Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to deal with jealousy?

I ask because I don't really know (although I have some ideas). I do know that jealousy is a frequent, if unwanted, guest 'round these parts lately.
Most recent example:

Two friends and I went to Stations of the Cross at my parish last Friday, and we decided to attend the simple supper held beforehand in the Church hall. None of us had been before, so none of us realized that the simple supper is almost exclusively attended by the large families at our parish. Seriously, just about every table was one family – parents and 3-6 kids. I felt out of place at once, but thankfully saw a friend, who is also my Creighton teacher. We sat with her and her husband and their three young kids. At the last session I had with her, she told me about a trip she and her husband were going on, so I asked about that. "Oh, it was fun!" she replied. "Except I'm pregnant, so I had some morning sickness. But we still had a good time."

"Oh. Wow," was all I could manage. I don't even think I got "congratulations" out.

To her credit (I mean, she works with people struggling with IF, like me), she didn't dwell on the pregnancy news or seem miffed that my response was rather lackluster. I don't put her in the category of "insensitive people" – she's always been very sympathetic to what me and Mr. M are going through. But really? They're pregnant again? Four times in as many years, give or take one?

Enter jealousy. Big time. I excused myself to go to the restroom and stood in the stall for a while, looking at my shoes (which I could see very clearly over my non-existent baby bump, ha ha) and feeling...barren. Barren as a brick. Barren as a desert. Lifeless. Barren. And bright, kelly green with jealousy. "God, seriously? You give her another pregnancy, a fourth child in a row, and we can't even have one? Why?"

At Stations a few minutes later, everywhere I turned there were more pregnant women, more babies, more toddlers, more large families. I guess that's a positive thing about our parish. (I know it is, really.) But I feel so left out, so jealous of everyone else's abundance. So angry at their nonchalance about their tremendous blessings (at least that's how it seems to me). 

My goal was not to cry during the Station prayers, and I mostly succeeded. My meditation was poor though, unless it counts to meditate on one's own suffering. Certainly a lot of the prayers and Scriptures resonated with what I was feeling: "Lord, have you forgotten your servant?" "My soul is weary with grief." and so on. I tried to unite my longing, my sadness, with Jesus' infinite gift of love on the cross, but to be honest, my thoughts kept being overshadowed by thinking that all the mothers in the room have a special insight into the Station prayers by being mothers and so knowing more viscerally what Mary was experiencing (so I feel left out there too).

God bless the friends I came with. (Both single, by the way, and so also sensitive to being surrounded by large families.) Afterwards, one asked me whether I was okay. She's so thoughtful.

I'm not quite sure how to deal with jealously. I do acknowledge that it's first a passion, an emotion that I don't choose or ask for. Rather, it hits me over the head unexpectedly, especially with suprise pregnancy announcements. I feel suddenly overwhelmed with grief and longing and I feel a vivid sense of cosmic unfairness at all the people who get to experience pregnancy multiple times (in a row!) when I haven't ever experienced it once.

I know jealousy harms relationships. To be honest, I now dread my next Creighton appointment – maybe dread's too strong a word. But it feels like this safe space for venting about IF has been infringed upon, now that my instructor is "one of them" – the growing list of people who have gotten pregnant in the time we've been trying. And I admit that I sometimes consciously avoid people who are pregnant because of feelings of jealousy. Hopefully it hasn't been noticeable to them, but for example I don't walk past my pregnant coworker's office anymore, and I don't seek out a pregnant friend after mass to chat anymore. (I really like her! - but after mass I feel so vulnerable already that I just want to be with Mr. M and get out of there.) I'm not proud of that, but it is what it is.

My hunch is that the antidote for jealousy is two-fold: one, sincerely thanking God for my own blessings and, more profoundly, for His unfailing love for me. IF really threatens my trust in God's love. Horrible, but true. I pray for the gift of faith often, to truly believe that He hasn't forgotten us, even as He showers the very blessing we want on other people.

And two, pray for the person I'm jealous of, for their pregnancy, their family, etc. I don't always feel like praying for them, but it does seem to neutralize the jealousy and I think it's a way to foil the devil's attempts to foster division through jealousy.

On further reflection, I guess I would add a third: remember that everyone has a cross to bear, at one time or another. Come to think of it, I've never met a person who hasn't had a difficulty or two: if not IF, then their husband's work schedule. Or a child with special needs. Or trouble with in-laws. Or unemployment. Or whatever. The people I was jealous about at Stations - those big, beautiful families - they probably all have their own trials they're going through too.

And as a corollary - I think it's safe to say that there's always going to be someone who has what you want, and always someone who wants what you have. For example, my two single friends I went to Stations with. They desire so much to be married, but haven't found the right man. Since going through IF, I try to be even more sensitive to the fact that I have a BIG blessing that they've only dreamed of having - a wonderful husband.

And I guess I should throw confession in there too =) Nothing like a sacrament for healing emotional wounds! (When jealousy is truly a conscious, chosen sin, of course - excluding the spontaneous feelings, just like you don't have to confess unwanted feelings of lust, or greed, or whatever.)
If anyone has any other advice on how to deal with jealousy - I'm all ears!


  1. Wow, I was all ready to come back to this post after several comments/answers to your question, which is also a question I struggle with answering... but your own answers you provided just blew me away. Those are SUCH amazing and powerful ways to stay grounded and non-jealous.
    I think for me, too, I try to find the blessings in my cross when I feel the weight of it the most (jealousy). I remember that without my cross, I wouldn't have gained nearly as many graces. Seeing your cross as a blessing (or many) is a good way to knock out jealousy before it enters, because instead of comparing, you then focus on praising God for allowing you to suffer well and deepen your relationship with Him.

    1. Amy - thank you! It's funny - after my husband read this post, he said "I think you should add 'be thankful for your suffering'"! I think both you and he are right - God can bring good out of anything, including IF. And I like your "preventive care" image of knocking out jealousy before it starts!

  2. Oh, Ecce, I hope it doesn't hurt for me to comment here. I just FEEL how much pain you are in from your writing, and I still live the pain of RG's death and know how sometimes the pain and fear are debilitating. I hope you know how sensitive I'm trying to be.

    About two weeks after RG died, I went to our parish picnic (the Lord only knows why I subjected myself to that) where it was announced to me by one of my acquaintances that she was expecting her fifth child in seven years. It was like a knife in my heart, and that pain and jealousy you speak of raged inside me.

    Something that helped me in the following months, and even now, is distinguishing in my own mind which thoughts are pain, which thoughts are anxiety, and which thoughts are truly jealously. I really think that distinguishing this in my mind helped me to see that most of the times I thought I felt jealousy, I was actually feeling pain and anxiety. And then if it was really jealousy, I could deal with that more concretely.

    One other thing that I have found so powerful, then and now, is the St. Michael the Archangel prayer; he protects you so powerfully from the temptation to be jealous, and from the onslaught of the Devil when he knows you're vulnerable. I say it at least once a day--every time I've felt that jealousy coming on, or the sting of anxiety (that which steals your faith and trust in Him).

    Remember, the Lord knows your cross. He sees your pain, and He really does care about it. Your tears are ok. Your anguish is ok. He knows what they feel like. Look to Him.

    I will continue my prayers for you.

    1. KJL thank you! I always appreciate your comments :) you're right - jealousy is so often mixed in with other emotions and it can be hard to tease out. And I love the st. Michael prayer too! So powerful. That's a great suggestions - it can never hurt to enlist saint warriors :)

  3. I usually pray for the person I feel jealous of it helps to take the focus of me. I also realize that I am not envious of them because I don't want THEIR life, their children or their pregnancy; I want MY life, my children and my pregnancy. A priest helped me to distinguish the difference between truly being envious and going through grief about our own particular situation. I was not so much jealous as I was selfish and self-focusing because I was trying to make their pregnancy about me and what I don't have. So I have learned to recognize when this is happening and reflect on what I am truly going through so I can allow it to runs its course or do battle with it.

    1. That's a good point, Kat - distinguishing between being jealous of someone and just grieving over your own situation. I'm going to keep that in mind. I do notice a "shift" in my mind sometimes from thinking "oh, poor me" (which isn't that helpful anyway) to "why her?" -- that's when jealousy becomes a sin, not just a feeling, I think.

    2. I guess what I have learned is that jealousy is a feeling and envy is a sin. It is important for me to distinguish that so I can allow myself to go through a feeling of jealousy and not commit the sin of envy. I have had major issues with scrupulosity in the past so the distinction is important for me so that I don't have a major wave of unnecessary guilt that i have to deal with on top of going through the emotion of jealousy.

  4. Comparing is dangerous. Like you said, everyone has a cross to bear. Many people can appear to have an amazing life or sell you their amazing life but we will almost never get to know the whole story to anyone. I find the people who "deal" with life the best are those who really love God. Their focus is on God rather than what they want or are missing. They read the Bible daily. They pray to God like He was their best friend. Their "treasure is in heaven," (Mat 6). These people have many struggles and trials but they know God loves them. They trust in God no matter how dark the path is and hold on with humble gratitude to whatever good they do have. Nobody is perfect. We all have one of those days, months or even years... Life is full of seasons... Everything really is a season. If we trust in God the best is yet to come... ( I know, I know... easier said than done.)

    1. You are so right! Everyone has a cross...everything is a season...this is so, so true. And so important to keep in mind - I absolutely agree. I'll bet I don't know half of what a lot of people in my life are going through - and maybe a hardship for one person is bearable, while the same hardship is completely overwhelming for another person. Thanks for your insight!

  5. Ecce,

    I think you answered your own question beautifully! I love your three fold answer. The only other idea I have is to pray and ask God to take your jealousy away, or show you how to release the jealousy. As you are doing the other things.

    I agree with Kat, so often I'm just being selfish-making the other person's pregnancy about me and what I don't have, verus celebrating and giving thanks.

    This cross of IF is SO hard. I feel inadequate to carry this burden. I'm too weak. But then God gives us strength in our weakness-I guess that is the point. We are turn to God when we are weak.

  6. I had an NFP instructor who was also pregnant when we were learning from her. It was either her fourth or fifth child. She was very nice, but it was so very awkward sitting across from her at each follow up appointment when her bump grew noticeably larger and larger. I think your answers are so much better than I could give ... I haven't yet figured out how to be jealous, but I do try to not dwell on it once I recognize it. It is much easier now that I have a son, but I could not do it at all prior to adopting Luke. I was very bitter.

  7. I struggle with these same, intense feelings. I try to tell myself that if I were truly jealous, I would wish for these women NOT to have children... that isn't the case. Typically, I am happy for them, sad for myself. Then, since I don't want to be a debbie downer, I decide that I should spare them the discomfort of walking on eggshells around me. So, isn't that rather selfless of me, in the end, thinking of their well-beings? Har, har. I guess I am only pseudo-kidding. It helps to know others have the same confusing emotions that I do.