Envy as a fragile Infant ego responding to a deprivation of some kind

            The best way to understand envy is to see it as the angry feeling the other person possesses, and is keeping it for himself. Also this other person is perceived as a reliable source of what one desires. The result is that this other person is seen as is keeping for themselves that thing “I want”.

            The envious impulse is to attack, or spoil the very source that one originally relied upon for what was desired. In the infant, the feeling of failed gratification is experienced as the breast withholding, or keeping for itself, the object of desire. Envy is therefore more basic than jealousy, and is one of the most primitive and fundamental of emotions. Envy stems from an immature intolerance of frustration. Melanie Klein found that the first object to be envied was the “breast”. This is the primary envy and if tolerated, and worked through, will lead to a normal development. But when the experience of envy is excessive (i.e. a failure in a good enough mothering) this can lead to a weakened ego. The mechanism of envy involves attacking the good “breast”, which results with introjections no longer occurring. In envy, there is an aim to possess the good object, but when this is felt to be impossible, the aim becomes a need to spoil the goodness of the object, in order to remove the source of envious feelings. Consequently, envy is the diabolical impulse to destroy the very source of goodness that maturation and growth will continue to require. Moreover, this primitive envy can be re-experienced in later childhood and adulthood as unconscious envy, and is likely to be revived in the therapeutic alliance as a negative transference.

Dangers of envy

            Defenses against envy that are unable to contain it will quickly lead to psychopathology, because they fail to prevent the destructive operation of envy, and its consequences in the weakening of the ego. Unresolved primary envy can lead to psychotic symptoms in the later life. Envy is commonly accompanied by self-pity, self-destructiveness, will turn inwards. The ego can implode and destroy itself. Suicidal feelings may be later expression of the early need to self destroy which the infant cannot express for itself.  The qualities that might manifest in the envious person are: persecution, frustration, guilt, self pity, idealization, acting out, ambition, inability to enjoy, disapproving, aggression, manic defenses, intolerance, hatred, destructiveness, self-destructiveness, sabotaging, discounting, suicidal ideation, etc.

 

Suggested reading:

Gericke, R. (2006). Working with a child’s envy in the transference. Journal Of Child & Adolescent Mental Health, 18(2), 73-78

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Adolescents with Anti-Social Personality

Adolescents with antisocial personality disorder seem to have difficulties in taking into account all the relevant information in social interactions, such as other people’s intentions. The researchers hypothesize that this in turn leads to more antisocial behavior.

Adolescents with antisocial personality disorder inflict serious physical and psychological harm on both themselves and others. However, little is yet known about the underlying neural processes. Researchers at the University of Leiden and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have pinpointed a possible explanation: Their brain regions responsible for social information processing and impulse control are less developed.

The study focused on incarcerated delinquent adolescents from the Netherlands aged between 15 and 21 years who had been diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder. The researchers had the adolescents play the mini-ultimatum game. In this cooperative game, which simulates fairness considerations, the player is offered a sum of money by another player. The player is also told whether the opponent could have made a fairer offer or had no alternative.

Brain activity during the game was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). By comparing the findings with those of a control group of nondelinquent adolescents, the researchers were able to determine what was going on in participants’ brains in the context of fairness considerations.

“No” to unfair offers

The delinquent adolescents showed less activation than the control group in the temporoparietal junction and in the inferior frontal gyrus. These areas of the brain are responsible for functions including the ability to put oneself in another person’s position and impulse control. In both groups, the researchers observed similar levels of activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and in the anterior insula – areas of the brain associated with affective processes.

The findings indicate that although both groups showed the same levels of emotional reactivity to unfair offers, the delinquent adolescents rejected these offers more often. In contrast to the control group, they did not take account of their opponent’s intention – or of whether their opponent had no alternative.

Marsh, A. A., Finger, E. C., Fowler, K. A., Adalio, C. J., Jurkowitz, I. N., Schechter, J. C., & … Blair, R. R. (2013). Empathic responsiveness in amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex in youths with psychopathic traits. Journal Of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 54(8), 900-910. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12063