Readers dilemma: I am not usually competitive, but I am jealous of my sister, who has made a lot of money and plans to retire soon and travel the world. We are both in our 40s. I have struggled for money all my life as a single mother. Envy has changed the way I think of her and I almost wish her bad fortune (only about money). I compete with her over silly things, such as how much exercise we do, who works harder and who is the better parent. Please help me accept that our lives followed different paths and, while I do meaningful work I love, I will never be rich. She owns houses, cars and has a trust fund for her child, who is brainy and a gifted athlete. I have wonderful children too but my sister just seems to win on all fronts... Name supplied
Mary's answer: Thank you for being open about a feeling that many experience, but few will admit, let alone have the courage to try and change. I talked to Eddie Chauncy because he is not only a therapist, but an accountant. He suggests a cognitive trick for when we catch ourselves obsessing about someone else’s life. It’s saying out loud the simple phrase ‘that is what she is doing, but this is what I am doing’. It acknowledges the distraction, but also encourages you to refocus on your own life. You will know from your own children that sibling rivalry is a normal part of finding our place in the world. Within a family unit, everyone is sharing resources, so we compare ourselves, and it is also the first place we learn about the power of emotional triggers. I am sure that, on a certain level, you are aware that your sister has troubles too, whether or not she tells you about them. Part of your frustration could be that this awareness does not make the di cult emotion go away. Is it possible to acknowledge that we are all bigger than any one feeling, and be tender with the part of you that feels the pain of envy – perhaps saying to yourself ‘this is hard right now’? There are other parts of you that can feel proud of raising wonderful children, and knowing that they are also proud of you. Is there a way to turn the competitive urge in a positive direction, and create even more fulfi lment in your life? In Chauncy’s words: ‘It sounds harsh, but it’s true: we distract ourselves with comparisons, but the real progress is made working on our own lives.’ He fi nds that small things can ‘reduce the discomfort of debt and need and make more space to live a fulfi lled life’. Again, part of you knows this – you mention meaningful work – so it might be about making tiny tweaks to your habits, such as consciously noticing and celebrating moments in your day when you think ‘money can’t buy this feeling’.
Need more help? Get free online coaching! We've launched a world-class online coaching club which you can access exclusively and for free when you subscribe to Psychologies magazine!