Envy is the idealizing of an object outside oneself, with the wish to devour the coveted object. This object is something possessed by another person or persons. The trappings of envy is that one cannot find peace through separation of oneself from the envied object and the envied other. The resultant is hatred and the need to destroy the other.
Envy can also be seen as a projection of goodness into another person, so that one idealizes the other while devaluing oneself, and eventually hating the other. Envy is a painful emotion and is almost not in the awareness of the individual. It is also integral to being human, and hence it exists in every reasonably living functioning person.
Envy vs. Jealousy
Envy is exists in terms of two persons– it involves you and me. I want what you have, because that is what I lack. Jealousy involves a third person. I am not allowing that other person to take you / your attention/ love, etc away from me.
If I cannot have what you have I’ll seek to destroy that coveted thing. Sometime this destruction is abstract.
Greed is a means to extract all the goodness from the other. Greed doesn’t necessarily seek to destroy. Greed is to consume without gratitude. Hence greed never gets satisfied.
Defenses against feelings of envy
Vanity or grandiosity is a defense against envy. To make oneself more superior to overcome envy of another. Self idealization, feeling omnipotent, not needing or depending on others.
Invidiousness, is a means to act so that the other becomes envious of you. To projective identifying or evoking emotions of envy in the other. The problem this causes the person to fear the envious eye of other.
Spoiling, devaluing, rigid idealization, projection of envy (a superego that attacks and devalues own achievements) are examples of means to counteract feelings of envy.
When envy is strong, even what’s seems as a good object becomes a source of pain.
In normal experience good experience predominates over bad. Pathology aries when bad predominates good internally and externally.
Positive use of Envy
Constructive envy is one that inspires one to work harder to improve oneself. If I am envious of somebody’s abilities, e.g. piano playing, I practice harder. We also witness the energy derived from envy in the masterpieces created by highly creative people.
Gratitude as the Antidote to Envy
Melanie Klein tells us that gratitude is the antidote to envy. To be thankful is to be able to see the glass half full. Gratitude allows one to feel satisfied with what one has achieved or bestowed.
Carveth, D. (2016) Introduction to Kleinian Theory 4. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bb-L_QXNyQU&t=2s
Pathologically violent projective identification, where the object (ego) is splintered, attacked. Reality is seen as persecutory and hated. When envy is intense, the perception of the good object is as painful as the bad object.
46:00 Psychopathology is the result of early decision to try to base your life upon evading pain (Bion). Psychotherapy is the process of turning this around. To help the individual face the pain and move on to more functional existence.
These are excerpts on the subjects from notes taken from Carveth’s lecture “Introduction to Kleinian Theory 5”.
Manic defenses are manifested to protect the ego from despair. It is a means of being omnipotent, and is very much belongs to the paranoid-schizoid position as defined by Melanie Klein.
Inability to deal with loss, leads to symptoms, like depression, and behaviors, like rage. This is a sign of a regression into an existence of black-white thinking, in which there are projections made towards the outside world to ward off unbearable feeling. It is attack on psychic reality, in an effort to control the external objects.
These acts defend the self against realization of dependency. It defends against loss. Triumph is needed so that the person defeats the object, so that there is that “I do not have to care for the object”– which is an aggressive and dangerous condition.
This kind of thinking also serves to ward off envy. Hence it is better to come to terms with one’s feelings of envy, so that on can use it constructively, like for self improvement, than to avoid feelings of envy by trying to dominate and destroy the other.
Contempt is there to deny the object’s value …the object is rendered not worthy of guilt. Contempt justifies the abuse and annihilation of the other.
There is also “manic” in the culture we live in. Our culture as we know it, is one that seems to put taboo on tenderness.
Quote from the 18th Century on Control of the Other
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) in Social Contract 1762:
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.”
Interesting points (at the last 5 mins of the video) on guilt, control and being omnipotent.
Melanie Klein (1997/1924-1963) writes that in the first 3-4 months of life the infant experiences anxiety, which is driven by the fear of annihilation. This is a primary cause of persecutory anxiety.
It would appear that the pain and discomfort he has suffered, as well as the loss of the intra-uterine state, are felt by him as an attack by hostile forces, i.e. as persecution. Persecutory anxiety, therefore, enters from the beginning into his relation to objects in so far as he is exposed to privations.
The infant’s first feeding experiences are perceived by the child as closely related to the its experiences to its mother’s breast. At this early stage of infancy, the child has yet to grasp the mother as an individual i.e. a whole and separate being.
When the child is neither hungry nor full, one can imagine that the child is experiencing a balance in its libidinal and aggressive impulses. These impulses are made stronger when it is reinforced through, e.g. frustration. Klein suggests that the aggressive impulses give rise to emotions of greed. An increase in feelings of greed leads to more frustration and aggression.
Children whose feelings of frustration are reinforced (due to deprivation and/or due to temperament) experience growing persecutory anxiety, and have problems tolerating deprivation and dealing with anxiety.
Persecutory anxiety, however, can in some other children, lead to feeding inhibitions.
Love and Hatred
This swing between gratification and frustration are powerful stimuli for feelings of love and hatred.
As a result, the breast, inasmuch as it is gratifying, is loved and felt to be ‘good’; in so far as it is a source of frustration, it is hated and felt to be ‘bad’. This strong antithesis between the good breast and the bad breast is largely due to lack of integration of the ego, as well as to splitting processes within the ego and in relation to the object. There are, however, grounds for assuming that even during the first three or four months of life the good and the bad object are not wholly distinct from one another in the infant’s mind.
This is where we can perceive the concept of splitting. The infant experiences the positive and negative feelings toward the same object. It is at this position in the development of the child’s ego, that it is able to differentiate its experiences as good or bad. It in turn has love or hate emotions towards that same object. This split in feelings is experienced in the paranoid-schizoid position.
Internalization – Projection and Introjection
These experiences of gratification and frustration, which happen due to external stimuli ultimately become internalized. The infant projects its love impulses to the good attributes of the mother’s breast, and destructive impulses towards the frustrating breast. The infant introjects by building a picture of the good breast and bad breast. This gets developed and distorted by phantasies.
This good-object and bad-object picture becomes a prototype for all external and internal persecutory objects, which the infant takes with it to adulthood.
Emotions in infants are extreme and powerful in nature. Persecutory anxiety deem the “bad object” as terrifying and, as a means of allaying the fears, the infant creates an internal picture of the good object as a powerful, all gratifying object. This is how idealization of the good object comes about. It is a means being omnipotent : creating characteristics of good object to protect one from the bad object.
Moving Forward from the Paranoid-Schizoid to Depressive Position
How Infants Adjust
Even during the earliest stage, however, persecutory anxiety is to some extent counteracted by the infant’s relation to the good breast. I have indicated above that although his feelings focus on the feeding relationship with the mother, represented by her breast, other aspects of the mother enter already into the earliest relation to her; for even the very young infant responds to his mother’s smile, her hands, her voice, her holding him and attending to his needs. The gratification and love which the infant experiences in these situations all help to counteract persecutory anxiety, even the feelings of loss and persecution aroused by the experience of birth. His physical nearness to his mother during feeding—essentially his relation to the good breast—recurrently helps him to overcome the longing for a former lost state, alleviates persecutory anxiety and increases the trust in the good object. p.63
The infant eventually realizes that the good and bad object belong to the same organism, which is, in the infant’s perception the mother. When this happens, the infant develops into the depressive position ( the term has nothing to do with depression).
The desire for unlimited gratification, as well as persecutory anxiety, contribute to the infant’s feeling that both an ideal breast and a dangerous devouring breast exist, which are largely kept apart from each other in the infant’s mind. These two aspects of the mother’s breast are introjected and form the core of the super-ego. p.70
What Klein explains here is the phenomenon of splitting, omnipotence, idealization, denial and control. — These are aspects of the personality that, in adults are associated with dysfunction if it predominates, controls the life to the individual; and if the individual has no capacity towards ambivalence (seeing in shades of grey instead of black and white).
In the infant, this is stage is a necessary part of ego development. The infant has to temporarily rely on his phantasy to cope with such acute anxiety. The experience of the good and bad alternate swiftly. The mother’s continued loving behavior towards the infant helps the infant develop towards an understanding that good and bad experiences belong to the same person.
If the infant gets enough good experiences it can integrate the good and bad experience. It would have less need to project his hate externally. He can see in wholeness, it’s mother and later, father etc. It moves forward to the depressive position.
Out of the alternating processes of disintegration and integration develops gradually a more integrated ego, with an increased capacity to deal with persecutory anxiety. The infant’s relation to parts of his mother’s body, focusing on her breast, gradually changes into a relation to her as a person.
The Paranoid-Schizoid Position and Personality Disorders
If, for example, the infant experiences overwhelming frustrations and is not able to have a sense of goodness from the mother, its psyche is kept in the paranoid-schizoid position, unable to develop further. The individual develops a persecutory complex that does not enable him/her to see beyond black and white. This is the precursor to personality disorders (PDs) like schizotypal PD, paranoid PD, borderline PD, narcissistic PD and antisocial PD.
Low functioning personality disorder states indicate the inability of the individual to move dynamically to and from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. The person in this case remains unable to see both good and bad in the same person. Instead there is projections persecution, and paranoid anxiety.
Growth towards the Depressive Position
As the child develops, and if it is given the necessary love, it moves into the depressive position (this has nothing to do with being depressed, but rather an ability to be ambivalent). This is a development. The child recognizes the mother as an individual separate from it. He learns that he is dependent and learns to accept temporary frustrations. He also learns to love, mourn and pine. He is more able to take responsibility for his impulses. He feels guilt, and is able to care. He lessens his hallucination of being omnipotent.
The depressive position is capable of ambivalence : seeing good and bad in the same object. This is also a position of the neurotic.
Klein, M. (1997). Envy and Gratitude: And Other Works, 1946-1963. Random House.
Reparation allows us to live out loud. When I can apologize, I have less inhibition. According to Melanie Klein, Reparation is a basis of creativity… to restore the loss. Capable of recovery.
We make reparation for our miss-doings. We are humans and we make mistakes. Sometimes it is our negligence that hurt others. Sometimes we are just too weak, too young, too old, too ill, too afraid to do the right thing at a particular time.
Mourning is involved in also other aspects of losses, which does not involve the death of another, but rather the death of one’s sense of self. An example of how this can happen is when one is being diagnosed with a debilitating illness or has become disabled in some way, or has a child/family that is diagnosed as such. Mourning is also “the reaction related to painful experiences that entail an experience of loss — such as loss of the quality of life, loss of health, loss of previous self-identity, loss of hope, or loss of the container function of the parents. (Barone 2005)”
Owning up to our mistakes/shortfall/incompetencies and taking responsibility for hurt caused is a means of making reparation.
In so doing we also mourn the losses (a broken relationship, a lost trust, a lost opportunity, a metaphorical or real death) as a result of our incapacity to do what was necessary to avoid the unfortunate situation.
Being able to face with the loss / to accept responsibility is the path towards inner-strength. We are able to move on from our human failing. We know that we have the resources in us to get on with life because we are able to overcome a mistake that caused us guilt.
Facing up to one’s role in such losses is not the same as blaming oneself. It is to acknowledge what actually happened, and how one was part of it. To blame oneself is to accuse oneself of something one doesn’t believe one has responsibility for.
Gestalt Therapy Case Example of Making Reparations
Mr. K, a young man of 23, comes to therapy with impulsive anger issues. He has been incarcerated for assault and battery. Each time he regresses into violent behavior, he regrets it, and feels guilt. However, at the slightest provocation, he bursts into uncontrolled rage.
He has been to behavioral therapy to control his impulses. The treatment did not work and he was sorely frustrated. In jail, he was offered gestalt therapy counseling from an intern– what looked like fighting fire with paper.
The therapist realized after 4 sessions a pattern in this client. Each session, he earnestly repeated the same story to her. Each time he did so, he revved himself into anger. It was a story of his childhood. His father had a violent nature and would beat his mother. As a child, from his early childhood, he remembers his mother in tears of fear and frustration as she served the family their meals. His older brothers were also later violent towards her and Mr. K.
The work for Mr. K turned out to be one of reparation. This was only possible because he was able to feel sadness and guilt (in the case of violent patients who do not feel this kind of remorse, it might not be possible).
Mr. K. was supported to revisit this childhood scene, and as he was retelling the story, the therapist asked him to hold back his anger and breathe by saying comforting words. She asked him what he experienced watching his mother’s sadness. He said he felt hopeless. He said he was too small and afraid to save her.
The therapist supported the client with helping him formulate these statements: “mother, I am 6 years old, and I am too small and too weak to save you.” and to himself “K, I am sorry, I am 6 years old and I am too small and too afraid to save your mother.”
Both K and the therapist were very touched by the phenomenon in the therapy room. This is the taking of responsibility. It is not self blame, but the recognition that one was simply not humanly able to save the mother.
The next steps came naturally. The therapist guided the client in a mourning process. The loss of a mother that could protect the son. Weeks of therapy was devoted to this process. It included creating art, writing poems.
Incapacity to make reparations and mental pain
There are individuals who have difficulty or have not capacity to accept responsibility. This is a mental state for some people and is part of their personality. In psychoanalytic term, it is a condition of being stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position and not being able to move forward to the more ambivalent depressive (nothing to do with depression) position.
When one is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position, one suffers deep depression and paranoid anxiety. One’s state of mind is that on seeing the world in black and white and nothing in between. Everything is either very good or very bad. This was Mr. K’s life before his sessions with the therapist. He was had paranoid rage, and was very depressed.
Being so paranoid also leads one to have a need for omnipotence, which one displays through grandiosity or threatening (manic) behavior.
Taking responsibility for one’s own deeds is a lessening of omnipotence. Discovery of the resilience of the good object. Less fear of destroying it.
Manic reparation in the Paranoid-Schzoid position.
Say for example a man who strikes his wife then brings her flowers. Avoidance of acknowledging damage done, his aims to repair the hurt is in such a way that his own feelings of guilt and loss is never experienced. Not acknowledged. His wife is felt as inferior, dependent and contemptible. She is confused by his behavior. He then considers her ungrateful. He blames her for his anger towards her.
In this case his unconscious guilt is not reprieved. The good object, the wife, is “magically repaired”. Instant repair. It is like the instant cure of swallowing pills instead of going through therapy. Of going to sleep so that you do not see.
Emotional tantrum is used also as a quick way of handling problem
How do, for example, some people reveal their contempt? By raising emotionality. This is also see among people who do good deeds, like some social workers and activists?
Freud on Mourning and Melancholia
Freud (1922), in Mourning and Melancholia, writes about the ability to mourn as a means of overcoming loss. The inability to mourn or the absence of the mourning process leads to melancholia, which we understand today as major depression.
Genuine Reparation and Creativity
Genuine reparation is slow, there is no quick fix. It takes consideration of the other person. It takes mourning the damage. It takes getting to experience the guilt, the fear of damaging the good object, the relationship. It also takes creativity.
Un-recognized guilt, leads to aggression turned towards the self, which is a condition we know as major depression.
Hence the recognition of a loss and the process going through the mourning process, is essential to recovery and prevention of major depression. Much of the therapeutic process involves in one way or another accompanied mourning of loss.
Barone, K. C. (2005). On the processes of working through loss caused by severe illnesses in childhood: a psychoanalytic approach. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 19(1), 17-34.
Klein, M. (2002). Love, guilt and reparation: and other works 1921-1945 (Vol. 1). Simon and Schuster.
Freud, S. (1922). Mourning and melancholia. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 56(5), 543-545.
The art with the theme of the “mother” or good and evil mothers by 19th Century painter, Giovanni Segantini, enlivens us to the concept of the good and bad internalized mother in psychoanalysis.
According to scholars like Don Carveth, this idea of the bad mother was blindsided by Sigmund Freud, who was thought to have idealized his relationship with his own mother, and hence could not bring himself to the realization of the bad mother concept.
It was Melanie Klein, who under the mentorship of Karl Abraham, who managed to bring this concept of the two mothers to psychoanalysis.
It was believed that the artist Sagentini lost his mother as a child. He felt guilty with the idea that he was a cause of her death. He was brought up by relatives after his father left him with them. This means that he lost also his father. Sagentini suffered mood swings, which Abraham attributes to the repression of the image of the bad mother (the mother complex). Sagentini’s traumas are not reducible to the Oedipus complex. He was nevertheless susceptible to revenge on the (internalized) mother (and the abandoning/vain…etc. mother) who abandoned him, and he depicts them in his painting.
Abraham points out that excessive hatred/hostility to the mother can be replaced by exaggerated by the opposite: the love of the mother, putting mothers on the pedestal (as in the case with Freud). Sagentini lived with depressive guilt (of having hate for mother turned against himself), and in a way made reparation by depicting the mother & child in his art.
Art is a reparative creative way of healing, and an essential to being healthy. Reparation of one’s internal objects (e.g. internal mother). When one repairs internal objects one can feel whole again and no longer broken. This is the central theme in Kleinian Theory.
The internalized mother is important in the lives of humans. It is the relationship to this internalized mother that we are able to feel protected in this world. In time of trauma, and existentially frightening setback, it is this relationship that gets broken.
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