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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