Social media behavior fascinates me, and fortunately it’s been around just long enough that we’re starting to see the beginning of what I expect to be a long list of research opportunities on how people behave while on it. If you’ve been a long-time reader, you’ll know I’ve been interested in why women feel the emotion envy, for awhile. It’s probably because I’ve never really understood it. If someone is doing a great job, or having good things happen in their life, why would another person not be happy for them?
I’ve cataloged how odd this plays out online in a few articles, like when women look down on married couples who are actually happy in their relationship and show only each other’s best sides, or when just viewing your News Feed puts you in a negative and depressed mood due to other’s happiness. Whether you’re a wife choosing not to air your dirty laundry for the public to see, or are criticized as being “fake,” because you don’t want to embarrass your husband, or are simply perplexed to find that other people’s happiness should make you feel depressed, you’re in the right place!
“You happily married couples can’t really be that happy (we realistic ones know you’re lying to us),
plus you make me feel bad because my marriage isn’t like that.
You’re faking it in your photos and not being “real,”
let me show you what IS real by posting negative sh-t about my husband and I publicly.”
When I’ve researched into who is saying things like this quote above, the women who say they secretly hate their positive facebook friends, it’s almost always women who are (self-reporting as) deeply unhappy in their own lives; many are in fact, divorced and trying to survive single-motherhood. Of course seeing beautiful, happy families makes them feel pain and sadness… and of course seeing a good husband show his wife how much he loves her, leaves them feeling sick. Hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12), and feeling the pain of that loss, or maybe the pain of never having it at all, is normal. It’s ok to grieve when appropriate, but it’s crucial to learn how to redirect those feelings and emotions into something positive and graceful. Otherwise, the intense feeling of pain can quickly turn into self-pity, which then often crosses into bitterness and anger, things that leave you vulnerable to demonic strongholds.
Here is a quote from one such divorced, single mom becoming bitter over her happily married friends –
“I’m also a Michigander but moved to Connecticut in 2001 when my now ex-husband went to school here! I am like you–brutally honest. I think it’s part of our culture. And that’s why I sometimes hate Facebook! Being divorced makes me feel like a loser when I see all these “happy” couples’ pictures posted for SEVEN days in a row! It feels self-serving–like it’s validating to them. But the people are truly good and close friends, so I can’t be (but want to) be honest like you! I have a 9 year old with autism and felt like such a fake liar when I posted the Motherhood Challenge with pictures of a happy, cooperative child. Reality is that he hits me, swears, spits, and has massive meltdowns sometimes. You are right reality is not as pretty. It certainly never gets a “like” or even a “dislike” because reality is a bummer.
No one wants reality from a single mom with special needs who now lives 800 miles from her family and has to face this life on their own. So, to keep my image, I guess I play the pretty picture game too and hope that one day my true feelings won’t come out! Thanks for being honest!”
Her story is hard, and I’m sure having an autistic child IS extremely difficult and involves lots of suffering on her part. The key is though, choosing what you focus on DOES improve even a situation as bad as that. Look at people all throughout history who had severe mental and emotional or physical handicaps, who when their caregiver had a better mindset, they achieved much more than what doctors thought would ever be capable. Miracles have happened with children like this, but mostly it’s only when they had a caregiver who self-sacrificed over and over and over again, giving them the gift of unconditional love and humanity. I know it’s hard for women to hear this, but accepting the difficulties of one’s life (carrying your cross), as well as choosing not to complain about how hard you have it, IS worth trying to obtain as part of spiritual and personal growth. Like I said above, self-pity is not good. The bitterness it can bring from dwelling on how unfair life is opens the door to more spiritual attacks and demonic influence into your life. Because of all this, trying to give women in positions like this, short-cut answers to their problems by saying those happy couples are “fake,” is enabling them – not helping them to deal correctly with their own problems (like having a special needs child). The suffering they’re already going through is then compounded by their own bitterness and disappointment in life.
Allowing themselves to become bitter over how unfair life is, or develop feelings of hostility toward their happily married friends, only makes their own lives that much harder!
It’s Coming from Hatred & a Root of Bitterness
The argument for sharing your husband’s flaws publicly online (or flat out humiliating him) has seemed to come from a concocted desire to appear more “real” and to show all of the sides of marriage – and to show-up those wives who only post the positive things! The problem with this rationale is that it should be socially understood that no one is perfect, that everyone may have some issues sometimes and that marriage, because it is so intricately relationship-based, obviously takes hard work. Choosing not to show this side publicly when it could harm or humiliate your husband, but rather focus on the positive, beautiful things in life and your marriage (or about your mate), shows wisdom, self-control, and discretion.
And as far as one’s marriage goes, when you love your spouse, you don’t want to air their issues online on your social media platforms. In a trustworthy marriage, your husband should be able to feel totally safe with what you choose to share online publicly – because he knows without a doubt, that you have his back and are making wise decisions on his behalf. Like we learned in the Proverbs 31 series, the heart of her husband safely trusts in her, and because she is his wife, he lacks for nothing good. When we post things that show him in a bad light, no matter how humorous or “well-intentioned,” we tell ourselves we’re being, the consequences could be damaging to his reputation, image, or even his career, which means we’re actually harming him in the long-run, and for social media “likes,” at that!
“His honor, respect and privacy must be sacrificed so she can compete with the other women by being “more real,” than the ones who post only happy and positive things about their spouses.”
But wanting to show what “real” marriages look like, as much as these women claim their goal is, is not what this is about. I used to naively believe that was their actual intentions, but over the years it’s become more and more clear that this attitude is coming from a root of bitterness and even hatred.
“You just hit the nail on the head!
I was so irritated seeing everyone’s posts about love your marriage (from the Love Your Spouse Challenge).
Most of the time I’m irrated at my husband.
How about a hate your spouse challenge?”
-Carla Burke (from here)
Why some women act like this though, is VERY interesting to me. Why do some feel like everyone should post negative stuff about their mate or marriage?
Because seeing others unhappy or having problems in their lives or marriages, makes these women feel better about their own selves, or about the state their marriage is currently in. It all comes back to the emotion I’ve studied for years now, envy.
Envy is more than jealousy, it is a painful emotion of which the Bible says is like rottenness to the bones. While jealousy may come from a valid place of wanting what rightfully should belong to you and you alone (ie: God being jealous for our love), envy is wanting what another has which you have no right to want (ie: coveting something that someone else has earned or is in possession of). It seems to be capable of completely enveloping a person, and grows the more they focus on the object of their envy and hatred. The cure is found first in repentance, and focusing on your own life, living in gratitude to God for the gifts He’s given to you, and then choosing to live a life that pleases Him, instead of become embittered by whatever you believe He’s withheld from you.
Beauty, Goodness, & Happiness Often Evoke Envy
All throughout time, there have been countless stories in literature (be it biblical, classical, or in nearly every fairy tale) of women who were either good/beautiful/happy and somewhat naive, and women who gave themselves over to envy over the one who was good/beautiful/happy. There were women who displayed qualities that seemed almost irresistible to the heroic man in their life, and then the women who played the Evil Stepmother, or the Evil Queen, or the Harpy. This is something that goes far beyond social media, because it is a heart issue… a feature, not a bug, built into humankind.
Sometimes we get glimpses into what “triggers” these women to act out of their envious behavior, like in this real life example below of a woman’s Instagram post, “making” another woman feel inferior.
So what are reactions like this based on?
“You seem to represent an almost impossible-to-attain portrait of womanhood, and as a woman, I honestly find many of your photos unsettling.”
“Something about your photos makes feel strangely depressed/inadequate and I’m alarmed by my own reactions.”
It’s the beauty. The artistic perfection… the woman’s elegance… her refinement. It’s all the aforementioned put together that make her realize her reaction is not accounted for, or “alarming,” and worrying to her, as it should be. It’s also this fact (that the pictures show beauty, perfection, elegance, and refinement) that makes her admit that the woman’s photos are amazing work:
“That being said, this is truly great work and I applaud your abilities.”
What a 180 right? We just got an inside look at how emotionally tormented a woman feels when presented with someone who awakens feelings of envy. When another woman is “outside her comfort-zone better than her” in some kind of way, it can be almost impossible for her to appreciate the beauty and goodness due to the painful or “alarming” feelings that may come up.
Even though she’s able to realize at the end of her comment that her observations are “alarming” and coming from a place of feeling depressed/inadequate, she still demands that this woman answer for why she’s “making” the commenter feel thing way, as though this artist can really control this stranger’s feelings. It’s a normal thing for women (or men) who feel envy, to blame the object of their envy for “making” them feel that way, or “inciting” it with pictures of beauty in their life.
“Ultimately, while people use social networks to keep in touch with friends and family, seeing those people happy often have negative effects on them.”
From research study here
But even if another woman’s pictures on social media aren’t “perfect,” just seeing other people be happy eventually may become a negative experience for women with this problem. It doesn’t take artistic perfection, for some even seeing other moms out and happy with their kids or husband, evoke strong emotions of envy.
What is the real problem here?
Envy is literally as old as Cain, from one of the first Bible stories when he felt envy at his brother Abel’s approval by God. Abel didn’t “make” Cain feel envious or bad about himself, Cain’s lack of self-improvement and desire to please God made his offering undesirable, and pale in comparison to Abel’s offering and disposition.
I used to feel sorry for women like this, because I know envy is a painful emotion to feel (and why not be happy for people who are happy?!?), but now I’m beginning to understand how women who don’t deal with their envy appropriately are not victims, they often know what they’re choosing and seek to place blame elsewhere to hide what they know they feel (the hatred or bitterness). This behavior is not benign, as it tears apart the fabric of our society in a myriad of ways, harming the future of our children and grandchildren by working to dismantle social norms (think things like fat acceptance, obesity disability, welfare, hostility toward in-tact families, etc.).
If everyone engaged in envy whenever a someone does something praiseworthy or beautiful or inspiring or artistically stunning, our society would be utterly ruled by the ugliness and the decay of the miserable and self-centered. If any attempt to be better personally – be it spiritually, mentally or physically, or create something beautiful, is squashed by miserable women who claim your attempts to better yourself makes them feel unhappy or ashamed of their own failures, then our civilization’s beauty, art, music, and literature will suffer… and it has.
When God dealt with Cain’s feelings of envy, before he murdered Abel (and there was still a chance for him to turn the situation around by making the right choices), God did not treat Cain like a victim of his own envy. The Bible says Cain felt anger that Abel’s offering was accepted by God (and his was not), and looked dejected (he pouted).
Then the LORD said to Cain,
“Why are you furious? And why are you dejected? If you do right, won’t you be accepted?
But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
God warns Cain that he is on the brink of becoming “had” by sin, which is figuratively crouching at his door ready to overcome him. God also commands Cain to “master it.” This may explain why it can feel so hard for women who deal with this problem to eradicate their feelings of envy, because they have to learn how to “master it.”
Envy Greatly Affects Women in Real Life
This point, that giving in to envy and allowing it to control your interactions with others online or in real life, harms you and others, is the most important point we should know. Because it’s a heart issue, and not computer or social media-related, it’s not something that’s just going to go away when you step offline. It has to be recognized and dealt with in one’s real life as well.
The problem with envy though, is that women (and men) who give in to this emotion and sin, often do not feel any remorse whatsoever. It is usually coupled with pride in that they feel right to feel embittered, and therefore it’s hard to get them to care or sympathize with how their actions may impact themselves or others.
In fact, studies have proven that people who feel envy (in real life as well as online), actually have been found to report feeling happy when something bad happens to the person they envy – something bad enough to “put them in their place,” so to speak. It is also linked with efforts to try to harm that person in real life, due to schadenfreude (joy at other people’s misery). And if that isn’t depressing enough, another study shows us that only 50% of our “friends” on social media actually like us, or feel the same reciprocal kind of friendship feelings we feel toward them. This would probably account for why those people aren’t happy for their friends’ happiness. If they don’t even “like” them, then of course they may not feel happy when seeing their social media “friends” happy.
It’s the whole crab-basket effect, which Ian Ironwood explains in detail.
So for over 30 years, more than an entire generation, we’ve seen women at work, women in management, women “competing in a man’s world” . . . even though the “man’s world” looks more feminine than ever.
So . . .how’s that working out for women?
Turns out . . . not so good.
Dr. Peggy Drexler has published two pieces back-to-back discussing the complexities of women working with women. The result isn’t pretty . . . and pretty much validates everything I’ve said about the Female Social Matrix. Also known as the Crab Basket.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, it’s a metaphor for how women relate to other women— how they self-organize, socially.
Thankfully not all woman are like this I’ve found! Social media does seem to create more opportunities for women who wouldn’t be like this in real life, to let themselves give in to this sin where the consequences aren’t as tangible. But they do have consequences, women who act like this online still have an overall negative affect on society, because it pulls manners and morality down to a more primal (it’s you or me) level, instead of a more civilized view of if we all do our best to succeed, we’ll produce a more beautiful and loving society.
It happens in Real Life far more than you’d imagine
Recently I happened upon a 3-year-old article where a mother was describing how simply having a good, positive and happy play-date for her daughter and a friend turned into something she was made to feel shame over.
Sadly, this behavior really isn’t just relegated to social media alone. It seems there will always be women who punish other women who aspire to do good, to be happy, to make beautiful things themselves, or to even make playdates for children happy and pleasant.
When the mom came back I invited her in for a few minutes. She smelled the aroma of fresh-baked cookies and saw the kids happily playing and said, “Wow, you go all out for playdates. I just usually throw some goldfish at them.”
I felt a little surprised at the disdain I heard in her voice, but when I snapped back into reality I instantly went into defense mode, which for me is self-deprecation in overdrive.
“Oh, Gak is just glue and detergent and I had promised my kids we would do it, and the cookie dough was leftover and my kitchen never looks like this normally but we have company coming over tonight and…” I rambled on like an idiot. Because apparently being a good mom is something I did to offend her.
I felt shamed for doing something fun for my kids—and hers. Shame for even trying to be a good mom. Trying to be good actually brought out the worst in both of us.
This happened to me a lot over the years. I have heard comments about volunteering too much at my kids’ school,or hosting too nice of parties or making a Pinterest-inspired handmade soccer cookie (one time).
Most people are appreciative, but there are always others that say something along the lines of, “Way to make the rest of us look bad!”
The female mantra even all throughout literature, seems to be “do your best, but don’t you dare do too much better than me!” Instead of women being genuinely happy for each other when another succeeds, if it’s “too much” for one in particular, she’ll deem it as “bad” somehow.
In the past few years of blogging, I’ve seen how this even applies to women in the Bible, particularly the Proverbs 31 woman since she is the idealistic representation of what us wives should look up to and feel inspired by. Even a decade before I started writing my series, there were already books and articles out there online with Christian women sarcastically slamming the Proverbs 31 wife as an unrealistic “super mom.” Yes, I’m being serious! Christian women regularly would mock and put down an entire passage in the Bible, mostly because they said it made them feel “pressured” or “inferior!” Whether we’re told we’re Pharisees for seeing beauty in this biblical passage, or when we’re told to “Stop Obsessing” over her, or to “Rethink” her character to be a “fictional” one in order to downplay what the Bible calls us as wives to try to emulate and grow into, it’s downright getting rarer and rarer to find someone promoting her as real and what God wants us to take seriously.
It always seemed so strange to me that Christian women would actively hate the Proverbs 31 passage, or seek to ridicule anyone who wrote on it thinking it was applicable to today.
But after reading this article, do you still wonder why?