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Managing Money Envy

Do you think there’s nothing emotional about money? If so, I dare you to stand up in a town hall meeting anywhere in the US and ask, “What’s wrong with income inequality?” There is a high probability that the responses that follow may have some emotion.

Make no mistake, money is highly emotional. That emotion isn’t about the inanimate object, the pieces of printed paper that we carry in our wallets. It’s what we project onto money that makes it intensely emotional. And usually what we project isn’t about the money at all.

Consider, for example, envy and jealousy. On the surface, these emotions seem to signify we are not grateful for what we have and that the cure is to focus on what we do have. There’s an element of truth to that, but telling yourself to stop being jealous and instead be grateful probably doesn’t work for long. If you are like most of us, the jealousy is soon back.

The reason is that envy and jealousy are not about what we have, but rather about what we don’t have or we fear losing. Underneath envy is fear that I won’t get something I desire which is enjoyed by another. Suppose I am envious of a friend who lives in a bigger house. Underlying that is fear, perhaps a fear that I am failing my family by not providing enough space for them to live comfortably.

Underneath jealousy is also fear, but this fear is often masked by anger that someone else is getting something that is rightfully yours. I may be jealous of a coworker because they got a job promotion that I felt I deserved. Underlying my resentment of my coworker’s success is fear that my contributions to the company are not valued and that my job isn’t secure.

Similarly, I may feel jealous of someone who earns much more than I do. I may be resentful that they enjoy privileges, a lifestyle, or security that I rightfully deserve. Or I may believe that the money they have accumulated was wrongfully taken from others and that if they continue to accumulate wealth, mine may be next. I may fear for my very survival.

Such fears may drive a good portion of the anger toward the so-called “one-percenters.” If my physical and emotional needs are satisfied and I am happy with my life, do I care if someone else has more? Probably not.

But if my physical needs are not met, I am unhappy, and I feel that the money I am entitled to has been taken from me by those that have money, I care a lot. In fact, I can be rageful and jealous.

According to a January 17 article by Amanda Hirsh at unstuck.com, envy and jealousy can be a gift, a trailhead of sorts that can lead us to an unconscious fear. Once we uncover the fear we can often take concrete steps to resolve it, rather than wasting precious energy being stuck in anger and rage toward others.

Hirsh suggests that, the next time you feel yourself becoming envious or jealous, you consider it an opportunity to ask yourself three questions:

1. What am I afraid of?
2. What do I really want?
3. Why do I want that?

These are not easy questions to answer. It may be best not to consider them when you are already triggered and consumed by the emotion, but to wait until you are calmer and in a more reflective place. Then the answers may help you move past the jealousy and shift your focus to your own options.

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