My house – my car – my Rolex. It is said that the envy factor is particularly high in Germany.

This trend has grown even more since social media:

Scrolling through social media feeds, we see photos of friends, of celebrities, of other people who may be on exotic holidays or even working under palm trees, celebrating professional success or simply sharing happy moments with their loved ones. And suddenly it’s there – that little twinge of envy. Why are they so happy? Why is everything going so well for them? And why can’t we have such a perfect life too?

The constant comparison suggests to us that our life – without palm trees, without a Rolex, without a relationship, without xyz – is worth less. “Without” and “less” immediately catapults our nervous system into a state of deficiency, in which we believe we are lacking something. And the whole thing is also fuelled by the media, which also suggests to us what we need to be happy. What they all have in common is a focus on what is not there: the lack.

We rarely think about what we have, but always about what we lack.

Arthur Schopenhauer

As we humans are always striving to optimise ourselves and constantly see what we are supposedly lacking – this, without reflection, triggers an alarm state in our nervous system. In order to normalise this, we calm ourselves down and fill “the void” with: excessive eating, alcohol or shopping. Filling the void with these things will not succeed. We don’t see – and above all feel – what we have, but above all what we don’t have.

Envy is a toxic behavior learned early in childhood

Envy arises from a sense of lack

And the feeling of lack implies an attitude of victimhood. You feel like a victim of circumstances: the lack of resources, politics, the company, the house, etc. These are all behaviours that a person who sees themselves as a victim – and not as a powerful creator of their own life – adopts. This usually happens very unconsciously.

What is the victim role?

The role of the victim is a role that someone unconsciously takes on again and again, usually because it has been learnt. The victim is always the one who blames the circumstances and does not want to take responsibility themselves. Neither for themselves and their lives, nor for others. In cases of doubt, “others are to blame” and “the house is just a block on the leg”. They neither work on solutions nor think about the next steps for a happy life.

What the victim is good at is complaining. About everything and everyone. The fatal thing is that he or she usually doesn’t realise that they are stuck in this role.

The dilemma of sharing joy

It’s a situation you may be familiar with: A friend shares some good news – a promotion, a new relationship, a personal success. You smile, congratulate and show your enthusiasm. But deep down you feel something completely different: envy, dissatisfaction, perhaps even resignation. Instead of feeling really happy for your friend, you feel worse about your own life.

Especially if you are dissatisfied with your own life or feel empty. Then your friend’s success might make you feel left behind – as if we’re in a race we can’t win.

But why do we find it so hard to rejoice with others? Part of the answer lies in the way we perceive success and happiness. We often see them as zero-sum games: If someone else wins, we must inevitably lose. If someone else is happy, it must mean that we are unhappy. But this is a distorted view. Success – however it is defined individually – and personal happiness are not limited. Someone else’s happiness does not take anything away from us.

The so-called “comparison trap” has struck again: we constantly compare our lives with the lives of others – and make our value dependent on this. These comparisons make us feel that we are not enough, that we do not have enough, that we have not achieved enough. They make us focus on what we lack instead of appreciating what we have.

Envy of other people´s happiness is a toxic behavior

Passive Aggression

  • “You must have money!” (for a holiday in the Caribbean, for example)
  • “Well, we’re not one of them. We’ve always worked hard.”
  • “They can afford it!”
  • “That she’s not embarrassed to show herself like that – at her age!”

These are all passive-aggressive sentences. They all have one thing in common: Separation. Examples that can hit. Sentences that are not direct, but express hidden aggression (passive). These kinds of sentences are unfortunately very normal in people’s everyday dealings with each other. What is always behind it is the envy that eats away at the person who says such a sentence. It is based on not wanting nice things and the indirect insinuation that, for example, someone else HAS NOT WORKED HARD for their success.

Behind passive-aggressive behaviour and envy is usually fear. The fear of not being “enough” yourself. Of being inferior compared to others. There it is again: comparison. It is particularly common in people who already feel they are “worth less”.

But how can you escape the feeling of envy or prevent it from arising in the first place?

The answer is quite clear: get out of the victim mentality!

Recognise that you are the creator of your own life. Because true happiness does not lie in coveting the lives of others, but in appreciating and enjoying your own. Without comparison.

Five ways to overcome envy

  1. Inner self-reflection and self-awareness – recognising your own inner issues, strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Gratitude – appreciation for what we have.
  3. Let go of the victim mentality – take responsibility for your own happiness.
  4. Realistic view – understanding the difference between (online) presentation and reality.
  5. Seek professional help – therapy or coaching as support.

Inner work is the be-all and end-all. Especially for people in leadership: I emphasise this again and again – inner work and, above all, getting to know yourself is the key to being able to lead at all.

Unreflected envy among people in leadership: a hidden obstacle

In the world of leadership, envy is an often overlooked but nevertheless present phenomenon. Envy can be particularly problematic for managers who have not yet reflected on themselves sufficiently.

Unreflected envy can manifest itself in many different ways. Perhaps a manager feels envious of a colleague who receives more recognition or whose team performs better. Or they may feel envious of other companies that appear to be more successful. Or this person is even envious of one of their employees because they are outstanding. Actually, this boss should be proud of such a team member. But he or she feels small and of little value – internally. This is usually not visible to the outside world. This envy can lead to negative behaviour such as resentment, bullying and even bossing.

The problem is that unreflected envy often goes unnoticed. The manager concerned may not be aware of their feelings or they may ignore or deny them. But even if it is not openly addressed, this emotion can cloud judgement, strain relationships, call into question the entire way of leading, and even destroy trust in the case of bullying or a toxic corporate culture in the case of bossing.

The first step in overcoming unreflected envy is to recognise and acknowledge it. This requires honest self-reflection and possibly also feedback from others.

Unreflected envy can be an obstacle, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the story: let’s talk.

I am looking forward to it.