT her to kickass because you want your UNIT to kick ass.
posted by amaire at 11:07 AM on June 12, 2014 [15 favorites]

Maybe focus on being pissed off at yourself for chickening out of applying for that program. Because that's a big part of it, isn't it? You didn't believe in yourself enough, perhaps you don't value yourself and respect yourself enough. And you die inside when you see people succeed where you didn't even give yourself a chance. You love your girlfriend and kind of depend on her to keep up a positive image of you, to uphold the respect for you that you can't find in yourself. But if she pulls too far ahead, where does that leave you? Work on that aspect with your therapist: Use that anger to battle your self sabotage.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:59 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you jump in, in the space between when you think "Girlfriend is going to conference" and when you begin to think "This means all of these horrible things about me" and say, out loud or in your head, "Wow, I'm so glad that Girlfriend got in. This is going to be so great for her. I'm really proud that I'm with a Girlfriend who works so hard and is getting so much good feedback." And try to stay in that space, to experience what that's like, even just for a second? And then repeat that EVERY TIME the thought comes up? EVEN IF YOU DON'T MEAN IT (although I hope you can mean it a little bit?). I heard this tactic from Brene Brown once, not for jealousy but for fear and I use it in those moments when I'm thinking, "Everything is so great right now... wait a minute this must mean something bad's about to happen!"
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:04 PM on June 12, 2014

Oh, god, I'm so sorry. I have been just where you are so many times. My husband kind of stumbled into my chosen vocation as a third-choice career move and it turns out he's like 10x better at it than I am. It is a constant struggle for me to keep my chin up and stay supportive. So I'm not sure I can give you advice on how to navigate this successfully because lord knows my own success has been mixed.

One thing that I will say, though, is that I am glad we're in the same field now because it gives me so many more tools to appreciate how special my husband is. I feel like if we didn't work in closely related areas, I would think he was being kind of a prima donna sometimes (I never really understood the term "workaholic" until I met him...sometimes it really does look like physical addiction to checking email, holy cow), but because we do, I know exactly how hard the work he's doing is, and know exactly how awesome it is that he's capable of it and so successful at it. So I'm still jealous, sometimes to the breaking point, but I'm also almost painfully proud of him and impressed by him. Can you try to redirect yourself in that direction as much as you can? Whenever you think "Wow, I wish I didn't suck so much at [mutual skill]" follow it up with "but wow, it's also really awesome that I managed to date one of the top practitioners of [mutual skill]! It's a real privilege to have her to learn from if I want."

I also am glad that I live with him so I can see that his success is not just that he walked in one day and was a genius at the work we do. He works *hard*, for long hours. I have seen him improve his craft over the years and have seen what he's poured into it. I know I can't commit that way, frankly, and while it makes me a little sad, it also helps me understand that the other people I'm competing with in our field mostly are probably committing that way too. Some people make it look really easy at the office - my husband included - so it's helpful to be able to see that he's putting in long hours at night and at the weekends too.

Hope this helps! And feel free to memail me if you want to vent. I GET IT.
posted by town of cats at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can be an envious person and I've let it sour relationships/experiences and I would get so angry at myself for letting that happen but then I read something here on ask.mefi (I can't find it now) that basically said, "Be jealous but act generous." It's okay to feel whatever you feel and things like envy/jealousy can be pretty good motivators. Use that for positive actions, not ugly, nasty ones. Sitting around feeling jealous or sorry for yourself isn't putting you in a more advantageous position, just the opposite. Help your girlfriend prepare for her time away, and then use that time that she's gone to help yourself get to a position where you're doing/making something you're proud of instead of licking your wound(ed ego).
posted by dearwassily at 12:40 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's some excellent advice here, but I'm going to suggest that your feelings of envy are not just rooted in some insecurity, it is insecurity you're mislabeling envy. To be overly simplistic, envy would be if you felt envious of someone else's talent or accidental meeting at a coffee shop with a famous artist that led to an art gallery opportunity - things other people have or do that you not only don't have yourself but have no control over. Or you could be envious if you both applied and only she got in. That doesn't sound like the case here - your GF applied, you didn't. Everything you wrote shows more feelings due to what you regard as your own personal failings rather than wanting what she has: anxiety, fear of rejection, insecurities, inadequacies, what have you. Listen to your own words: I deliberately avoided this particular program....Obviously I am a failure....aimed lower......I have a long history of feeling as though I have failed to live up to my potential.....

You have a therapist to help you deal with these feelings, which is a long-term project. In the short-term, however, you can deal with your feelings about this particular situation by creating a feeling of control over the situation, and you can do that with action.

(For hypothetical sake, I'm going to pretend you're a poet.)

1) Think of her absence as an opportunity, and create your own project. This is a chance to throw yourself totally into one single project without worrying about the time being in a relationship uses up! What an awesome space you have to work in. Go back to your notes from your program last year. Remember, these programs are to give you a toolbox, and so length doesn't have that much to do with's how you use those tools. (Maybe you've practiced one thing ever since then, but your notes may have something you've completely forgotten.) Pick 1 or 2 techniques to totally concentrate on and just write write write until you've turned those techniques upside down and inside out and can break the rules and make that work, too. With your own project to concentrate on, you'll be using your time to be an artist instead of sitting in your own head space...and will give you something to look forward to, as well...AND will help you produce art for applying to prestigious programs.

This has the added advantage that you'll be producing something and learning along the way, so when she calls and says, man I just learned this most amazing thing!, you can reply with how that applies to your technique or ask her questions, and start a dialogue. This will show you're excited for her, will feel like you're both producing, you're learning second hand, she gets to talk without worrying about you, and will leave you feeling stimulated rather than down. This has the third advantage that you won't feel like you're growing apart.

2) Sit down and think seriously about what exactly you do feel envy about - in other words, what do you want?, and give yourself the opportunity to access that. Is it her guts? Is it the prestigious program itself? The month-long residency? Networking opportunities? Corral up the four or five most important and write them down as goals, then write actions for each goal. Multiple actions, so that if one action fails, you have other actions to fall back on.

For example, you're envious of: the prestige. OK, the program itself doesn't matter, just the prestige. So write down 5 prestigious programs you can apply to, and do so, one by one. This gives you a feeling of control, gives you back-up options, and, if you don't get in the first couple, helps you learn how to apply. Or, the prestige might not matter, but the month-long residency does. Same thing, find 3-5 places you can apply. This way, when she calls all excited, you know that you're actively working on finding something similar, and you can ALSO talk to her about how you're working on it, and maybe she knows someone....

Maybe it's her guts. So an action would be to ask to see her application. and maybe you'll realize that she had those guts because she had a portfolio of work with which to apply, and you (deep down knew) didn't, so you know you need to work on that portfolio. Or maybe she's applies to similar programs and has been rejected, so it was easier for her because she's been through it. Or maybe it was so spontaneous she didn't have time to process what it meant.

3) Seriously think about this, my friend: are you envious...or are you worried she might grow beyond you and something terrible might happen like she no longer finds you as interesting or meet someone else or blah blah blah. Because those are feelings about your relationship, not your artistic abilities. And communicating that is really important, because if you don't, those feelings will just gnaw at you and grow. There's a big difference between "I'm jealous that you get to go to this program!" and "I'm afraid you might come back and see me as a failure and not love me anymore." One of those things she can do nothing about. One of those things she can, and talking about it with her will give you both a framework, so she knows that it's cool to talk about this cool instructor, but also tell you she loves you and misses you. Because if she's afraid of making more envious, not talking about this amazing thing that's happened to her will make things worse, not better if envy is not really at the root of what you're feeling.

It may also be a mistake to leave town while she's gone - you may be trying to circumvent expressing your feelings right when she's the most excited, but have you thought that your being so envious that you're leaving might actually be worse for her? Or that yeah, she had enough guts to apply but now she's really really nervous about her own abilities and needs to talk it through with you? It's hard to feel envious of someone who needs support and is questioning their own abilities.

4) Based on a previous askmefi answer, and this question, if you haven't considered it already and been tested, may I gently suggest you get tested for ADHD? Anxiety, what you call "laziness", creativity, anger, and ADHD all go hand in hand.
posted by barchan at 12:52 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

You may want to investigate Impostor Syndrome and address some of these issues within that framework. Your decision to not apply to the more prestigious program yourself and "aim lower" sounds very much like the type of decision that is heavily influenced by Impostor Syndrome.
posted by quince at 1:12 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that what this boils down to is a fear of inadequacy - and, perhaps, loss? You wanted to go to this workshop and decided it was too advanced and didn't apply. If girlfriend can make it, perhaps she is a lot better than you ... perhaps she will leave you for someone more artistic (not at all suggesting this is true, but maybe on some level you believe it).

I'm guessing that you didn't apply for the workshop because you feared rejection or that you would not be able to measure up to the other students. So apply for the workshop next time. Or apply now for something else that seems like a bit of a reach. Stop living in fear of discovering the limits of your ability and test your limits instead. (Also, recognize that being accepted or not is less a reflection on you than on whoever the evaluator was. I'm sure you wouldn't have to google far to find examples of now-revered artists who were rejected from art programs and museums).

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 3:11 PM on June 12, 2014

I couldn't disagree more with arnicae. Keeping that shit bottled up will rot you from the inside. Also, trying to suppress it will only makes it grow. It's good you told her - you should talk about it, joke about it, diminish its power and its threat. Helping our partners through issues within the relationship is what strengthens relationships. We all get envious, and it's ok. The important point is you're supporting her in going even though you're in pain. You're a good partner.
posted by namesarehard at 5:26 PM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might grab a copy of Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It's not 100% related to your situation but myself and other people have found it helpful in making art more of a personal thing and less of a competition with other people.
posted by Candleman at 6:43 PM on June 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

It might be good to have a wail to someone else. You're hurting, and the person who might normally help with that kind of pain would be impacted by you venting to them.
It may help to find a useful friend, and say that:
- you are really happy for girlfriend
- but you really just need a rant for a bit

Someone got a job I really wanted recently, and I just wailed for about ten minutes about how life was unfair, and how everyone thought I was stupid, and how much [jobholder's] life was going to rule and mine was going to fail and so forth. No downplaying, no stiff upper lip.
Ten minutes after *that* I felt much better, and everything slid back into proportion, and I remembered the good things about my life - voicing the big lies let them die.

(This depends on whether you find venting works for you - if you know it just stokes fires, then skip it.)
posted by Socksmith at 2:24 AM on June 13, 2014

I see you have settled on a course of action based on your "best answer" selections. Last comment, just in case you're still contemplating this topic:

It might be a valuable thought lesson to think through what kind of responses you think your girlfriend would get, if she posted her experience of this on I think she would get some pretty strongly worded responses.

If you're invested in this relationship, own her success as a corporate success, and lovingly support her through it. I think you will be surprised by how actively and mindfully supporting her will transform some of your attitudes and feelings about this, as well as further strengthen your relationship.

Good luck, the pain you're experiencing right now is very clear. I hope you feel better soon.
posted by arnicae at 8:25 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think namesarehard is right that it's dangerous to keep your envy bottled up BUT I also think it's extremely unkind to tell your girlfriend that her success is hurting you. Talk to your therapist. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Talk to strangers on the internet. If you can *really* laugh and joke about it, I guess maybe you could talk to her about it? But honestly, she is not the right person to help you with this particular problem. You're making her feel bad without making yourself feel good.
posted by mskyle at 8:28 AM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

> I also think it's extremely unkind to tell your girlfriend that her success is hurting you.

I agree. Unfortunately, it is hurting me so deeply and obviously that keeping it entirely to myself is simply not an option. I am only too aware of how poorly this reflects on me, and hopefully you'll believe me when I say I'm doing the best I can given the emotional reality in which I have found myself.

> It might be a valuable thought lesson to think through what kind of responses you think your girlfriend would get, if she posted her experience of this on I think she would get some pretty strongly worded responses.

It is funny that you would say this. I have lain awake nights, staring up at the ceiling imagining with great specificity the eloquent, impassioned cases the commentariat of Ask Metafilter would make as they argued that I should obviously be dumped, that someone as talented as she is deserves a partner wholly committed to and comfortable with any amount of success she might have. So don't think the thought hasn't occurred to me, although it hasn't been a source of insight so much as one of terrible self-loathing.
posted by Sock "Danger" Puppet at 9:39 AM on June 13, 2014

The important point is you're supporting her in going even though you're in pain. You're a good partner.

Nothing you've written here suggests this.

Now, wait. Was that unfair to you? Are you bristling? Are you already angrily typing out all the ways you have supported her in this specifically, and as a partner in general? Fantastic! Keep going. List every little thing, and then list the things you regret not doing for her, and the things you could still do but haven't yet, and the things you plan to do. Make that your focus and your obsessive mantra.

You've made your girlfriend's triumph all about your pain, and it's not a great look. I echo arnicae in admitting that it's hard to change that in your thoughts but it is eminently within your control to change it in your actions. Focus your energy and anguish and pain on that change. I happen to agree that it will likely change your feelings too, but even if it doesn't it's your only chance of a) saving your relationship and b) being halfway decent to your girlfriend.

(Sent from the mostly healed-wounds of having every success of mine for three years be immediately dampened by my ex making it his pain.)
posted by animalrainbow at 9:44 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

You sound like you're using your envy as another reason to shit on yourself, another demonstration of how unworthy you are as a person. You need to stop. What are you working on with your therapist? Can you bump this up the agenda a bit?

Seriously: I mean obviously I don't know you but I'm pretty sure you're not a bad person. But you *are* having unproductive thoughts and doing destructive things, and it's holding you back.
posted by mskyle at 10:28 AM on June 13, 2014

First, let me congratulate you for still staying IN this and clearly still thinking about the issue rather than responding negatively and checking out of the thread.

Sometimes in the past I have gotten into a pretty negative place. I wallowed and I really enjoyed it. I had this terrible thing almost happen to a family member, and over the course of the next six months I found myself fantasizing about what would have happened if it did happen. Bringing myself, repeatedly, to the point of tears (like, actual tears, me sobbing) thinking about this thing that almost happened, but didn't happen and is unlikely to happen in the future.

There was something really delicious about repeatedly experiencing it. And, I still do it occasionally- it is like eating rich, sticky-sweet candy. And like the Pringles ad, once you start you can't stop. It is really hard to break out of this thought pattern and afterwards I feel sick and a little slow, like I'm hung over.

I label this my "Anne of Green Gables" moments, when I am allowing myself to be cast, like Anne, into the Depths of Despair. I don't mean to minimize what you're experiencing, but I would try to think about how much of this is depression and therapy required etc. and how much of it you can have an active role in mindfully changing. Is it easy? No way. But, you can do it. Good luck.
posted by arnicae at 4:27 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was an envious person until recently, because one of my parents is very prone to envy. If any family friend got a promotion or made money via investments, I could expect my parent to rant for a few days about how that friend is definitely lying and an arrogant jerk and will get their comeuppance.

After growing up in this environment, I developed a pavlovian response where hearing good news happen to others made me automatically expect to be depressed and irritated for a few days. So I also would get angry at those people and wish that I wouldn't need to hear good news about them.

I worked for years to fix my envy, reading books and asking therapists. Finally I distanced myself from my parents (for other reasons), and the envy mostly went away on its own after a couple months. YMMV but this is what worked for me.
posted by cheesecake at 8:09 PM on June 13, 2014

It is funny that you would say this. I have lain awake nights, staring up at the ceiling imagining with great specificity the eloquent, impassioned cases the commentariat of Ask Metafilter would make as they argued that I should obviously be dumped, that someone as talented as she is deserves a partner wholly committed to and comfortable with any amount of success she might have. So don't think the thought hasn't occurred to me, although it hasn't been a source of insight so much as one of terrible self-loathing.

I play a lot of sports. Every now and then my team faces off against a team that is so out of our league that we all get our asses handed to us over and over, and it's embarrassing for us AND for them to be so mismatched.

I used to get really competitive and bitter and angry about those games.

Then I realized what a gift it was to play a team better than us. It shows us our weaknesses, and what we could attain with applied effort. It give us a direction to aspire. Furthermore I won't grow as a player unless I play against people better than me.

My mantra is: make not my opponent weaker; make me stronger.

When I'm losing a game 15-0, I say this to myself. It turns humiliation into humility.

FWIW my partner is also my better in a number of areas. (And oddly enough he says the same of me.) In this way we lift each other up, by demonstrating more and expecting more of each other. And loving each other regardless of any so called weaknesses or flaws.

Make not my partner weaker....
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:38 PM on June 14, 2014

Also, watch that documentary Being Elmo. It explains the importance of humility.

I am wondering if it is not jealousy that you have so much as pride.

A humble apprentice finds a qualified master who is willing to take them on as a student... the apprentice trains... for decades... and eventually becomes a master themself who then trains others.

An arrogant apprentice, on the other hand, gets shown the door.

Another sports story - when I first started playing, there was this one asshole on my team who kept barking at me what to do. Touch the ball like this, position yourself like that. I responded to all of these corrections with a defensive retort. Eventually he stopped thank goodness.

Well I played on teams with him for 5 years and that's when I found out that this "asshole" used to coach women's teams at the provincial level. My heart sank and I very nearly wept. I'd been playing with a qualified coach for five years but I'd been too arrogant to accept his help! The very next game I went to him and apologized for my attitude and told him I would work on welcoming his suggestions in the future. He's been coaching me since and my game has noticeably improved.

(It is not always easy and at first I told him I could only accommodate about 2-3 corrections a game, and yes it did sting but over time that sting diminished.)

Finally again, I don't know if you are spiritual/religious, but in Buddhism we prostrate (bow on your knees) to statues of Buddha, a symbol of the enlightened mind. Prostrations reduce pride. By bowing, I am acknowledging that there is a state of mind that is greater than my own, and that I don't know it all; I show that I that respect what that person was able to achieve, and I pray to achieve it myself.

So if you've 'tried everything' then maybe give this one a shot: put something on a shrine - Buddha, Jesus, a picture the teacher of the artistic workshop, whatever symbolizes the ideal for you, and give it a humble bow. If you don't feel it, fake it; over time a relatively superficial bow becomes a sincere action. I've been doing this for a number of years now and it works. But don't take my word for it of course.

You can totally dissolve this reaction and it will be less and less and less over time. Good luck.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:25 PM on June 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

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