Envy is the culpable sadness or displeasure at the spiritual or temporal good of another. In popular usage envy is often not distinguished from jealousy, but jealousy implies a sense of right on the part of the jealous person to the exclusive possession of something. Jealousy, in spite of the pejorative connotation that is usually attached to the term, is not necessarily evil, so long as the right is well founded and the reaction to its violation is expressed in a reasonable manner. The desire of exclusive possession appears at first sight to enter into St. Thomas Aquinas's concept also of envy, for he says that envy makes the good of another an evil to oneself, inasmuch as it lessens one's own excellence (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, 2a2ae, 36.1). But the point is that the envious person is saddened not precisely because he feels his exclusive right is violated when another possesses the good he envies, but because he feels lessened and humiliated when another is more favored than himself.
Not all displeasure at another's good is sinful: the good may be undeserved, as when an unworthy person is advanced to a position of trust and responsibility; the good may create a nuisance to others, as when the boy next door acquires a bugle; the good may be harmful to the possessor himself, as when sudden affluence comes to a person lacking the virtue to make good use of it.
But if it is supposed that the good is a true good, to be pained or displeased at another's enjoyment of it is sinful. Envy springs from pride, vanity, and ill-regulated self-love. It is sinful because it is opposed to the benevolence essential to charity. Its gravity is dependent on the importance of the good that is envied. The worst envy is that which looks with displeasure upon the spiritual good of another, for such envy has an obviously diabolical character. Envy is a venial sin when it is concerned with trivial goods or when, as is often the case, it is indeliberate or imperfectly voluntary.
From the time of Origen, envy has regularly been numbered among the capital sins; from it come hatred, calumny, detraction, and many types of malevolent behavior.
Some of the Fathers appear to have regarded envy as an incurable vice [e.g., St. Basil, Homilia de invidia, Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne, 161 v. (Paris 1857–66) 31:373], or as one curable only by a miracle. However, this must be understood, not of the vice or sin, but of the propensity to envy that is inherent in concupiscence.
The vice of envy is best and most radically remedied by the curbing of the pride, vanity, and self-love from which it comes. Growth in fraternal charity will inevitably weaken the disposition to envy.
Bibliography: l. desbrus, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 5.1:131–134. É. ranwez, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 4.1:774–785.
Envy is a primitive force in the personality that is opposed to, and therefore mounts destructive attacks upon, parts of the object felt to be good. It attacks aspects of the libido—love, constructiveness, integration—simply because of their life-giving characteristics. This notion first appears in Envy and Gratitude (Klein, 1957).
Freud was uncertain about the clinical usefulness of the concept of the death instinct. Klein found ways of showing its clinical relevance, especially in her work with children. The primary destructive force, the death instinct, aims at destroying the ego. Freud (1926) recognized that the ego needs to escape this very early experience of threat, and that it can do so by projecting the death instinct outwards. Thus the ego contrives to see the danger to itself as coming from external objects. This danger may then coincide, he thought, with some real external threat. As Klein (1932) added, the external object may be a harsh critical parent (then internalized as a persecuting superego). Then the external enemy can be attacked, as can other aspects of the death instinct turned against an external object. In both these processes of establishing outwardly directed impulses, the libido may fuse to some degree with the death instinct.
Later and in contrast with the above, Klein described a very different manifestation of death instinct: primary envy. In this instance the destructive force is directed against an external object that is not a threat but a good object, typically the mother's breast, which feeds and comforts. To the external good object is attributed a wish for life and a wish to preserve life in the ego. In this case, the good object represents a part of the libido projected into an external object. And it is attacked there by impulses derived from the death instinct now turned away from the ego itself. The death instinct, directed against those (libidinal) parts of the ego concerned with the wish to live, remains a destructive force against them when they are projected. Klein's view is a generalization and extension of Freud's notion of penis envy.
Klein developed the idea of the death instinct in terms of relations to the object and to the self. Rosenfeld (1971) described states in which the ego is dominated by aspects of the death instinct. Since Freud's theory of the death instinct was never fully accepted, Klein's idea of envy was also contentious (Joffe, 1969). Envy represents a primary kind of evil, and it is difficult often to accept such a state in an innocent infant.
Others have attributed aggression in infancy and childhood to frustration of libidinal impulses. Wilfred Bion described paroxysms of aggression arising in infants when an infant's insistent projection meets an uncontaining mother frightened by the infant's fear of death. Here the anger of frustration can appear much like envy.
Robert D. Hinshelwood
See also: Envy and Gratitude ; Links, attacks on; Logic(s); Narcissistic neurosis; Oral-sadistic stage; Primary object.
Freud, Sigmund. (1926). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.
Joffe, Walter. (1969). A critical review of the envy concept. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 50, 533-545.
Klein, Melanie. (1932). The psycho-analysis of children. London: Hogarth.
——. (1957). Envy and gratitude: A study of unconscious forces. London: Hogarth Press.
Rosenfeld, Herbert. (1971). A clinical approach to the psycho-analytic theory of the life and death instincts: An investigation into the aggressive aspects of narcissism. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52, 169-178.
Segal, Hanna. (1993). Review of A dictionary of Kleinian thought. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 74, 417-419.
en·vy / ˈenvē/ • n. (pl. -vies) a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck: she felt a twinge of envy for the people on board. ∎ (the envy of) a person or thing that inspires such a feeling: their national health service is the envy of many in Europe. • v. (-vies, -vied) [tr.] desire to have a quality, possession, or other desirable attribute belonging to (someone else): he envied people who did not have to work on weekends. ∎ desire for oneself (something possessed or enjoyed by another): a lifestyle that most of us would envy. DERIVATIVES: en·vi·er / ˈenvēər/ n.
220. Envy (See also Jealousy.)
- Amneris envious of Aida. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, Aida, Westerman, 325]
- Cinderella’s sisters envious of their sister’s beauty. [Folklore: Barnhart, 246]
- green symbol of envy; “the green-eyed monster.” [Color Symbolism: Jobes, 357; Br. Lit.: Othello ]
- Iago Othello’s ensign who, from malevolence and envy, persuades Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful. [Br. Lit.: Othello ]
- Joseph’s brothers resented him for Jacob’s love and gift. [O.T.: Genesis 37:4]
- Lensky envy of Onegin leads to his death in a duel. [Russ. Opera: Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin, Westerman, 395–397]
- Lisa envious of Amina; tries unsuccessful stratagems. [Ital. Opera: Bellini, The Sleepwalker, Westerman, 128–130]
- Snow White’s stepmother envious of her beauty, queen orders Snow White’s death. [Ger. Fairy Tale: Grimm, 184]
Envy ★★½ 2004 (PG-13)
Tim (Stiller) and Nick (Black) are buddies, neighbors, and coworkers at a sandpaper plant. Nick is a dreamer who's constantly coming up with wacky inventions that Tim reminds him are impossible or impractical. One of these ideas is Vapoorize, a spray that makes dog doo disappear. When Tim passes on a chance to get in on the deal and the spray becomes a monster success, his wife's (Weisz) scorn triggers a jealousy that sends him on a trail of petty revenge on Nick. Uneven comedy is elevated by the gleefully manic performance of Walken, as Tim's criminal inspiration, the J-Man. Black's clueless immersion in the overly opulent lifestyle is a kick, as well. 99m/ C DVD . US Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler, Christopher Walken, Hector Elias, Edward “Blue” Deckert, Ariel Gade, Sam Lerner, Lily Jackson, Connor Matheus; D: Barry Levinson; W: Steve Adams; C: Tim Maurice-Jones; M: Mark Mothersbaugh.