Glueckschmerz. Help?
July 15, 2006 11:53 AM   Subscribe

When someone else wins, I feel like a loser, even if I'm not involved. How can I stop feeling this way?

When I hear of someone's success, I feel bad about myself. If someone else gets a new promotion, an award, an opportunity or something that they're happy about, my first feeling is that I have failed because I don't have that kind of success. Their happiness underscores my own failings and unhappiness.

It's not exactly envy or jealousy, because sometimes it's something I don't even want, like a new job in a field I don't even work in. But I can't seem to stop comparing myself to other people, and when I hear someone else gets a step up, somehow I feel like I've been pushed down. I feel like if they win, I lose. I hate myself for failure; why don't _I_ have a brand new house, lots of fans, more money, more fame? Why does so-and-so get a movie contract, and not me? If it's just because 'life is unfair', well, that makes me feel bitter and bad, and if it's a case of "well, he's better than you are", that makes me feel worse, because I hate being the loser.

Even when I do have my successes, I can't stop it; I think, "Well, I got a promotion, but Jim got a better one at his company" or, "I won an award, but Ted got the same award last year and he's ten years younger than I am". I feel like I'm always in competition with everyone and it's tearing me up inside.

I know this is an "evil" way to feel. We are supposed to be happy when other people do well. We're supposed to say "good for you!" and never be envious or covet what others have. I hate myself for thinking like this, and in fact I'm so ashamed about it, I don't want to use my real name in this post. I know it's wrong, I want to stop, but I don't know how to stop.

Can anyone give me some good advice, or reasoning, or point me to some books or help, about how I can stop feeling this way?

You can email me at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
(It's admirable that you're trying to make a change for the better, but everyone feels this way sometimes. It doesn't necessarily make you a bad person — especially if you can keep it to yourself — and a lot of the guilt and shame you've got about it seems unnecessary.

That said, I hope you get good tips here for how to feel less, uh, glueckschmerzy, less often. Even a normal, healthy feeling can be really awful when it takes over your life.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2006

Game theory may hold your new mantra. You need to recognize that most of life is not a zero-sum game. Another person's success generally doesn't come at your expense. In fact, when other people succeed, your chances of success may well increase, since they have established a known workable strategy or route to success, which you can often follow with far less waste of time and resources spent searching for the solution.

If you were the last person on earth, you would win at anything you tried, since no one else could possibly do better. But it would be, for the most part, a lonely and dangerous existence.
posted by paulsc at 12:09 PM on July 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

Start playing rugby. You'll feel good just for having finished a match still standing. Or, start running marathons...
If you take on challenges that demand every drop of sweat and tears you can squeeze out of yourself, you'll feel accomplished win or lose, and you will feel much better about yourself in general. Works for me.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 12:09 PM on July 15, 2006

I disagree with the premise of part of your argument. I don't think that it's "evil" to compare your success to others; it is destructive to do so on a consistent basis.

The keeping up with the Joneses mentality is the basis for western society.

The first thing to do is to try to resolve your feelings of guilt around this issue. If you feel the thought process is causing you undue stress, it may be worth while to try the cognitive behavioral therapy outlined in "Feeling Good." (David Burns IIRC) I haven't read it myself, but many respectable counselors that i've talked to all speak very highly of it to resolve unwanted thought processes.
posted by Vantech at 12:29 PM on July 15, 2006

The keeping up with the Joneses mentality is the basis for western society.

Exactly. I think that as long as you want these things, you'll keep feeling the way you do. The key is to instead want some form of happiness/contentment that is not derived from traditional measures of success. If you're already a relatively happy person (which, admittedly, seems somewhat unlikely), focus on the fact that you're happy, and it is that that makes you a success. If you're more the unhappy type, realize that (ahem) happiness is free and has to come from within. Pursue things that you enjoy, not things that will make you "successful", because there will always be someone more successful than you.

I'd rather be happy and unsuccessful than unhappy and successful.
posted by trevyn at 12:50 PM on July 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure the poster's feelings are not based on reason and are not amenable to rational analysis. I have a friend who's very much the same way, irrationally jealous of anyone who's successful in any way—and this guy is extremely intelligent and in most other ways rational. Gotta be some childhood imprinting, however that stuff works (I'm no psychologist and tend not to believe what they say). Good luck with whatever approach you wind up trying!
posted by languagehat at 1:45 PM on July 15, 2006

Sounds like you could be a prime candidate for cognitive behavior therapy. Check out these two books to get an idea of how they approach this.
1. Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy.
2. A Guide to Rational Living
posted by zaebiz at 1:48 PM on July 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think therapy or pursuing meditation or other strategies for being "in the now" rather than focusing on what you don't have yet would be great for you.

In the short term, though, I've found that I can often overcome negative feelings like this by trying to concentrate on where they're occurring in the body. When you hear of or think about someone else's success, do you feel it in your throat? Your stomach? Does your heart flutter? Does your face feel hot? Some combination of these things, or something else entirely? Focus on the sensations you're feeling, explore them neutrally as if trying to describe them scientifically to someone else. Breathe into the sensations you're feeling, but don't try to change or judge them.

I've found that just concentrating on what's going on with me physically can make me aware that what I'm feeling is just a passing feeling, not some overwhelming inescapable unchangeable character flaw. It helps me disengage from negative emotions and ride them out a bit better. And it makes them seem less scary -- I had an awful week this past week, and every time my heart started to flutter and my stomach clenched up, I just noted that and thought, "I'm really nervous, aren't I?" and tried to remember to breathe. I think it really kept me from turning into a nervous wreck, because it kept "nervous" as something that was happening to me occasionally rather than the sum total of who I was.
posted by occhiblu at 3:33 PM on July 15, 2006

You need to do adapt your mindset from one of scarcity to one of abundance.

How to do that? I'm not exactly sure. Practice saying "Yes, thank you!" whenever life offers you anything. Find things in your life that bring you joy, and devote a greater part of your life to experiencing them. Focus on finding true joy in your life, and you won't envy people their joy so much.

My gut says that a person with this problem has a feeling that they aren't on the right path in life -- you don't envy people their joy if you have a full life yourself. So let your jealousy of other people, when you feel it, function as a painful and useful reminder that it's time to look inward, to find what brings you joy.

Because you do deserve a happy life.

An example from personal experience: my roommate got given a grant to attend a writer's retreat in the south of France for a month, and as soon as I heard about it, I was positively stricken with searing intense painful jealousy. I realized that this was because I desperately wanted some time away to pursue my own artistic desires. So I found a way (hooray, craigslist housing swap) to stay for a month in Paris. Problem solved, jealousy over.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't try to ignore these feelings. Listen to what they're trying to tell you.
posted by jennyjenny at 5:56 PM on July 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

I disagree with the premise of part of your argument. I don't think that it's "evil" to compare your success to others; it is destructive to do so on a consistent basis.

posted by danb at 5:59 PM on July 15, 2006

Gore Vidal once famously observed, "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little."

You've had excellent advice, above. Cut yourself some slack for feeling envious of others, but try not to obsess, and think creatively about how to get the things you really want out of life.
posted by enrevanche at 6:29 PM on July 15, 2006

Jealousy teaches you what you want for yourself. Listen and do it.
posted by livinginmonrovia at 1:12 AM on July 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

There is a body of research (kahneman and Twersky come to mind) which suggests that humans are innately inclined to compare themselves to others, and to seek a high position in a pecking order. Eg, if necessary, most people would prefer that they get a pay cut, as long as everyone else gets an even bigger cut. And they would prefer to get nothing, if every one else does, than to get $10,000, when everyone else ges $20,000.

Here's the kicker though - I said most people. Some people evidently don't feel this. And no doubt some people feel it even more strongly than normal.

So this suggests to me that the best strategy for you is to accept that these are normal feelings, or at least normal for you, to acknowledge them as a instinct and then to let them go, just as you would suppress any other unconstructive impulse. And remind yourself of your own status compared to others. Yeah, you didn't get a Fulbright/win the lottery/found Microsoft. But you got a lot of good stuff going on that many other people in the world would envy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:20 AM on July 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think this is entirely natural, and is made worse by media. We are deluged with images and stories about the fabulously wealthy, successful and famous, which makes our natural competitiveness emerge.

Try to avoid celebrity media, difficult, I know. Repeat to yourself that the success of your friends does not diminish you; it makes you someone with successful friends. Affirmations may help, like "I'm happy with my own life and I celebrate the successes of others." Sounds sappy, so come up with your own, but affirmations can really work.

Every day, click on the Hunger Site. Give donations to Oxfam and Unicef. They'll send you mail with pictures and stories that will remind you that you are much luckier than a large portion of the rest of the world, which will help you regain your perspective. Plus, generosity helps you feel successful, so everybody wins.
posted by theora55 at 7:25 AM on July 16, 2006

There is a lot of great advice here, and I especially agree with jennyjenny. I think a lot of us have really deep, unconscious beliefs in scarcity and these beliefs are generations upon generations old. These beliefs are like - there is not enough love in the world, there is not enough money, there is not enough space, there are not enough resources, there is not enough wealth.

I like jennyjenny's advice about adapting our mindsets from scarcity to abundance. I often catch myself feeling fearful and miserable and I sometimes repeat mantras to myself - there is more than enough love in the world for me, there is more than enough space, there is more than enough wealth, there is more than enough of everything, there is enough room in the universe for everyone to be successful. I've been working on trying to change my beliefs enough so that I REALLY believe these things in my heart and body, and not just in my head.
posted by gt2 at 12:44 PM on July 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

And I don't think you are evil to feel like that. I think it's great that you see some behaviour you want to change and that you are trying to change yourself. It makes me want to work harder on my own behaviour.
posted by gt2 at 12:54 PM on July 16, 2006

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