Jealousy, Envy, Greed & Gratitude

The human emotions of Jealousy, Envy and Greed can be a torment to be caught in, and keep us bound and separated from Gratitude and Love.  Understanding these darker feelings and gaining compassion for their function can help us to integrate them as part of a larger whole, allow us to be more humane towards ourselves and others.

Notes from the work of Melanie Klein

Edited by

Michael Mervosh


Envy is a most potent factor in undermining feelings of love and gratitude at their root, as it affects the earliest relationship of all, that to the mother.


Envy has a destructive impulse rooted in the oral character issues, and is operative from the very beginnings of life.


The complexity of this destructive impulse can only be best understood if we gain insight into the body-mind of the infant, and follow it’s development into later life.


The infant’s experience of childbirth, and a lack of oxygen and/or a difficult birth process having taken place, can create disturbances in the infant’s adaptation to the external world, and with forming their relationship to the breast.


Through the birth trauma, the infant’s ability to experience new sources of gratification can become impaired, and the infant may not be able to sufficiently enjoy and internalize a consistently good primal object (the breast).


Also, the infant’s longing for an inexhaustible and ever-present breast stems by no means only from a craving for food and from libidinal desires.   Even in the earliest stages of life, the urge to get constant evidence of the mother’s love can be fundamentally rooted in anxiety.


The infant’s desires for the breast imply that the breast, and soon the mother, should always be able to do away with these destructive impulses that arise, as well as the pain of anxiety that these impulses elicit.


The breast to the infant is not merely a physical object. The depth of the infant’s instinctual desires, and unconscious wishes and fantasies, imbue the breast with qualities that go far beyond the actual nourishment it affords.


Envy, with its particular aspect of earliest object relations and internalization processes that are rooted in the oral character, impedes the development of the capacity for gratitude and happiness.



Envy is the angry feeling that another person possesses and enjoys something desirable – the envious impulse being to take it away from the other, or to spoil it for the other.


Envy implies a person’s relation to one person only, and goes back to the earliest exclusive relationship with the mother.


Jealousy is based on envy, but involves a relationship to at least two people; it is mainly concerned with love that the person feels is due them and has been taken away, or is in danger of being taken away, by a perceived rival.


With jealousy, a person feels deprived of the desired person by someone else.


Greed is an impetuous and insatiable craving, exceeding what the person needs and what the other is able and willing to give.   At an unconscious level, greed is aimed primarily at completely sucking dry and devouring the breast.   It is a destructive impulse to introject the breast into one’s self.


Envy not only seeks to rob in this same way, but also to put badness, primarily bad excrements and bad parts of the self, into the mother, and first of all into her breast, in order to spoil and destroy her. In the deepest sense, this means to destroy her creative capacities.


This is a destructive aspect of a projective identification, rooted deeply in the body, starting from the beginning of life.


Greed is mainly bound up in introjection, and envy with projection.


Jealousy is afraid to lose what it has; envy is pained at seeing another have that which it wants for itself.


The envious person is sickened by the enjoyment of the other, and only rests only in the misery of the other. Therefore, all efforts to satisfy an envious person will prove to be fruitless.


The general attitude towards jealousy differs from that of envy.   With jealousy, love for ‘the good’ exists, and the loved object is not damaged and spoiled, as it would be by envy.



The first object to be envied is the feeding breast.


If we consider that deprivation increases greed and persecutory anxiety, and that there is in the infant’s mind a fantasy of an inexhaustible breast, which is the infant’s greatest desire, it becomes understandable how envy arises even if the infant is being adequately fed.


The infant’s feelings seem to be that when the breast deprives him, it becomes bad because it keeps the milk, love, and care associated with the good breast all to itself. The infant hates and envies what he feels to be the mean and withholding breast.


We find this primitive envy playing out in transference situations.


A ‘too anxious’ attitude on the part of the mother who, whenever the infant cries, always and immediately presents him with food, is unhelpful to the infant. Through this over-accommodation, the infant feels the mother’s anxiety, which fuels and increases his own.


Frustration, if not excessive, is also a stimulus for adaptation to the external world and for the development of a proper sense of reality.

The infant’s unfulfilled desires, which are to some extent incapable of fulfillment, are an important contributory factor in sublimation and creative activities.


The absence of internal conflict in the infant would deprive her of enrichment of her personality and of an important factor in strengthening of her ego.   Conflict, and the need to overcome it, is a fundamental element of creativity.   (Necessity is the mother of invention.)
The fact that envy spoils the capacity for enjoyment explains to some extent why envy is so persistent.


Greed, envy and persecutory anxiety, which are bound up with each other, inevitably increase each other. The feeling of harm being done by envy, the great anxiety that stems from this, and the resulting uncertainty about the goodness of the object, have the effect of increasing greed and destructive impulses.


Whenever the object is felt to be good after all, it is all the more greedily desired and taken in.


Doubts in the possession of the good object, and the corresponding uncertainty about one’s own good feelings, also contribute greedy and indiscriminate identifications; such people are easily influenced because they cannot trust their own judgment.


When negative states become transient, the good object is regained time and time again. This is an essential factor in establishing goodness and in the laying of the foundations of stability and a strong ego.


One major derivative of the capacity for love is the feeling of gratitude.

It is enjoyment that forms the basis for gratitude.



Gratitude is closely bound up with generosity. Inner resources and wealth comes from having taken in and assimilated the good object so that the individual becomes able to share its gifts with others. This makes it possible to take in a more friendly outer world (PSEN Core Value of Basic Goodness), and a feeling of enrichment ensues.


By contrast, with people in whom this feeling of inner wealth and strength is not sufficiently established, bouts of generosity are often followed by an exaggerated need for appreciation and gratitude from others, and then consequently by persecutory anxieties of having been impoverished and robbed of this.


Envy ranks among the ‘seven deadly sins’, and is perhaps the greatest of all, because it spoils and harms the good object, which is the source of life.


The feeling of having injured and destroyed the primal object impairs the individual’s trust in the sincerity of the individual’s later relations and makes this person doubt their capacity for love and goodness.


Frustration and unhappy circumstances rouse some envy and hate throughout life, but the strength of these emotions, and the ways in which the individual copes with them, varies considerably.



It is essential to differentiate between a good object and an idealized one, though it is often not a sharp distinction.   A very deep split between two aspects of the same object is indicative of the idealized and demonized image. Such a deep and sharp division reveals that destructive impulses, envy, and persecutory anxiety are very strong, and that the idealization serves as a defense against these feelings.


Those whose capacity for love is strong feel less need for idealization than those in whom destructive impulses and persecutory anxiety are paramount.   Excessive idealization indicates that persecution (or demonization) is the main driving force.


Some people deal with their incapacity (derived from excessive envy) to possess a good object by idealizing it.


Greed is an important factor in these indiscriminate identifications, for the need to get the best from everywhere interferes with the capacity for selection and discrimination.


The formerly idealized person will often become felt as a persecutor, and into this person is projected the subject’s envious and critical attitude.   This invariably leads to instability in relationships.


Doubts connected to the good object easily arise even in a relatively secure relationship, due to the recurring anxiety that one’s greed and one’s destructive impulses will get the better of them. This anxiety is an important factor that will contribute to chronic depressive states.


Hope and trust in the existence of basic goodness, as can be observed in everyday, ordinary life, helps people through great adversity, and effectively counteracts fears of persecution.



One of the consequences of excessive envy is an early onset of guilt. If premature guilt is experienced by an ego not yet capable of bearing it, guilt is felt as persecution and the object that rouses guilt is turned into a persecutor.


One of the deepest sources of guilt is always linked with the envy of the feeding breast, and with the feeling of having spoiled its goodness by envious attacks.


Excessive envy interferes with adequate oral gratifications and so acts as a stimulus towards the intensification of genital desires and pursuits.

The focus on genital behavior becomes too influenced by oral grievances and anxieties.



Ambition is another factor highly instrumental in stirring up envy.

Failure to fulfill one’s ambitions is often aroused by the conflict between the urge to make reparation to the object injured by destructive envy and a renewed reappearance of envy.

The capacity to give and to preserve life is felt as the greatest gift and therefore creativeness become the deepest cause for envy.


In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is envious of God’s ability for creation, and decides to become the usurper of Heaven.   He makes war on God in his attempt to spoil the heavenly life and falls out of Heaven. Fallen, he builds Hell as a rival to Heaven, and becomes the destructive force which attempts to destroy what God creates.


Envy of creativeness is the fundamental element in the disturbance of the creative process.


A particular cause of envy is the relative absence of it in others. The envied person is felt to possess what is at the core most prized and desired – and this is a good object, which implies a good character and sanity.