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Archive for the ‘envy’ Category

The trend of #liesgirlstell came up on twitter last weekend. I found a lot of retweets of this lie:

“Upload pics to Facebook, comment ‘I look so bad in this picture.'”

Made me think of why Samantha Brick was condemned. She took “bad” pictures and still liked herself.

How dare she!

When I see pictures of myself with other friends on Facebook, I usually look at myself first.  How do I look? Did those clothes work?  Whey didn’t someone tell me my hair looked like that?

Do I look okay?

A good photo can give me a feeling of security, while a bad photo can make me wonder about how well I really come across?

I know I’m not the only one. How many of us have photos in our Facebook albums that we know look better than we really look?

I do.

Right now I have this wallpaper pic on my cellphone background. It’s of me and my son. I’m smiling a typical, non-photo op smile which means the dent in my cheek is obvious and my eyes are crinkled.

It’s a smile of pleasure, not a smile of perfection. But it’s me, that is how I look when I’m happy.

I put it up because it helps me work on the reality of what I look like when I’m not posing.

Each time I pick at my cell phone I get a little reminder that I’m neither glorious or hideous. THAT this is what I look like.

Quick, I tell myself, now look inside, what is bubbling up.

When I’m feeling insecure, the picture bothers me. I don’t want to look like THAT. When I’m feeling relatively stable I think, “Hmm, that girl looks really open and happy. I like her.”

Sometimes I want to change my wallpaper to a picture of my son. It would be easier.

When we post up a picture when we have strawberries on our teeth or one eye closed then it’s fine to say, “I look funny in this picture.” Last night during our family photos I wound up with half-closed eyes for a photo. It looked really funny.

But when we scroll through pictures of ourselves and we’re looking

like we look and our friends think it looks

great

and we don’t like it.

Well, if it’s an honest picture,

wonder for a bit about why you don’t like that picture of yourself.

Do we judge ourselves for looking just plain?

Do we think we deserve less love for looking less than glossy?

“Bad” pictures are interesting for what they reveal about our own tendency to hate the working body and soul God gave us.  

Take a second and try to observe without criticizing your face.

Or try to giggle at your own photo for second, then notice the soul within.

You might find your insecurity melting into affection.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb …
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

The Message, Psalm 139:13-14


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When I first moved to Virginia I knew I needed friends. It was easy to find girls like me.

Photo credit: pamsclipart.com

That’s a rock solid foundation for a friendship: similar interests.

I found a friend, call her Debbie, who loved French class and good tea, talking theology and breaking out of the box in loving Jesus. She cared about organization (have I mentioned that I’m really organized?) and was a true servant.

Seriously, she was always available for me. I cried in her dorm room when I found out some horrible news and I felt comfortable enough to ask for help with my laundry when I was in a pinch.

She was faithful, too. She’d stand up for me and stuck by me when a few other friends badmouthed me.

Sounds like a perfect friend, doesn’t it?

Just when everything seemed to be going peachy, when I would talk to others about how great and stable, faithful and true Debbie was to me, her younger sister came to UVA.

I met and befriended her because I felt a loyally to her, through my friendship to Debbie.

Surprisingly, this angered Debbie. You can hypothesize all you want, you can call it jealousy or possessiveness. You can say I was short-sighted to expect to be friends with both sisters.

Regardless, Debbie confronted and turned on me in a verbal attack I’m glad I’ve mostly forgotten. The words were searing, they took advantage of weaknesses I had revealed and cut me off.

When I prayed and thought and in the end asked for another audience with her, it was as if I was talking to another person. She even mocked me for asking for another chance.

Debbie used our closeness to be cruel. She finished our conversation with warning me away from her sister and set me up for months and months of coldness. Anytime I tried to be warm she cut me off with sarcasm or belittling remarks.

About this time I began analyzing what I thought we had as a friendship.

Was it all my fault?

Could I do something to make things better?

Photo credit: static.freepik.com

But years later I see what was wrong. As Virginia Woolf says, “Truth had run through my fingers.  Every drop had escaped.”

I didn’t realize the truth of two major things.

First, Debbie was quick to meet any need I had, but she couldn’t share a need of her own. She never let me help her. I can’t even imagine her crying on my shoulder or letting me do her laundry. She was needless. This was the first lie in our friendship. Now, I believe Debbie thought other people would judge her if she showed her needs. She, like all of us, believed everyone was judging her as much as she was judging them.  In looking back I can see that any time I let her help me, she ended up feeling superior, stronger, more “together”. There is nothing quite so poisonous to a friendship as taking the moral high road.

Every time.

Debbie could not admit to failing, to being wrong, to needing from me.  But, ironically she did need something, she needed me to need her.

Second, Debbie disagreed with the cardinal rule for all my relationships: there is never a good reason to be unkind.  Dale taught me that years later, but looking back I can see that it is a principle grounded in the heart of everything good about love.  Debbie believed my friendship with her younger sister warranted cruelty. To date she remains one of the most unkind women I’ve been so close to.

Her about-face in how she treated me scared me because I felt as if I was involved with someone who had two personalities.  It shocked and sent me on a looping road of what I had done to cause this.

But if there really is never a good reason to be unkind, then I can still ask and expect kindness even if I’ve made a mistake.

Looking back it would be easy to think of the years of being Debbie’s friend as a waste, as time lost with someone I am no longer close to.

But, I feel both sadness and gratitude. Sadness over Debbie and her current friendships (I know she continues to have trouble being close to anyone).  Gratitude to God, for working a deeper awareness of love and how to build friendships. Love rejoices in the truth, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13. And I didn’t let the truth about Debbie come into my belief in how great she was.

I know I need to find women who really rejoice in the truth . . . about themselves.  I need . . .

1- Friends who will let me help them as well as who will help me.

2- Friends who follow their unkindness with humility and apology.

3- Friends who don’t secretly believe they are better than me. Friends who I feel lucky to be close to and who count themselves lucky to hang out with me.

Good friendships will be natural in one way and hard work in another. But the naturalness will grow and the hard work will feel like a highway going somewhere, not a looping track.

Virginia Woolf described that naturalness well at a dinner party where she beautifully writes about the rich yellow flame of good conversation.  “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

What poor foundations have you found in your friendships? Will you share with us so we can build stronger friends for the future?

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“Love” is a word we throw around and use often.  We know what it means, but have a hard time describing it.  A sticky “love” topic that is often not discussed is whether it is selfish to love yourself.  For exactly who you are.

Time Magazine Recent Cover

A fabulous edition of Time Magazine hit stands last week:  The Power of Shyness.  The issue had a number of articles on extroversion and introversion, two personality characteristics that help us understand who we are and what we are like.  In my work as  a psychologist, I find many people struggle with “self” questions on a personal, relational and particularly, a spiritual level.  Common questions are:

  • Is it selfish to love myself?
  • Is it okay that I am different from other people?
  • Am I okay how I am?  Do I need to change?
  • How do I embrace my personality, my life experiences, my past, my mistakes, my strengths and weakness?
  • How can I love myself and not be seen as selfish or self-absorbed in relationships and friendships?

Relationship With Myself

Just as we have relationships with others, we have a relationship with ourselves.  Think about that for a minute – how do you treat yourself?

DO YOU:

  • pay attention to how you are feeling?
  • speak to yourself with words of encouragement and hope?
  • follow your own instincts?
  • punish yourself when you make a mistake?
  • ask for help when you need it?

Putting The Cart Before The Horse
In friendships we often put the cart before the horse, so to speak.  We skip over practicing loving ourselves, and put ourselves in the position to love another person.

We make better friends when we begin by loving and accepting ourselves the way we were made.  When we do not first love ourselves, which is often misinterpreted as being selfish, we put other people in the position to respect us, support us and soothe us, when we will not do that for ourselves.  We put the cart before the horse.

The reciprocal is true, a friend that does not first love and accept herself puts you in the position for being responsible for “holding her together”. Her well-being is in your hands.  A friend like this is often experienced as someone that might be regularly needy, demanding, controlling, self-berating, emotionally reactive and has a low self-esteem.

In a sense, this is saying, “Take care of me, because I am not willing to do it myself.”

Examples: Can You Relate?

I don't want to make waves...

I polled a few friends before writing this post, asking their thoughts on this topic.  Here are a few responses I got:

  • I am a people pleaser so I often feel people won’t love me if I don’t help/please/fix them. Even if it something isn’t what I want to do or I don’t agree with it, I would generally rather experience the emotions associated with my own discomfort than to feel like I disappointed one of my friends.
  • I have a lot of needy friends who I feel like I hold together… one in particular who sent me a text yesterday to “check on me”  – my word!!!
  • Often my need to be in control is an attempt to relieve anxiety and feel secure, yet often results in frustration or regret. If I was much more secure with myself and at peace with myself, this urge would be less. This bleeds into my relationship with my boyfriend sometimes and recently affected a relationship with one of my best friends as I wanted to feel okay so attempted to control her behavior.
  • I don’t follow my instincts a lot of the time because I just want to keep the peace, not hurt feelings, or stir the pot. It’s a lot easier to sacrifice myself than have to manage other peoples’ disappointment in me.
  •  In an attempt to feel good about who I am, I am starting on a dangerous path when I compare what my friend’s look like, how much they weigh, what kind of job they have, or how big their social circle is. If I really think about it and got honest, it is revealing that by comparing upwards or downwards, something is off with my personal level of acceptance.
  • I get jealous of my best friend’s personality, looks and even success of her husband!  Not only am I not loving myself well when I listen to the messages of jealousy, but I’m bringing tension an resentment into a friendship that was otherwise ok.

Mole Hills Into Mountains

photo credit: Sally H. Falwell

We often deny our own wants, desires and needs so that we do not hurt feelings, make waves, cause ourselves or others discomfort.  This leads to small instances of not being who we really are, small instances of not speaking the truth right away, small instances of doing something I do not really want to do, small instances of swallowing the anger and resentment I feel at myself for not speaking up, and my friend for not being aware or asking.

Not What I Want, When I Want.  

When we do not represent ourselves out of fear of what will happen or what the response will be, we deny who we are.  This does not mean you speak unkindly, spit nails, act passive-agressively, or demean the other person.  It means you are willing to be honest and uncomfortable to get what you really want and value – to be known and valued in a relationship where there is room to be yourself and room to love, know and value the other person.

Part of loving someone else well IS loving yourself first.

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Real Simple magazine runs a monthly column called “Life Lessons”.  In this column, experts way in on the given topic.  One topic from 2011 was “Five Ways To Be A Better Friend.”  Here is the list with some added translation.

Stop Giving Advice.

“If you always tell your friend how to fix her problems…you’re not having a dialogue; you’re giving a lecture.”

Show A Different Side of Yourself.

“One great way to do [this] is to mix friends from different areas of your life – say, throw a get-together [or arrange a dinner out, a coffee date, a book club, etc]. Friendships benefit from a breath of fresh air.”

  • Sally adds:  Share, Hoggy May.   Offer your friends a chance to make new friends!  In my family, we use the term Hoggie May…referring to someone who will not share.  Sometimes it can be hard to share a good thing, but there is no need to be a Hoggie May, especially if you’ve found a good thing in someone!
  • As a side note, this friendship suggestion was made by Sally Horchow, co-author of one of our suggested books The Art of Friendship: 70 Simple Rules for Making Meaningful Connections.

Be (Genuinely) Happy For Your Friend’s Success.

“Friends want you to celebrate with them when good things happen.  Sometimes that’s harder than it sounds, especially if you’re a little jealous of your pal’s success.  Swallow that emotion*, because she doesn’t just need a shoulder to cry on in a crisis.  She’s also looking for someone to cheer her triumphs.  Joy shared is joy doubled.” (well, said, huh?)

  • *Sally adds…I definitely don’t suggest swallowing an emotion, but suggest working through it.  Jealousy is a natural human emotion and response.  One sure way to compound an emotion is to pretend it isn’t there…you land yourself in a tricky mess of the original emotion and others that join the parade – anger, irritation, resentment.
  • Also, female friendships are not just about “she was there when I needed her” where tears and hardship are concerned.  We all need cheerleaders to support us in our successes.  This can sometimes mean being happy for a friend’s new boyfriend, new job, promotion, personal triumph, bank account, pregnancy, smarts, happy marriage, weight loss, etc.  There is enough space in this world for us all to be successful and celebrate others’ growth and accomplishment.  

Make Small Gestures.

“You don’t have to go to great lengths – throwing a surprise party or giving an expensive gift – to show your friends you love them.”

Act Like a Nine-Year-Old.

“Grown-ups should work harder on seeing their friends.  When you’re in school, it’s easy.  Adults have to make more of an effort to see each other, and sometimes the don’t do that enough.”

  • Sally adds:  “Full court press” is not necessary here – you don’t have to make 100% effort with every single one of your friends.  As adults, our lives do not really allow for that.  Even if you make intentional effort with one or two individuals – that’s a great start!

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We were all eating at this small restaurant with a large bar.  My guy friend was making eyes at the waitress, my husband was pretending not to notice and I was annoyed.

When the flirting started in earnest, I protested that she was too old for him.

“You’re just jealous,” he said.  “All girls have it in for each other,” he muttered to his other friend at our table.

Catfight, girl-vs-girl, the mommy wars, call it what you like, but we’ve got this reputation that the only thing we hate more than a chauvinist is a gorgeous woman.  Men have lots of examples, my friend was about to give me some when I stopped him.

I took a second to pull into my heart and ask myself.

Was I really just jealous of our beautiful waitress?  When I thought it through I realized I wasn’t, instead I was annoyed that my friend was making a fool of himself and distracting our waitress from doing her job.  I felt that I was on her side more than his, advocating for a professional restaurant environment, wanting to give her a chance to show her competence more than her cleavage.

Maybe it was silly given that we were at a bar, but it wasn’t fueled by jealousy. I didn’t want my guy friend’s sexual attention. I wanted him to stop behaving like the dogs on Up, distracted by his “squirrel”.
We were in the middle of a good conversation about the motivations for late term abortion when his nose went up and he sniffed her, “Female!”  I wanted to keep talking and I thought I could sense that our waitress was anything but interested.In Mad Men, AMC’s award-winning series centering on workplace dynamics in the 1960’s, the marketing firm tries to sell Playtex bras.  The begin assuming each woman wears a bra for a man to notice her. Bras are for men.

They make the same mistake my guy friend made, thinking women are around for men’s benefit, forgetting his waitress had a job to do, just like the men on Mad Men forget the very practical points of bra-wearing for women in and of themselves.

My theory is that most of the girl vs. girl animosity out there begins with this false belief: women are around for men’s benefit.  If guys are the prize and your victory with my male friend means my loss, then you are automatically my enemy.

But, if you offer more to this world than a man’s accessory, then you can be more to a woman than her competition.

You can be her friend.

photo credit: webstockpro.com, screenrant.com/mad-men-season-4-premiere-end-date-sandy-55399, downwithsquirrels.blogspot.com/2011/01/great-squirrel-war-beginning.html

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Let me tell you about a wicked cake.

We all want to make a great layered cake of friendship, but another rising concoction threatens our time and our love in friendships.

What goes into a frenemy relationship?

Terri Apter, co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships writes that “among female friends there is: a wish to offer support and see a friend thrive, on the one hand, and a fear of being left behind or out-shone, on the other.”

Women have love and unkindness mixed into every friendship.  Unkindness fueled by envy or insecurity.

Mix envy into kindness for a friend and you have a frenemy cake. This concoction happens almost spontaneously, rarely intentionally, always insidiously.  As Sally explained in A Gossipy Fine Line, frenemy behavior can be as easy as gossip.

Frenemy in Training

I see the frenemy cake rising in myself.

I come home after a long day spending time with a woman I don’t like. Actually she doesn’t like me, stinging me with little snippy comments, like nettles in my soul.  I hate being insulted without being able to put my finger on the exact insult. Women do that well, smooth as cream even when they’re working against you.

I loathed this woman more each moment I spent with her, wanting to not care, but caring deeply about what she thought of me.

I see layer one rising: insecurity.

I was bound by obligation to remain with her and yet longed to pull out my bag of thistles and give her a taste of my needles.  The battle I fought to not lash out left me mostly silent, often despondent and as my husband told me afterwards, looking like I was trying too hard.

Darn it all!  Why did I even bother trying to be nice when it feels like a losing battle?

Layer two rising on top: disgust with both myself and this “friend.”

So in the evening hours I took refuge in my hotel room with my books and music, my notebook full of observations for a writing project and a bag of cherries soothing my pin-pricked emotions.

I feel all the distaste for my own sex as I check emails, update on blogs, spend time lingering on friend’s updates thinking of things that are too embarrassing to admit.

Unkind things toward those I call friends.

Surely, not ME

Perhaps because I was hoping to outgrow it, I didn’t pay  much close attention to this spongy cake.

But now I’m sure, whenever I’m feeling insecure about who I am, frenemy cake is cooking in the oven.

One way to melt the power of frenemia, to resist the temptation to make my cake and eat it, too, is to throw open the door on the reality in my soul.  If you haven’t faced the frenemy in you, I can guarantee it looks a lot worse than you first expect. And like most messes I’m afraid it’s going to look a lot worse before it’s going to look better.

Confession

As I’ve written (I’m Worse, You’re Better), confession is all about owning things.

Confession is a lost practice.  We rarely do it, or do it only generally (“Yea, I gossip, sometimes).

Confession is like diving naked into a pool, it feels cold and stunning and in the end almost too good to be true.

One reason I follow Jesus is because he came for sick people he wanted to make clean.  As long as I remain convinced that I need to be cleaned up, every day, again and again, I can be a Christ follower.  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

In one account of Jesus life I found this: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ (Luke 18:9-13).

Jesus praised the tax collector.

When I admit I’m insecure and unkind to friends, Jesus is right at my elbow, cheering me onward into honesty.

Like a woman who confessed at a recent retreat “Lord, forgive me for my one-upmanship”, we all can agree we have that problem, too.

Take a moment and consider what provokes you to cook up a frenemy cake in your soul.

What’s your first layer of insecurity?

Your second layer of unkindness?

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A few years ago, when I had neighbors I could see from my window, I noticed my fashionista neighbor in her short skirt and scoop neck top working outside.  Before I could stop myself, I was comparing.  If I stood next to her, which of us has the better body?  I thought twice about what I’m wearing before going outside to garden, guessing that she might be checking me out from her side window, too.

An Appetite for Competing

Who Gets Brad?

Why do we do this?  Maybe it’s because from a young age, we’re told to compare.  In People or Star we see Angelina Jolie pitted against Jennifer Aniston and realize that if these two perfections of female stardom and sophistication have to compete, then we’re doomed.

In Susan Barash’s book Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry, she found that in all socio-economic levels and in all friendships women compete against each other, comparing hemselves to “friends, coworkers, sisters, even to their own daughters”.

When Barash interviewed women she found sisters envying each other, single women envied married women, married women having affairs envied their lovers’ wives, or happily married friends.  Stepmothers and mothers envied each other, as did first and second wives.  Divorced women envied those still married.  Married women envied the divorcees who had gone on to find a better life or better man.

One woman said she chose to live in a small town, “So there would be less competition”; other women avoided certain parties.  As she put it, “I don’t want my husband to meet too many single, beautiful women.”

Competing for WHAT?

We’re not always fighting for a man but we often are.  In today’s great recession, jobs are scarce, as are the chances to have some power (to run an organization, a book club, a bible study).  Good female friends are in high demand. If she becomes friends with someone else, will she still have time for me?

Good men are scarce, too (the Jolie/Aniston comparison game was usually over Brad, right?)  It is the repeating problem for women (and I don’t doubt of men, too) of wanting to be noticed by the opposite sex.  How much will we sacrifice to get this attention? In all of Jane Austen’s books she explores just how much a woman’s character kept her from compromise to land a good marriage.

How desperate are we to get what we want?

Hungry for Love

My rivalry swells from my insecurity.  If I hold back and don’t market myself, my books, my blog, my speaking niche, will there be enough of what I need left?

If I believe that you might be better than me in some essential thing I think I need to get ahead, then I will become afraid.  Fear, the opposite of love, ruins too many friendships. This is why John says in 1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out all fear.” The opposite is also true, perfect fear casts out love.

Women who are hungry for love fight more viciously for attention, like hungry seagulls fighting for a scrap of food. Envy actually points to our impoverishment.

Despite the women’s movement to change this problem, we still focus our rivalry almost exclusively on each other. The worse part: we rarely admit it.  OTHER women get all catty and into their own drama, but not us. Barash found that most women take several interviews before admitting that they suffer from envy.

Most women claim that they have the best, closest friendships among women.  I agree.

But Barash notes two forces that keep women from being honest:

1- The fear of feminists blaming them for destroying the beautiful picture of female friendship.

2- The pressure to look like the “good girl” who is not suffering from something as childish as an envy problem.

Owning it

I haven’t found a lot of friends eager to admit that they compare themselves with women who are younger, older, more beautiful, more successful, unless someone else admits it first.   We’re not eager to admit that we have salty glances, sour eyes for those in the “sisterhood.”

How can we admit it?

We might be The. Only. One.

But if you have the courage to join me, even with a simple comment (“I compare, too”) watch how many other competitors lay down their arms and step forward.  If you do, thanks for joining us in this sisterhood of confession.

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