Thursday, March 9, 2017

Three Forms of Envy

Shoshani, et al delineate three forms of envy: neediness, separation, and narcissistic. They illustrate their ideas with clinical cases illustrating how dissociated parts are regained and how the therapeutic dyad can help contain envy. The authors conceive of envy both as a drive and an intersubjective co-creation, “as both an object and a relation,...coexisting without being mutually exclusive.” They see these two as a dialectic, that is, “each creates, destroys, and re-creates the other...”

In citing Klein and Segal, the authors note that both Klein and Segal saw envy as partly constitutional deriving from aggression and the death instinct and is the wish to take away and/or destroy something desired that another person possesses. Envy, said Segal, is derived from both need and admiration of that which is desired. They see Spillius as adding a more relational aspect, noting that no one is comfortable with envy.

The authors find it “clinically useful to conceive of malignant envy as one of the leading anxieties,”  a “disintegrating feeling” that  humans are “desperate” to avoid and thus “evoke hatred, cruelty, blindness, narrow-mindedness, self destruction, and destruction of the other
both as expressions of envy and as a means of counteracting its devastating influence.”

Neediness envy, “results from the realization that the other has something we need but do not have” and the wish to be connected to the other includes the wish to secretly posses the coveted possession. In Othello, envy, “the green-eyed monster,” is directed at the nurturing other and includes the wish to devalue/destroy the other. “[T]he most  consuming aspect of envy is the one directed against the person who gives us what we so desperately need but feel helpless to provide ourselves with.” (The authors consider jealousy triadic, and envy dyadic, thus interpreting Shakespeare’s ‘jealousy’ to really be envy.) Neediness envy arises from recognition by child that I am small and needy.

Separateness envy results from the “dependency on the other who is separate from me, has a mind of his or her own, and who is not in my possession” [under my control]. Here the wish to be connected includes eliminating separateness through merger. The author’s use Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata and its protagonist’s envy and hatred toward his wife as an example of “imprisoning and objectifying the other.” He finds his wife’s subjectivity (separateness) so unbearable that he murders her.

According to the authors, separateness is the precondition for envy, as when when the child discovers it cannot control its mother, and gives rise to all three forms of envy, including invidious comparison of self to the separate other. They agree with Symington that “shame, [then] is the progenitor  of envy.” For the infant who maintains the grandiose self (fails to move, in Winnicott’s terms, from object relating to object usage), there still exists the awareness of the self as deficient, separate,  and needy.

Narcissistic envy “arises from the painful realization of one’s own limitations...vis-a-vis fantas[ies] of all-inclusive omnipotence and immortality” and entails, not the relationship between self and other (object), but between self and unconscious fantasy. Agnon’s short story, The Doctor’s Divorce, shows a man unable to accept that he did not exist for his wife before they met, that is, “he did not always exist” for her and so is not eternal, death being the deepest narcissistic injury. Narcissistic envy can also arise when a parent who is competent explicitly or implicitly belittles the less competent child by, for example, failing to allow twinship or idealizing transferences.

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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