Borderline States, Counselling, Madness, Psychoanalysis, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, The Inner World, The unconscious


Every day brings news of a new violation. Yahoo answers tell me that , worldwide, one person is murdered every minute. (And we talk of animals being dangerous killers!) Today I was thinking particularly of the Paris killings and of the death of Becky Watts. I wonder if one common link between these two murders is Envy. We know that Nathan Matthews has spoken of his envy of Becky. It also seems probable that, at least in part, envy plays a role in the latest Paris killing (linked once more to Syria.) In each case there seems to be an undying belief that someone else is getting what is “rightfully” mine. Be that political recognition, wealth and prestige or simply more love. The etymology of envy is, simply, “feeling ill will at another’s fortune”. Melanie Klein, an early and highly influential psychoanalyst who came after Freud,  suggests that an envious attack is  launched on something good (see my piece last week about internal objects.). The attack is made simply because the object is good. That becomes a source of envy. This is compounded by a feeling of being left out. That everyone else gets / has all the good things except me. (A familiar feeling in families, friendships, marriages, organisation and nations to name a few.) Most of the time, most of us can manage our envy. Either by reminding ourselves of  the good things we have-both within and without. Or by doing something about the root of our envy. Many a thing has been accomplished by a person thinking “Well, he or she can do that. Sod it, so can I! (If envy leads on to reparation, then it can be a healthy spur .When it is allied to the death instinct, it can morph into murderous rage and hatred. Just watch a set of children playing. Or a couple of dogs with a bone.)

In clinical work, envy can be a spoiler. The patient becomes so envious of the therapist that they find any contribution intolerable. Rather being able to take in something nourishing, they are so incensed that their envy leads them to try to destroy the therapist and any good thing they might say or do. This might be one way of thinking about ISIS and similar groups. Their envy leads them to destroy the envied object rather trying to take some nourishment from it. One of the many tragic aspects of the killing of Becky Watts is that her step brother’s envy was not understood early enough. (Which is not to blame anyone or anything.) If he had been able to talk about his murderous envy in a safe place, it is just possible that this enormous tragedy might have been avoided.

Much the same might be said of ISIS and their kin. If we had understood their envy of us, we might have been able to prevent many deaths. And those yet to come. (Perhaps it’s time for the Prime minister to appoint a resident psychoanalyst to his team. Or a sub team of therapists working as  a parallel group to the cabinet, using their understanding of parallel processes to inform the work of the politicians.)


2 thoughts on “Envy

  1. An interesting insight, and I think that you’re right that envy as you define it is part of the story here. In fact, tracing the griefs of the near and middle east back to biblical times, isn’t there always some Esau and Jacob going on…? And if we understand the envy – is that enough to defuse the bomb it holds? I don’t feel I understand the socio-political roots of these problems enough to do any more than muse and feel very sombre.


    • That problem of “so what?” almost stopped me writing the blog. Diagnosis isn’t too difficult-particularly from afar!I don’t know how one changes things. I suspect we will always have envy as the root of social / political problems. From rape to ISIS to burglary .How do we create a ‘fair” society-let alone a fair global society? Mercifully I’m just a lowly counsellor and blogger!


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