by Inna Rozentsvit, M.D., PhD

Reflections on Dr. Kavaler-Adler's Workshop ENVY: WITHIN AND WITHOUT

This experiential workshop began with some discussion of the theoretical views of envy and its dynamics and origins by the workshop leader, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler. Dr. Kavaler-Adler discussed Melanie Klein's view of oral envy as the hungry and hostile aggression that undermines splitting, and attacks the "good," not the "bad," as we bite the hands that feed us. She also discussed the fears of envy that come from projected envy from within as well as from real envious others in the outside world. Referring to Melanie Klein's family, Dr. Kavaler-Adler spoke of the envious family dynamics that motivated Klein to construct her theories and to observe them in clinical terms. She spoke of Klein's own Fairbairnian "moral defense" that compelled her to discount the envy of the parent, while focusing it on the child, protecting her own internal mother from observations of parental envy. Not so, D.W. Winnicott who broke with Klein and the Kleinian group at the point when Melanie Klein gave her first reading of her seminal paper, "Envy and Gratitude," in the 1930s, before its publication in 1957. Not so Alice Miller, nor Peter Shabad, who wrote of the "evil eye" of the parent. Read Anne Sexton's poem on her overt envy of her teenage daughter, referred to in Dr. Kavaler-Adler's study of Anne Sexton, within her study of women artists and writers, in The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity (Routledge, 1996)!

The pain of envy is acute, when exerting its destructive power, as felt from within the self, or from within the self of an external envious other. As the guided psychic visualization opened the stomachs and hearts of those participating in the envy workshop, each participant discovered for him/her-self this powerful intra and extra psychic truth! One workshop member felt a healing power evolve during the course of the workshop. First he encountered the pain of his envy towards a dearly beloved brother who had become alienated from him when this brother identified with their father, while this person identified with his mother. A family split proliferated its poison—like Ronald Fairbairn's poison pie that must be eaten when it is the only pie in the house. But on Saturday during the workshop, this man spoke to the brother within his internal world through the psychic visualization, in which he was asked to engage in dialogues with one who he envied and then one who envied him. Then a primal love emerged that soothed the pain of the rage and hate, and hunger of envy, and articulated its stifled presence to the point of an ecstatic grief that could bring reparation and its renewed communion. This man was the first to share his experience in the group, after feeling the rage and hunger in his stomach, as well as the longing and love in his heart, during his internal dialogues. The internal world emerged into the external world of the group. Dr. Kavaler-Adler helped the man express his internal experience. She spoke to the grief in this man as he sought a renewed connection with his brother, whose attitudes, language, and contemptuous dismissal had often forced alienation. As this workshop member spoke, he learned about the role of "contempt" as the chief manic defense that shields us from the raw view of the hungry, insatiable, and angry envy, which exerts its trenchant force behind it.

Another group member who shared his experience during psychic visualization was someone who envied the man who had just spoken because he wished he could have the same reparative and loving moments of healing. This second man spoke of not being able to get past the hate towards the envious contemptuous other to reach any point of love. Then yet a third man in a group exclaimed his piggy back reaction to the second man. He said "I will go to my grave hating the bastards!" Finally a woman spoke of her visualization, with a fulsome tale of her own envy as it fomented in her during the very course of the conference. She spoke of envying the feminine in other women. She spoke of envying the kind of husband of the woman she saw as more feminine. She spoke of having a patient who covered her envy with gross grandiose manifestations of omnipotent manic defense, in the form of annihilating contempt directed at the other (therapist). She spoke of her difficulties dealing with this. Everyone resonated with this! She spoke of finding a kind part of the woman envied, and of finding some loving connection that could be an avenue out of the envy/contempt/devaluation dynamics. She freed herself as she spoke. Others could empathize. The short workshop group had to come to a close, but all in the group felt the warming up of the atmosphere. An air of communication was evolving as all participants struggled together with how you turn a hidden hate into a reparative but grief stricken communication of concern. The workshop experience brought awareness of how each of us might risk the vulnerability of showing the other one's own need for concern, but only when there is an avenue open to such vulnerability—and so often there isn't! This is the puzzle and the very human dilemma that people shared with one another!