Jealousy and Envy

Anyone who knows me well will be aware of a little obsession I have with maintaining (or reestablishing) the distinction between Jealousy and Envy. If fact, you don’t have to know me well to be aware of it, because I’ll bang on about it with anyone who will give me a hearing. It’s partly because I am a ‘Word Bird’ (as Susie calls me) and partly because my shrink (the one I used to go to, at least) was a fan of Carl Jung.

To put the distinction simply, you are envious of things/people that you don’t have and jealous of things/people that you do. In other words, at a party the jealous watch their own partner, and the envious watch other people’s. And why is this distinction important? Well, if you believe Jung, the importance is that one is a positive emotion and the other is destructive. Jealousy, as long as it doesn’t involve keeping your partner under permanent surveillance or hospitalizing anyone that even looks at them, is a necessary part of a healthy relationship. If you feel absolutely no jealousy towards your partner then in all likelihood you are no longer in love with her/him.

By contrast, envy, especially in the context of close relationships, drives people apart. Envy makes you want to take what others have, or if you can’t take it away, destroy what they have or the pleasure they derive from it. Trust me, I know this from experience.

And why am I telling you all this? Well, because these two emotions are really dominating my experience of parenting at the moment. Our beautiful, gentle, loving Tilly, if all the behavioural evidence is to be believed, is experiencing a fair whack of both these emotions (and sadly, even the jealousy is on the unhealthy side of the line).

Naively, I didn’t really expect her response to the arrival of her little sister to be this bad. Primarily, because the difficulty of Susie’s pregnancy meant that Tilly had been spending more and more time with me, even before Kate was born. I figured that this would mean that she would already have done a lot of the grieving and adjustment required to accommodate a new sibling by the time the new sibling actually arrived.

What has happened instead, is that we have turned a straightforward (if bloody) civil war into a much more complex conflict. Rather than Tilly fighting it out with her newborn sister over possession of the Motherland, she has partially ceded control of the Motherland to Kate on the condition that the Kate make no claim on the Fatherland.

I am not allowed to hold Kate. If I am ever ‘caught’ with her in my arms, I am immediately instructed to hand her over to Susie, while Susie – on the other hand – is rarely allowed to do anything for Tilly. If you can imagine the Korean peninsula shrunk down into the form of a two bedroom weatherboard, then that’s our home at the moment, and the demilitarised zone runs straight down the middle of the marital bed (I hate the term marital bed, but couldn’t resist the alliteration).

So far, luckily, there has been no real outbreak of hostilities. Tilly has engaged in a bit of  sabre rattling, in the form of asking us if it is okay for her to step on Kate and pull her hair, but has managed to resist actually hurting her sister. She has not, historically, been a hitter or pusher of other children, so hopefully she won’t make Kate an exception.

To be fair, what I have described above only really emerges as Tilly becomes tired. When she is well slept, she is actually much more Ban Ki Moon than Kim Jong Il. From what I’ve heard though, this kind of Jekyll and Hyde routine is a textbook toddler response to a new sibling – kisses one minute and karate the next (I know I should have stayed with the Korean motif, but I couldn’t find anything that would work with Tae Kwon Do). I guess it is all a testament to the powerful conflicting internal forces at play. Poor little love.

Anyway, me being tired doesn’t really help matters. If I’m to continue in my dual role of war zone and peace keeper, I should sign off and get some sleep (It is after 9pm, after all). Feel free to add your own toddler envy/jealousy stories in the comments section, or perhaps some peace keeping tips. We could use them.

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4 Responses to Jealousy and Envy

  1. paris75009 says:

    You could say ‘chigi & chagi’ for the Taekwondo manoeuvres. Or perhaps poomsae. Your Korean analogy made me laugh out loud.
    I remember this early jealousy/envy, for I think it is both (and I disagree that lack of jealously equals ‘out of love’…it feels more like being secure in my world & a relief).
    Anyway, I made up a song. The lyrics were helped by having two children. It went a bit like this…”I’ve got 2 hands for everybody…two knees for everybody…two arms to hug everybody… two ears for everybody and two eyes for everybody….” and I’d act out the sharing of my body and mind with them. It was relatively successful. Five years later the struggle is still ongoing but when I think about the meaning of the struggle, ie. how to share your caregiver(s), and be loved and acknowledged in the way you need, then it makes it easier.
    Loved your post.

    • rodbie says:

      I’d like you to video a performance of the song and send it to me.

      As for your disagreement re jealousy, you need to take it up with Jung. Seriously though, I do take your point. In my experience, the intensity of my jealousy does ease over time as I become more secure in relationships, but it is still there – not in a painful way, but in a gentle but insistent way.

  2. Dani says:

    I’m enjoying your new “stream of consciousness” style Rod. And this is a topic that is obviously dear to my heart….
    I had been anticipating a flagrant homicidal response from Milly when Kit arrived – she was very well-established in her only child role and took to the position of toddler-tsarina very well….what surprised me was that her initial response was to be try and be grown up. She would wait patiently for bedtime stories while I fed Kit, or happily went off on excursions with grandparents while Dave, Kit and I stayed at home. As is often the case, the thing I feared most (being torn between the needs of both children) was not the major issue…and something I’d barely considered (the physical toll of breast-feeding and caring for a newborn) came to the forefront.
    This lasted at least a few weeks, until it became clear that “Baby K” was not going away, nor was he becoming any more fun. We started to get more of the boundary-pushing and tantrums then. As well as vigorous cuddling and kisses for Kit. Milly’s never been one for overt violence; it’s much more the subversive “killing with kindness” type. Now I get driven to distraction with her insistence that she always be right up in his face and giving him “just one more kiss” as Kit squirms under the enthusiasm of the “love”. On the plus side, she is very good at making him laugh and you can see Kit watching her skills in awe.
    I really like your description of the difference between envy and jealousy – what a helpful way to understand what these little guys must be going through. The other thing I like about it is that it validates an uncomfortable emotion rather than just wishing it wasn’t around. It’s indeed so difficult when things like jealousy, resentment, or anger emerge, particularly in children, but I think our ability to acknowledge it and help them to deal with the feeling, rather than distracting or minimising, is so important.
    Keep the posts coming! (and I was in bed at 8:30pm last night, so no judgement on the 9pm bed time :))
    PS I’ve already babbled on a bit here, but I’ve found a good peace-keeping tip was ensuring I always had some one-on-one time with Milly each day. For us this was bedtime and I would do the bedtime routine pretty much unchanged from the pre-Kit era. I found I appreciated this as much as her – the arrival of number Kit was a big adjustment for me too!

    • rodbie says:

      We had the same pattern Dani, except that the grown up phase only lasted for a few days.

      The problem for Susie, at the moment, is that Tilly is often rejecting Susie’s offers, which makes it hard for Susie to spend normalising/reconnecting time with her. Having said this, even now it seems like the intensity of this is easing a little (especially when Susie gets to spend time with Tilly when she’s not tired).

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