Envy

The definition of envy used by Klein is the angry feeling that another person possesses and enjoys something else desirable, often accompanied by an impulse to take it away or spoil it. Contemporary writing also recognises envy as a painful affliction. Klein thinks that envious impulses, oral and anal sadistic in nature, operate from the beginning of life, initially directed against the feeding breast and then against parental coitus. She sees envy as a manifestation of primary destructiveness, to some extent constitutionally based, and worsened by adversity. The attack on the good object leads to confusion between good and bad, and hence difficulties with depressive position integration. Envy heightens persecution and guilt. Klein came to see gratitude as an expression of love and thus of the life instinct, and as the antithesis of envy.

Reproduced from The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought by Bott Spillius, E., Milton, J., Garvey, P., Couve, C. and Steiner, D. (Routledge, 2011)

See a list of key papers on envy