Thursday, March 9, 2017

Envy Revisited: From intrapsychic to relationally co-created intersubjective envy

Envy was originally conceived as a derivative of the death instinct (Ego psychology, drives). Eventually environmental failures were posited as causes of envy (Object relations, Self psychology), and envy is now seen as coming out of the intersubjective matrix (Relational). Segal posited that need (in neediness envy) might be met in relationships, or it might be denied, with deadening effect. The authors conversely note that denial of need might not be deadening, but an attempt at self preservation in the face of environmental (relational) failure, as noted by WInnicott. [Chronic denial of need (and desire) can lead to an existential emptiness, deadness.]

In the clinical situation, an area for envy is when the patient envies traits, imagined or real, of the therapist (patience, or equanimity, or friends, or a family life) which the patient does not possess, or vice versa. Sometimes envy, whose neediness is shaming by revealing the imperfect or incomplete self, makes it hard for one to accept something from the other, except perhaps to grab and steal it. The acceptance and containment by the self of envy allows one to feel sadness and loss for what one does not have. Some people feel chronically deprived.They may wonder why others have love or friends or accolades, and ‘Why not me?” They may hold no hope for their future, for getting what they want, except sometimes when they are demanding. When envy is present in patients, they may criticize others and the therapist; they may accuse the therapist of withholding help and care. [Because of the unpleasantness of their chronic criticism, patients may be accurate about the therapist’s withholding.] A patient’s deprivation and envy may leave the therapist feeling guilty,frustrated, incompetent and helpless. Fees are also fraught with envy dynamics, for either party. The patient can have much more income than the therapist, or much less.

“Envy attacks the links of relationships” rejecting what is given to avoid admitting need, eschewing mutuality and reciprocity because separateness seems unbearable. Narcissistic envy destroys meaning and creativity, because, say the authors, progress means moving toward death. [Perhaps, it destroys creativity because it is an injury not to be born, like Venus on the halfshell, fully formed.] They conclude, “The capacity to contains the pains of envy serves to reconstruct or create a link in which the pathological envy that destroys the linkis transformed into an awareness and a recognition that subjects are immersed in the endless dialectic of sameness and difference. They therefore constantly compete, desire, and attack each other in the intersubjective encounter. This awareness becomes synthesized into a synthetic whole  of love and hate, enriching and destroying, recognizing and separating and knowing.”

Shoshani, M., Shoshani, B., Kella, R., Becker, M. (2012). Green Eyes, Crows, and Scorpions: Envy in the Contexts of Neediness, Separateness, and Narcissism. Psychoanal. Psychol., 29:440-458.

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