How To Escape The Envy Trap


Women are fierce competitors in the workplace and at home. But the quest to win can lure us into the envy trap. Escape the jealousy trap and compete in a healthy way.

Competition and envy are strengthened and even rewarded by our cultural values. We learn to compete to get grades, to get scholarships to be on athletic teams and in performance groups. We compete for graduate programs and career opportunities. We compete in beauty pageants, to be on drill teams and in dance groups. Most of our current popular reality shows are based on competition – American Idol, So You think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, The Biggest Loser, etc. Competition is viewed as healthy in many respects. We like to win, to be on top, to be the best. Our culture reinforces the importance of success and winning which fuels our obsession with competitive sports and our glorification of the rich and beautiful.

Even our political system of democracy and voting entails competition- the selling of candidates, by publicizing how much better one is than their rivals for office. Campaigners typically intensify their effort to find every possible weak point in their rival candidates, even in their private lives, inflating them out of proportion and publicizing them in order to discredit him or her. Underlying these attitudes and behaviors is the theory of the survival of the fittest, which sets competition as the basic driving force of life.

Are women more competitive than men?

Research shows that competition is part of the human condition, especially for women. And it starts at a very young age. During our elementary school years we figure out who the popular, sporty, brainy, beautiful girls are and we spend the rest of our lives wrestling with these stereotypes.

According to research from interviews with 500 women in the United States:

· 90 percent admit they are (or have been) envious and jealous of other women in their lives.

· 65 percent say they feel that way about their sister or best friend.

· 80 percent say they have been victims of another woman’s envy or jealousy.

· And 90 percent of women say the toughest workplace competition comes from women, not men.

· Forty percent say another woman has stolen their boyfriend, lover, husband or job at some time in their lives.

· Twenty-five percent admit they have done the stealing as well.

Men can be fierce competitors too, but they don’t compete in the same way as women. Men tend to compete for what they do, mostly at work and in the sports arena. But usually, in the end, they can set it aside, shake hands and be friends.

Women compete for who they are. So the competition and feelings of envy run much deeper and are more permanent. Women take it personally – pitting woman against woman, girl against girlfriend, sister against sister and mother against daughter and vice versa.

Feelings of competition and envy are pervasive and permanent among women and they don’t go away easily. If I’m envious of my best friend’s boyfriend in high school, at age 35, I’ll probably be envious of the relationship she has with her husband.

Why do we do it? Why are we so competitive and envious?

There is abundance evidence that one of the major causes of competitiveness among females is our concern for beauty and attractiveness. Many advertisers have certainly recognized and capitalized upon these interests, and have possibly added to the sense of insecurity among women by emphasizing the need to be more beautiful, to have larger breasts, thinner bodies, etc.

Female attractiveness is also of inordinate importance to males, easily outweighing other facets such as intelligence, personality, and character. Many young women believe, in having to contend with the failure of many males to take them seriously on other levels, that they must accentuate and concentrate on those features that will be easily noticed and applauded. Hence, in order to gain favor and attention, many women try to maintain an optimal level of attractiveness, and believe that they stand to lose their share of the stakes when a woman more attractive is present.

Another reason for our competitive nature is a belief in the scarcity of goods. From childhood, women in particular, are taught there is only one glass slipper, one crown, one winner. If someone else gets it, I can’t have it. Therefore women often undermine one another in order to win.

Also, women define themselves in relational terms, who they are married to, who they are related to, who they work with, who their children are and how they fit in that bigger picture. Women compete over having the cleanest house, the best-dressed, achieving and well-behaved children, and the most successful spouse. Women fret over their appearance and body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money, health and aging. We worry about our reputations and being stereotyped and labeled a certain way.

Women ridicule one another — instead of supporting each other — for choices such as staying home and raising the children or working outside the home. Those who enter the workforce compete fiercely for the better jobs, the better salary, the most attention. Some even work behind the scene and withhold critical information that could help another woman get ahead.

Historically speaking, women have always competed with one another — and at the same time supported and protected one another.

So what can we do about it?

· The first step is recognizing who you are and what your goals are.

· Take back your power and spin envy in a positive way.

· Instead of envying what another woman has, look at what you have.

· Use envy to understand what works best in your life. We are all unique individuals, not everything our co-workers and friends achieve would work for us.

· Admit how you feel about the other women in your life. Stop pretending that you are not jealous or envious of your friends. Talk about it. Share your stories and feelings.

· Women face a lot of obstacles in the world, from societal expectations to raising families to making a mark in the world to discovering what makes them happy and satisfied. Instead of looking at fellow females as competition, women need to band together and mentor one another. Give other women the information and opportunities you didn’t receive.

· Don’t hold the bar so high for females. Get over the idea that you can do everything. Only as more women find balance in their lives, and feel at peace with who they are and what they have, will other women excel at what they are good at and not feel so threatened.

· Remember competition and envy rob you of peace.

LaNae Valentine, Ph.D. is the Director of the Women’s Services & Resources at Brigham Young University.

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