Early envy

For a good development of the child it is important that it experiences more good experiences than bad experiences. Negative experiences on the part of the parents, e.g. paranoid-schizoid behavior, have a great influence on the development of the infant. This process depends on external and internal factors.

External factors

If the mother fails in her role as mother. This denial can also be justified physically or psychologically. This leads to trauma of the child in relation to the prevention of his basic needs.

Internal factors

The internal factors can be regarded as basic needs of the infant and it depends on how far they are presented as positive for the infant or not. Therefore, the initial genetic conditions also play an important role.
Melanie K, (2002) mentions one such factor, early envy, which is effective from birth and influences the infant’s earliest experiences.

Psychoanalysis has been dealing with

this topic for a long time. Envy is portrayed as the most important emotion. Freud in particular devoted a great deal of attention to women’s penis envy. What is the significance of other forms of envy, male potency envy, male envy of position and possession of women, feelings of envy among women, etc.?

Difference between envy and jealousy

Often envy is confused with jealousy, and vice versa rather rarely. Melanie Klein makes a distinction between envy and jealousy in her book “Envy and Gratitude”: Envy classifies it as the earlier sensation and proves that it is one of the most primitive and fundamental emotions, it must be distinguished from jealousy and greed.
Jealousy is based on love, one wants to own the beloved object (mother-mother-breast-infant) and push aside the rival, for example “sibling rivalry”. Jealousy always involves a triangular situation. Understanding this situation is not possible in early infancy. Envy, on the other hand, depends on whether there is a two-way relationship in which no third living object needs to be added: In the case of unfulfilled needs of the infant in object relationship with the mother (child-mother-mother-breast-object/that is object relationship between child and mother). Jealousy is the relationship to a whole object.
In other words, while the infant gets his love and food, at the source of life, mother’s breast is object to the infant, and when a sibling enters this near this source, jealousy and rivalry arise.


Strives, regardless of the consequences, to possess everything that can be extracted from the object.


In contrast to greed, envy aims to possess the whole object for oneself. The object can be destroyed completely. This is about keeping the object to yourself. If this is not possible, one wants to destroy the good at the object.
This destruction makes the source of good evil, on which the child depends. Envy has such a strong libidinal component. The infant depends on motherly love. The mother’s breast is an object for the child, in this object relationship through the denial of basic needs of the infant, trauma arises. By repeating these failures of the object, the child wants to seize and destroy the object. It has often been told by mothers that babies bite their nipples during breastfeeding.
We know the teeth symbolize power, strength and strength. If the infant possesses these, he now wants to be independent of the mother and possess the source for himself. And so through the new power that he possesses through it, the mother’s breast/source of life is snatched and the owner destroyed, thus envy arises.
When the infant becomes aware of the breast as a source of life and good experiences, envy strengthens. The real satisfaction that the infant experiences at the breast gives him the feeling that the breast is the source of all physical and mental comfort. An inexhaustible reservoir of food, warmth, love, understanding and knowledge.
This experience of satisfaction increases his love and increases the desire to possess, preserve and protect the breast. But he also gets the desire himself to be the source of such perfection. Envy and greed can combine and the desire to suck out the object completely arises.
As long as the ingested food is perceived as part of the breast, it is itself a target of envious attacks, which are also directed at the inner object. If the infant has the feeling that his inner being is filled with feelings of fear and evil, whereas the breast is the source of all good, he enviously wants to spoil the breast and projects evil and harmful parts of himself into it. As development progresses, these attacks are then extended to the womb and its children and the relationship between the parents.
In the case of pathological development in the Oedipus complex, envy for the parents’ relationship plays an important role as a true jealousy.

Early envy

If the child’s early envy is very intense, it interferes with normal activity towards schizoid mechanisms. The division into an ideal and a following object cannot be maintained, because the ideal object arouses envy and is therefore attacked and ruined. Good and bad influences are mixed and act on the cleavage.
The introjection (counter process to the projection, process that describes internal processes) of an ideal object is severely impaired and the development of the image is disturbed. A violent feeling of envy leads to despair. An ideal object cannot be found, so there is no hope of love or help from whichever side. The destroyed objects are a source of endless persecution and later remorse. At the same time the ego loses its ability to grow and assimilate due to the lack of a good introjection. The impression is created that there is a terrible gap between him and the object. This closes a vicious circle: envy prevents a good introjection, which in turn increases envy. Strong unconscious envy is often the root of negative therapeutic reactions and endless treatments, Kernberg, (2000) especially in personality disorders and becomes visible in borderline personality disorder.

A case study

The patient showed a strong negative therapeutic response. The therapist was a successful and potent father for the patient, his hatred for this figure was so great that the analysis was repeatedly destroyed. At first glance, it looked like Oedipal rivalry with the father, but the pronounced love for women was missing. The women were desired only as possessions of the father. For your own sake, he considered you worthless.
If they could belong to him, he used to destroy them in spirit just like everything else his father owned. He was not able to introject paternal potency and identify with it.

I. Dream

In the first year of analysis, the patient dreamed the following dream. He put tools in the trunk of his small car, which belonged to the therapist’s larger car, but when he arrived at his destination the tool was broken.

Dream interpretation

The dream symbolized his homosexuality and shows that he wanted to have sex with his father, but his hatred for the penis was so great that he destroyed it. Likewise, this dream showed that interpretations that did him good were immediately torn to pieces by him and worried him inwardly.
Soon the analysis revealed that there were envious attacks on the parental relationship that led him to attack and destroy any connection between two people. As the analysis progressed, there was also a maternal transmission, accompanied by desperate envy of the mother figure. He was also unable to eat in the presence of other people, especially food that his wife prepared for him. He had the delusion that his wife was poisoning the food, that it was contaminated or spoiled.
If the woman said anything while he was eating, he immediately got stomach ache. The consequences were difficulties in learning, thinking, working and eating. The intellectual difficulties were especially bad for him because he was very ambitious because of his envious character. When the patient, after improving his condition and years of analysis, was to present the results of scientific research to a group of colleagues, a crisis arose. He hoped that his results would shatter the head of the department and fill him with envy, while at the same time he was afraid of making a fool of himself. On the one hand, he saw a great success to show the therapist that he is better than he is. On the other hand, he also imagined a catastrophe to show how the therapist had harmed him.
However, he was already aware that he could not have completed his work without the help of the therapist and tried to put the therapist on a pedestal. The therapist tried to make it clear to him that he could not influence how things would turn out now. The patient was afraid no matter how it turned out, he’d go crazy. If it turns out well, he would go megalomaniac and if not, depression and persecution anxiety up to suicide would result.

II. Dream

He walked hand in hand with a dinosaur through London, the city was empty. The dinosaur was hungry and greedy and the patient fed him lumps he took out of his pocket, full of fear the dinosaurs would eat him if he had nothing to feed anymore. The patient said that the dinosaur would embody his boundless vanity and he would have to feed his vanity or it would kill him.

Dream interpretation

The dream also revealed that the patient was tormented by loneliness, remorse, guilt and fear of persecution. As soon as he tried to satisfy his envious desires, the envy grew bigger because the man was unhappy.
Strong envy mobilizes powerful defense mechanisms. On the one hand, spoilage or depreciation that does not completely destroy the object. The ego can also reach for a rigid idealization and try to preserve an ideal object. All these defense mechanisms contribute to the crippling of the ego.
In this patient they were clearly visible. It turned out that the dinosaur also represented the therapist, i.e. the internalized father. If the patient believed to be successful, he had the feeling to fill his objects with enormous envy. The superego seemed envious and pernicious to him as an instance that attacked his entire work, his accomplishments, and all the good he possessed.
The patient tried to protect himself by splitting and idealization attempts. Somewhere an idealized object always appeared that he could introject and partially identify with. This rhythm changed and changed rapidly. Idealization is always linked to an essential condition. The ideal object had to be regarded not only as one’s own property, but also as one’s own creation. He needed an external object that satisfied him completely and uninterruptedly. If this condition was fulfilled, he could surrender to the fantasy that he himself was the food source and the external object completely denied or despised.
The slightest denial, however, made it clear to him that the mother’s breast and not himself was the source of life and food. That led to attacks on the therapist. One time the therapist is demonized, another time placed on a pedestal. He needs it as an ideal project. The patient identified with the therapist and felt both great and depressed.

Another example

This is a happily married, working middle-aged woman. She was completely absorbed in her profession, was very successful, but had depressions and work inhibitions again and again, especially in creative work. She showed no envy manifestations, she was easy to absorb and learn, showed no signs of negative therapeutic response. There was hardly any envy of the mother. There were intense feelings of rivalry in triangular situations. There were strong feelings of rivalry towards the little sister, because she thought that she was the favorite of the parents. Above all, she was a rival in her father’s love. When the sister died at the age of four, she was full of guilt and depressed. Another aspect of the analysis was penis envy. The patient competed with her father and older brother for her mother’s love. It formed a latent homosexual pattern. The mother rarely appeared in these analyses.
The patient was quite able to work because she had great interest in her work. But as soon as she was aware of her own ambitious goals, work inhibitions set in. It was not until very late that envy appeared in the analysis. It gradually came to delusions. She believed that especially male colleagues are working against her, her brother behind her back is trying to make an appointment with the therapist, her husband is unfaithful, etc. She knew these were fantasies, but worried about the rivalry with men and was afraid of their revenge and made amends to them. Little by little, the delusions disappeared again.

Your fantasies

One day she got a small wart on her head. At first, she didn’t take it seriously. It was only through fantasies that it came out that she thought she had warts in her brain with which she sometimes associated a growing penis located in her head.
Some time later she was with her husband on a company from where she took balloons for her children. This she associated with her own childhood memories as her parents brought their balloons of a society they visited with them.
At the celebration she had attended with her husband was also an elderly lady who suffered from nervous hair loss, called Maria.

The patient talks about a dream

She had a plant on her head, allegedly the result of a skin disease, it looked very repulsive. It could have been a cancer, too. Although the patient was not worried in her dream, she found it only disgusting and annoying. She noticed that this plant was sitting next to the wart. The dream astonished and disturbed the patient.

Dream interpretation

She associated the terrible growth on her head with Joan’s hair loss. Often she promised herself and called the name Maria instead of Martha. Martha was the opposite of Maria, a beautiful young woman who had recently had a baby. She remembered how jealous she had been of her sister’s beautiful hair and in Martha she now saw her little sister.
At the end of a session, the patient remembered that her skin disease was Grind and that envy was like Grind or cancer and that envy had permeated all her relationships and activities. Slowly she realized that she was jealous of everything. She wished the nurse had everything taken from her. The first object of her envy was her mother, represented in her associations by Jean.
What she possessed herself, her marriage, her children, her skills were denatured by feelings of guilt. She felt greedy and guilty, especially when she realized that she was unconsciously using her gifts to arouse envy. As she had tried in the past to project her envy on the sister. In fact, envy was the wart in her brain that interfered with her entire creative activity. A few days after the analysis of the dream, the wart completely dried out and fell off. Personality can develop relatively well when feelings of envy are split off, but only at the expense of considerable impoverishment.
The split envy is a constant threat that a psychotic part can still break through. With normal development, envy becomes more integrated. The satisfaction experienced on the breast arouses admiration, love, gratitude and envy at the same time.
As soon as the ego begins to integrate, the feelings come into conflict with each other. If envy is not overwhelmingly strong, gratitude prevails. Neighbor feelings on the primary object remain, even if attenuated preserved. In part, they are shifted from the primary object to the rival and mix with feelings of jealousy that apply to the rival. In the case of pathological development, excessive early envy has a drastic effect on the course of the paranoid-schizoid position to whose psychopathology it contributes.


Melanie K, today, (2002):Developments in Theory and Practice, Volume 1. Contributions to Theory
Elsabeth Bott Spillius ( ed.,),Klett-Cotta Vrlag.

Univ. Prof. Dr. Andrawis