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Cronos and his Children

 Envy and Reparation

 Mary Ashwin

[ Contents |Introduction |Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Conclusion | References ]

Chapter 5: Conclusion

The object of this work was to evaluate Chaucer's claim that envy is the worst sin, that it is against all goodness and all virtue. It was also to consider Aquinas' statement that the worse the vice the better always the opposite virtue in relation to envy. I realise that I had imbued Aquinas' aphorism with a meaning that was not there. I had constructed a notion that if there was a sin, or a problematic psychological trait, embedded in an individual, the opposing virtue was latent in that same person. Also I had added the thought that there was some proportionality, some counterbalance of amount. In other words the greater the envy the greater the opposite, positive potentiality. Although this hope for a neat equation is embarrassing to own, and in fact runs counter to my view of the danger of trying to fit the human psyche into  neat compartments and causalities, I think it is interesting that I had the need for an unverifiable idea, a hope, whilst writing this work.

   My research shows me that Chaucer was right, both theologically and psychologically: there is nothing quite like envy in its hydra-headed power to subvert and destroy all goodness. It is rightly called a capital or cardinal sin. Many other sins arise from envy; it leads to many pathological  ways of thinking and behaving. Not only is envy a deadly sin it is also, or can be a deadly trait. This is a bleak view and much of what I have written is bleak and uncompromising. The last three chapters have dwelt on the coruscating power of envy. I have not been able to  find a case study describing the process of the patient, gripped with excessive envy  coming, through analysis and the psychotherapeutic process, in the fullness of time, to a flowering of their creative ability, able to give and receive love.

   The task which we as psychotherapists have chosen is to delve into the psyche; this is necessarily dark work. It is analogous to miners working at the coal face, hard, unremitting labour. Often it is a dirty and thankless task but what miners liberate from the confines of the coal seam is an important fuel capable of producing light and heat. It may be thought I have concentrated too much on the refractory and adamantine aspects of envy but it seems to me that in failing to acknowledge its power and the damage it inflicts on the envier and the envied we collude with it. As Camus says, 'There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night' (quoted in Young,1994:142).

   It is by bringing envy into the light that its power can be defused. 'If we refuse to talk about our experiences of envy we conspire with its savage attempts to annihilate the good, anything that is in any way good, however we define it. For finally, envy between persons is a displacement of our own relation to the  good' (Ulanov,1983:9).  Psychotherapy does not eliminate envy or any of our destructive, primitive impulses, but it does make them conscious so that we are not at their mercy. When envy is made conscious, and suffered consciously we are less likely to be driven to attack whatever our antennae have sensed as good. The urge will be there, but we have an element of choice; if we succumb we know what it is we are doing.

   The picture is not wholly gloomy. In my work with Mrs. W. there have been times in sessions and whole sessions when she was able to take in, accept, digest and use what I offer. Her relations with her family and friends have improved. The length of time she is able to hold these changes before the destruction begins is becoming more longer. She is beginning to see me as neither the hoped-for perfect therapist nor as the totally hopeless, inadequate and malevolent one she frequently perceived me to be, but as more or less good enough.


Opposites of Envy

Finding the opposite of envy, in order to discover the opposing virtue, is an insoluble problem, it seems to me, because on one hand there are two kinds of opposite, and on the other it is because envy is so multi-facetted that it is impossible for it to have one exact opposite encapsulating all its properties.

  There is the opposite which is like the obverse side of a coin, inextricably bound to the other but showing a different face; the opposites mutate  and modulate from one to the other with fluidity, both needing the other to exit. Examples are envy and emulation, love and hate. There are also the opposites which are poles apart like life and death, love and apathy, and, as paired by Klein, envy and gratitude. In German there is the word gonnen which means not to begrudge, to be pleased, glad, happy for. This has the sense of being pleased for another's good fortune which is anathema to envy. Gratitude is being grateful for something whether received or within oneself; it is being thankful for and appreciative of. It also has the added possibility of an inclination to return kindness.

   As I have already indicated I think there are, broadly speaking, two levels of envy. Everyday envy, which was described in Chapter 2, and the more serious, pathological aspects of envy discussed in Chapter 3. The problems that can be encountered in the therapeutic process are explored in Chapter 4.  Everyday envy has a function to encourage us to move. It is the prick that goads us on. It is the psychological co-ordinate of the biological trope towards the survival of the fittest. It urges us to fill out our character; what we envy is a good indicator of what is lacking in our make-up. It is like the developing agent in photography; from the nebulous shadow of the negative there develops the full picture with light and shade. This is the envy which is the counterpart of emulation; it may belittle or backbite but there is a sense, near consciousness, that what is denigrated is something which is good, necessary and attainable.

   Pathological envy sees what it needs but cannot allow assuagement, for the object is despoiled and rendered noxious. In its most devastating and entrenched form it recognises and is compelled to attack any goodness within. We have seen how the self-envying have within them an elaborate, disciplined and systematic array of mechanisms to  abort, destroy or obliterate any memory of goodness received, or any stirring of movement towards life, growth, relationships and creativity.


Admiration, Emulation, Gratitude and Generosity

Emulation and admiration are alike, and admiration is sometimes held to be the opposite of envy (Sandell,1993). There is, however, a difference: admiration is more passive. It is a regard for an object, a warm approval, whereas emulation strives to equal or surpass the admired object.

   Freud wrote to Einstein in 1929, congratulating him on his fiftieth birthday. The exchange of letters is analyzed by Ilse Grubrich-Simitis (1995). It should be remembered that Einstein had been awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 1921. Freud reminds Einstein that he is nearly a quarter of a century older and congratulates the younger man on all his good fortune. Freud had previously written to Marie Bonaparte that Einstein was a 'lucky fellow [who] had had a much easier time than I have'(1995, p.116). Einstein, who had many battles and problems all his life, responded, putting Freud in his place, 'Although you may have slipped into the skins of so many people, and even of mankind itself, you have had no opportunity of slipping into mine!'(ibid)  Freud replies immediately, acknowledging the double edge of expressions of goodwill and confesses his envy, but he  says, ' Envy need not be something ugly. Envy can include admiration and is reconcilable with the friendliest feeling for the person envied' (p.117). Here Freud is describing benign envy.

  Maybe there was some aggression in Freud's letters. He obliterates Einstein's difficulties and sees only the success, a sure sign of envy, though, to be fair to Freud, he may not have known Einstein's background. (Einstein abhorred any personal revelations.) He does not seek to undermine Einstein's work. He had good reason to envy Einstein in that he had always wanted a Nobel prize but never had that honour conferred on him. Freud had sought to give psychoanalysis respectability by emphasising his scientific background and presenting his work as verifiable knowledge emanating from research. In writing to the eminent physicist he acknowledges that he envied physics its 'beautiful clarity, precision and certainty' (ibid), and contrasts his own field, 'the uncertainty and vagueness of our libido, energies, instincts and cathexes' (ibid). He also says why he is in love with his subject. 'There is not greater, richer, more mysterious subject, worthy of every effort of the human intellect, than the life of the mind. Psychology is surely the most beautiful of all noble ladies; it is just that her  knight is doomed to remain unhappy in his love'(ibid).

    The dichotomy between the inability to pin down the human psyche, dissect and arrive at verifiable conclusions, the need to understand what it is that happens in the psychotherapeutic process in analyzable and quantifiable terms remains today. In the end when there has been a successful outcome of a therapy we cannot be certain what it was that made the difference;  the painstaking analysis of material, the relationship between therapist and  patient, the patient's own  movement towards health and wholeness or a subtle interaction of all three with, perhaps, something indefinable added. If we knew there would be no failed, unsuccessful or unsatisfactory therapies. As Young (1994) says, 'We learn by putting something out and finding what comes back. Our relationship with the world is a phenomenological 'I-thou', not a scientistic 'I-it'. It is evocative knowledge' (p.70).

   Klein sees gratitude as both the cure and the hoped-for outcome of the analysis of a deeply envious person; the patient needs to experience gratitude for the work of the  analyst, and, thereby, remember again their earliest gratitude towards the mother for food and love  - re-establish a good object. This will increase the capacity for enjoyment and acceptance of self and lessen the pangs of envy. It is by experiencing gratitude for goodness received from outside, recognising it as good and taking it in that will allow us, in time, a sense of gratitude for the goodness that is within and belongs to us. Klein writes of a session with a woman with whom she had been working extensively for an unspecified time.

            The patient now experienced a feeling of happiness and gratitude more vividly than in previous analytic sessions. She had tears in her eyes which was unusual, and said that she felt she had had an entirely satisfactory feed... her  envy had lessened; the capacity for enjoyment and gratitude had come to the fore... In the course of the analysis envy was diminished and feelings of gratitude became much more frequent and lasting( 1957, p.206).

   In Purgatory Dante describes the second cornice where the sin of envy is purged; he hears voices crying through the air examples of generosity. He meets the shining Angel of Generosity. It seems, however, that generosity, like  emulation, can slip all too easily into its opposite. It can be used as a means of inciting envy by the giving of expensive gifts thus demonstrating the generous person's affluence. This is exemplified by potlatch, a ceremonial distribution of gifts by North American Indians, particularly the Kwakutl. Guests who have received gifts are expected to reciprocate by holding their own potlatch later. They will often try to outdo the original benefactor by giving gifts of even greater value, thus establishing their own superiority and wealth. The Canadian government passed several laws in attempts to outlaw this custom. However, in Purgatory, the Angel uses a whip to scourge the sin of envy which is  'fashioned from the cords of love' (Canto xiii l.39).  Love is the one virtue which is able to withstand envy in its attack and not be corrupted, nor totally annihilated. As Saint Paul observed, 'Love envieth not' (Corinthians I 13 v.4).



For all envy's hydra-headed array of attributes, mechanisms and defence, in essence it is best described as anti-life, anti-movement, anti-creativity and anti-relationship. In its rapacious attack and evisceration of all goodness, life and creativity, it is the prime exemplar of Thanatos, both in its aggressive, destructive mode or its insidious, numbing action.  In these terms envy's opposite is Eros. Chaucer says the 'remedy for Envy is to love God, your neighbour and your enemy'(p.506). (He should have added perhaps 'and yourself'.) This was exactly the same prescription given by the author of Jacob's Well (Chap. 1). Love, I use the word to cover all its aspects as discussed in Chapter 3, is what the envious find most hard, both as subject and object.1  The fight with envy is a personal life and death struggle which reflects the larger battle. 'The history of civilisation is the struggle between Eros and Death. It is what all life essentially consists of' (Freud, 1930:122). It is love which is able to seep through, in homeopathic doses, the defence that envy erects, and is eventually able to dissolve part of the hard, ugly shell that covers the grain of discrimination which lies at its centre. It is not its function to melt all envy, we are not aspiring to sanctity, but to integrate the dark and the positive aspects of our personalities.

   As we saw in Chapter 3 Eros is a complex concept. Rollo May (1969) says, '"Eros is a daimon." So simply and directly Plato informs us and his banqueting friends in The Symposium of the depth-dimension of love'(p.122).  May defines the daimonic as 'any natural function which has the power to take over the  whole person' (his italics, p.123). He notes that a daimon can be destructive or creative; the medieval spelling is daemon from which we get demon. Life is the movement between the two poles, the two aspects of the daimonic. Many artists, poets,  writers and composers have a sense of the daimonic and its crucial relationship with their creativity. The struggle with the daimonic forces is what fuels their output.

                                           And in my heart the daemons and the  gods

                                                         Wage an eternal battle...

                                              (W.B.Yeats quoted in May 1969:127)

Rilke on learning what psychotherapy aspired to, left explaining 'If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as  well' (quoted in May, 1969:122). Although we may not agree with Rilke's supposition that the business of psychotherapy is to iron out and remove the devils, there is also some sympathy for his wishing to leave some parts of his psyche unexplored and untamed.  However, it is the struggle between the devils and the angels that produce any work of creativity. Psychotherapy will not rid us of our devils, demons or sins. It will, we hope, help to moderate, modulate and ameliorate, so they are not in control. The courageous person is not the one who is fearless, but the  one who is fearful and conquers their fear.

   Among the major arcana of the Tarot deck is the Chariot; the illustration is usually of a man in a chariot with two horses or sphinxes, one black, the other, white. Its meaning is about the need for balancing conflicting emotions, feelings and impulses. In Freudian terms this would translate as balancing the id and the superego; in Jungian, holding the opposites. To continue on his journey the charioteer needs both steeds, without one or the other his chariot would overbalance and he would be lost.


Reparation and Creativity

Whilst reading for this paper I had come across a quotation from Hannah Segal on the recovery of lost objects and creativity, which I did not make a note of. It seemed, at the time not to be relevant, not to be consonant with my train of thought. Later I half remembered the quote and realised that it was just what I needed, but then I could not remember where I had read it. The half memory  haunted me and I took a lot of time in fruitless questing through papers and books. At length I was told where to find it. I read it with relief and gratitude. A little later I read it again in the context of where it was quoted, the chapter on Cultural Space in Young's Mental Space. This was even better. I found the ideas I had been trying to formulate put into words. Then I felt chagrin; not only had all I wanted to say been said it had been expressed better than I could.  Mentally I threw my hands in the air and consigned my work to the bin.  The fact that I did not, that the Cronos in me did not destroy this work on this and other occasions, shows there is the possibility that envy is not so impervious and intractable as the previous chapters suggested. I relate this incident because it led to a train of thought.

    The infant at first attacks the breast on which it is dependent. It is later in development that the internal attack occurs. I do not think that this self envy is a constitutional, inherent trait. I wonder if the disposition to attack one's own goodness comes about because it requires a certain degree of security to attack that which is outside and upon which we are dependent. I recognize that the infant may not, initially, be aware of the boundary between itself and the breast, but it soon recognises the breast as part object and mother as whole object. In happy situations the baby's actual or phantasy attacks on the mother will be responded to with patience and love and so the bad object again becomes the good object. If the infant's fears of retaliation or withdrawal as a result of its attack are realised, or perceived as occurring, would it not learn in time that this was not safe thing to do?  The envious feeling will still have to be discharged so, perforce, the child turns them inwards as projection feels too dangerous.

   To return to the link between the need for reparation and creativity.

            Segal says, "all creation is really a re-creation of a once-loved and once whole, but now lost and ruined object, a ruined internal world and self. It is when the world within us is destroyed, when it is dead and loveless, when our loved ones are in fragments, and we ourselves are in helpless despair - it is then that we must recreate our world anew, reassemble the pieces, infuse life into dead fragments, re-create our life" (Segal, 1981, p.190). In a postscript to this essay, "A Psychoanalytic Approach to Aesthetics" (written almost thirty years later) she reiterates her main thesis "that the essence of the aesthetic creation is a resolution of the central depressive situation and that the main factor in the aesthetic experience is the identification with this process" (p.204). On this view culture is a reparative process, mending a rent caused by the primitive self's own destrutive impulses in the inner world. It is an attempt to move from the persecution and fragmentation of the "paranoid-shizoid position" ... to the depressive position by means of reparation (Young, 1994:30-31).

The creative process arises out of the need for a reparative act. The need is transformed into action by the movement away from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive. This process can be thwarted, the creation aborted or held in unresolved gestation. I have in mind a friend, a talented artist who has never realised her potential. She has always had a difficult relationship with her mother. She wants, she needs, to paint but finds it almost impossible to do it. She was given a commission of a portrait and felt the delight of the trust and affirmation that implied and set to work. She was unable to finish; deadlines came and went. There was always something that was not quite right. Often areas would be painted out completely. Interestingly the portrait was of an older woman. The need to make reparation was there but, I think, it was the mechanisms of her self-envy which would not allow her to bring the project to completion.



The Opposites

The act of creation in biological terms is the fusion of male and female elements to make a third - a union of  opposites. I think this principle holds true for any creative act. Jung's conception of the psyche is of a system which is dynamic, in constant movement. He  called the psychic energy the libido, using the term in its general sense of desire, longing, urge. The libido flows between opposing poles like the diastole and systole of the heart or, as in an electric circuit, the energy flows between positive and negative poles. The opposites have a regulatory function, when an extreme is reached the energy flows into its opposite - the law of enantiodromia.

   So what exactly is the process that redeems the irreconcilable opposing energies; the need to create and repair and the desire to kill off any growth or expansion?  After the  unconscious envy has been analyzed and brought kicking and screaming into the light of consciousness, how is it that the movement towards Eros and away from Thanatos is effected and maintained?  I would suggest in order to bring a piece of work to completion, to ensure its safe delivery and keep it safe from Cronos' ravages something intangible and profoundly important has to occur.



Whether we describe the process in psychoanalytic terms or mythical terms, that tells us what has happened, it has not told us how.  It seems to me we need a symbol to try to understand the how. It is too indefinable, subtle and delicate to be described in terms of mechanisms. 'It is a fact that symbols, by their very nature, can so unite the opposites that these no longer diverge or clash, but mutually supplement each other and give a meaningful shape to life (Jung, 1963:307). The symbol in this context which seems most appropriate is the serpent.

  In most civilisations the serpent has a positive interpretation and is revered. 'The serpent represents the power of life engaged in the field of time, and of death. yet  eternally alive. The world is but its shadow - the falling skin (Campbell, 1988:47). In the first chapter we saw the serpent in biblical terms, as the instigator of man's fall from grace, the embodiment of evil and envy. This is a peculiarly Judeo-Christian gloss. 2 Then there was the Orphic belief in the serpent as Promethean bringer of knowledge, to free humanity kept in subjugation by a petty and envious Yahweh.  Like all powerful symbols the serpent holds the possibility of both good and evil, which is the opposite of dualism. The serpent sloughs off its skin thus becoming a symbol of death and transformation. In Sumerian mythology Gilgamesh plunged down to the floor of the cosmic ocean to pick the plant of immortality, but he lost it when he  came ashore and the serpent ate it. So, whereas, the serpent can shed its skin and be reborn, man is mortal and must die.

The symbol of the Ouroborus, the snake which swallows its own tail,  appears in many traditions. In classic antiquity it is able to embrace the entire universe. It is often depicted as  being half dark and half light as in the chinese Yin-Yang symbols which again underlines its ambivalence, and, as it is in circular form, its wholeness.3 The snake is a symbol of healing, 'Perhaps the commonest dream symbol of transcendence is the snake, as represented by the therapeutic symbol of Aesculapius which has survived in modern times as a sign of the medical profession' (Henderson,1965;154). However, Freud (1900) thought it the 'most important of symbols of the male organ '(p.474). Perhaps Freud thought that a phallic symbol was healing.

  Throughout this work I have moved back and forth between the religious and the psychological aspects of human experience in relation to envy. The history of relgion and the history of the folk psychology of the ages are, I think, of equal seriousness and are equivalent distillations of human experience.

  The mutation of God in the Bible from a jealous and vengeful Yahweh to loving God the Father who gives His son for the redemption of humanity is a reflection of the writers' perceptions, insights and experience.  In Chapter 1 I explored the early ideas of good and evil which resulted in notions of sin and the seven deadly sins. The early fathers felt the need to list the sins and have an understanding or their seriousness to help them in hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction.  Confession, in its insistence on looking inwards at the areas we would like to disavow and, furthermore, expressing them to another has its obvious analogy to psychotherapy.

  It is a pity that Christianity was unable to allow God His dark side, but needed to make God entirely good and to put all evil into Satan - a dualism. Today evil is no longer personified but is still given a separate existence. It may seem arrogant, but my conclusion is that in failing to transcend extreme dualism Western civilisation has been  unable to effect primal splitting.  For without that ability to acknowledge that mother, or in this case God, is neither all good, nor all bad, but a synthesis of these and all the opposites and is thus a symbol of wholeness, we remain in psychological infancy. Our task is not to transcend our shadow, id or sins, it is to integrate them. In folk lore the man without a shadow is viewed, rightly, with the utmost suspicion.

  Envy is a fierce attraction to the good, at the same time it resists and repels it. When envy is made conscious and  integrated there is greater ability to see the good in others. 'It is in effect being able to give, to credit the other with something which the patient had previously been trying to deny him, notionally to take away from him; he had been trying to help himself to it or steal it' (Hubback, 1972; 159).

  There are times when both as therapist and patient I have felt that we are condemned, like Sisyphus, to labour endlessly pushing the boulder up the hill only to see it tumble down as soon as we reach the top. Young (1994) reminds us that Camus suggested that we imagine that Sisyphus was content in his labour. If we see his task in terms of movement from the opposites of high to low, fulfilling the natural law of enantiodromia, this does seem more feasible. When we are confronted with envy at its most intractable, when Thanatos appears to reign supreme, perhaps we should remember that the psyche abhors stasis and is, however imperceptibly, attempting some movement towards Eros and life.



1. In  his developmental scheme Erikson (1950) posits that the oral stage is when infants develop a basic sense of trust and mistrust.  When early relations with the mother have been difficult or fractured, for whatever reason, the infant is bereft of a basic sense that it is loved just for being and that its wants and needs will be fulfilled. The ensuing sense of mistrust of the world is analogous, in its outcome, to the infant who in Klein's terms has not effected the primary splitting mechanism.


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