Jealousy

As a deaf person, particularly as a deaf person that was subject to people putting them down at various episodes of my life, its difficult sometimes to see jealousy. I mean, jealousy that I’ve got a nice house or a nice partner, yeah, thats fairly straightforward, and not really what I’m talking about here: what I’m discussing here is a form of professional jealousy. Some people have a very specific form of  professional jealousy that can be quite difficult to pin down, as the emotions engendered tend to result in them behaving slightly differently to the usual behaviour triggered by straightforward jealousy.

When you work with hearing people, a wide range of them, who are on their own journeys and who may be at different stages in those journeys to you, one problem that you may come across is that they can be jealous of your capabilities. This is particularly the case if you’re achieving on the same level as hearing people, just as well – or better than – them. The thinking may go something along the lines of “my god, look at them. They achieved XYZ, and they’re deaf, and look at me, my ears work, I’ve nothing wrong with me, and they’re better than me”. Sometimes this may not even be this clearly thought out, sometimes its just an unconscious, ugly, angry emotion that they feel when they see you and they don’t quite know how to handle it. It can result in behaviour that is geared, in a very subtle way, sometimes, towards trying to bring YOU down, because if they do that, then they feel better as a result. A lot of negativity, discouragement, anything to get you to be worse than them, to stop you being better than them ‘despite’ your deafness¹. An example might be, when you’re waiting for a specific result, getting all kinds of snide, negative comments instead of hopeful, supportive ones. The difference between constant rephrasings of ‘so many people apply, be prepared to be rejected’ and ‘Good luck! I’m sure you’ll succeed, but have you got a back up plan if you don’t?’ and then not mentioning the backup plan again once you confirm that you have one. You can see the difference.

[Sometimes it can result in even more aggressive, angry behaviour, although within an educational or professional setting, this should certainly be the point where other people (such as Human Resources) are turned to. If you’re at this stage, don’t go with the suggestions in this article, DO get the appropriate authorities involved.]

So… what to do when you’re confronted with this kind of behaviour?

Much depends on how close this person is to you. If they’re just a classmate who you can easily avoid outside of the classroom, then problem solved, just avoid their company and refuse to take the more negative comments on board (which is easy enough, once you understand what’s behind them). Blocking them on social media is another option, if you find that many of their comments are coming through that way, particularly if you find yourself getting angry with them – why waste the effort in being angry? Block them and have done with it (and there are even different levels of blocking, if you’re worried about them seeing that you’ve blocked them or defriended or whatever, some of which won’t be visible to them).

But if they’re someone who you genuinely like, admire, who you’d otherwise like to spend time with, or someone who you have to spend time with for work purposes, regardless of choice, then what? This can be particularly tricky if the jealousy is appearing in someone who seems to swing between the jealousy and admiration. I have a friend like that; she openly admires the work I do, is friendly and wants to spend time with me, but every so often, she comes out with these terribly negative comments. They picked up in intensity before the PhD result came through, which is what first clued me in. I like her, mostly, when she thinks consciously about it, she’s very supportive about my work, she read through my PhD application and made a number of very useful suggestions, for example. Its just these little snide asides. I noticed the other day, that I was starting to unconsciously avoid her, or get a sinking feeling when I saw them coming towards me, which is a shame. So. What to do?

The way I see it, I have a couple of choices:

  1. Talk to her about it. I wouldn’t phrase it as ‘jealousy’, or even in the terms that I’ve used here. Maybe something like ‘I’ve noticed you don’t seem terribly happy about XYZ. Do you want to talk about it?’ may be good. This is particularly the case where you don’t think they’re even aware of it, bringing it out into the open like this may well work, particularly if they’re a friend that you think you can talk to on this level. On the other hand, it can spectacularly backfire, so be very very careful if you decide to take this path.
  2. Ignore it and wait for them to get past it. It may be that you don’t feel able to talk to the person on the first level, or it just isn’t possible because of institutional relationship rules (e.g. they’re your supervisor). Gritting teeth and just ploughing through is the tactic here.
  3. It may be that deliberately mentioning things that you struggle with would work. Such as, if you’re struggling with a piece of work or with networking or something. You certainly don’t have to do this; arguably, this is a bad move, as in, you’re not giving them the chance to grow and to account for their own emotions. You’re certainly not responsible for theirs, or anyone else’s personal growth (or lack of it). But if on the other hand, you do a little diplomatic fumbling with something, or show yourself as being NOT the super-capable-super-student that they think you are, it might just make your life a bit easier. And I don’t think anyone would blame you for that. I know I wouldn’t. Along the same lines, taking the time to praise them for things that they do, particularly if they’re doing it better than you, is another good tactic to use.

In my own situation, I think I may well be adopting a combination of 1 and 2. give 2 a chance for a while, and if it continues, move to talking to her about it. But either way, I doubt that this is the last time it will arise. And I do wonder, if sometimes this happens far more than I’d previously realised. I blogged last year about feeling very excluded at a postgraduate meeting, how many people there didn’t speak to me at all. Whats interesting is that those people, over the last year, as I’ve persisted in attending these meetings and other postgraduate events, have split into two groups. One group are those that have made an effort to engage with me on one level or another (e.g. find out what my research is, who I am), even if its only on a very minimal level and they’re keeping it strictly professional. I certainly am not deluded enough to think that everyone should be my friend! The other group are those who have just ignored me. Other than polite hello, goodbye, and so on, they’ve made no effort to talk with me, even when I’ve tried to strike up a conversation. There’s not many in that group (I would say, perhaps 3 or 4 now) but still, it was enough to make me wonder why, when they didn’t really know me at all. This kind of jealousy may well provide an answer to at least one or two people’s behaviour there.

I do think that ultimately, this kind of jealousy is a kind of backhanded compliment. Jealousy – of all kinds – is something that everyone has to learn to deal with, both in other people and in themselves, and in education as well as in the workplace, particularly if you’re suceeding, and doing so better than your hearing colleagues. There are quite a few articles out there about professional jealousy in both education and the wider workplace (which this is a form of). If you find that this article doesn’t quite offer the solution to your situation, then maybe try to adapt what others have suggested. And remember, if the jealousy gets out of hand, get others involved (authorities, not your friends), and document everything you can.

Further information: Jealousy in PhD Cohort / Addressing Envy in Grad School / Overcoming Jealousy in the Workplace / Seven Tips for dealing with a jealous co-worker

¹ And by the way, I do think this problem isn’t unique to deafness; people with other disabilities, or even other factors that can hold them back, can experience the same thing.