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  • Elise V Allan

Competition And Jealousy

first published July 2018


Last week I wrote about jealousy and envy. Dipping into my metaphorical postbag, I notice that the original request to write about jealousy was in the context of competition.

Does competition increase creativity? In the 1980s a researcher called Teresa Amabile developed methods of assessing the creativity of artistic projects, and found that when subjects created art in response to evaluations, competition, or promised rewards, their work was judged to be less creative as compared to those who created artwork in the absence of these controlling pressures.

But good opportunities for artists have a sense of scarcity, which creates competition. That suits our economy. And it suits those who like to think in terms of power and hierarchies.

If being in competition with others gets under our skin emotionally and in terms of how we feel about ourselves, we can deprive ourselves of the benefits of cooperation, care and respect - for ourselves and others.  Feeling that if they ‘win’ the prize we wanted, we will lose our self-esteem and self-respect, we can easily begin to see others as the enemy. If the opportunities have financial rewards attached, the feeling of Them against Me can be intensified. And this is often with the people who are the most likely to be our natural allies, who understand something of what drives us and makes us tick.

While working in Higher Education I’ve watched year groups who have co-operated and supported one another do well, in terms of marks as well as in terms of well-being.  I’ve watched year groups where competition and jealousy are strong underperforming and struggling more with low self esteem.

I had an aunt who, as a child, was a great runner. At her first Sunday School trip there were races. “Goodness,” my grandmother heard someone say, “That little fat girl can really run!” Then young Dorothy stopped and looked back, and seeing that everyone else was way behind her, she shouted encouragingly, “Come on!” and waved them all past. She hadn’t yet bought into ‘Me against them.’  The strange thing is, it’s easy as an adult to interpret her behaviour as altruistic; but she wasn’t giving anything up, she was increasing her enjoyment of running with others. This is how we are before we’re taught to compete.

When we fall into jealousy of others, we relinquish our enjoyment of being part of a creative community, of creating with others who share our passion. There are many people I’ve known, who have done well in terms of sales, reputation, and respect, and who have been incredibly generous and supportive towards me. Perhaps many will have forgotten helping me, but I suspect that their generosity has been a factor in sustaining their own fires.

But I know what it’s like to be sick with jealousy. Like a hangover, it feels like toxins are churning through our systems. What to do?

First of all, we can challenge the ideas behind our feelings. We can’t control how others see us, or our work. If we have attached our self-esteem to someone else’s opinion we have disempowered ourselves. If we have attached our self-esteem to the quality of our work, we have greatly diminished our concept of who we are. But finding this out gives us information we can use; we see where we have been conditioned into accepting society’s agreements. We didn’t create those agreements, and we are not our conditioning. We are much more. Witnessing this begins to build self-respect. If we have enough to eat and a roof over our heads, we have all we need. If we could see that everything else is a luxury, the intensity of our good fortune would be astounding.

Secondly, there are ways to discharge the feelings, and detox. It takes work, and I’ve had a lot of help in learning to clear and recover from emotional impacts and change my habitual responses (thanks Joe Logan!)

We relinquish even more of our autonomy and self-esteem as we feed ourselves the toxicity of jealousy. Then, if we throw in a sense of shame about the jealousy, it’s easy to dig a deeper and deeper hole. Any change requires that I step up and make the choice to stop digging. I am not my feelings or thoughts. I am not the sub personalities who are possessed by certain feelings or obsessions. Connecting with who I am might take tears, laughter, affection, or becoming immersed in beauty; anything that is powerful enough to wake us up from the insane dream we’ve got trapped in. The body helps. Whether through dancing, running, breath work, yoga, or a body scan (a mindfulness exercise), connecting with our bodies can support us to see past the unrealities of the beliefs behind the emotions, and begin to recover. Have your feet and hands ever been jealous?

If you would like to find out whether one to one creativity coaching is right for you, I offer a free 30 minutes trial session, in person, by Skype or Zoom.

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