I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins since I was a teenager. Maybe it’s because I knew exactly what my Sin would be, or I should say what my defining Sin would be, since there’s representation of all seven within all of us. But the one I struggle finding balance with the most is the same as Zelena, envy.
Spoilers for Once Upon a Time Season 3
In season three of Once Upon a Time we’re introduced to Zelena, the Wicked Witch of the West and Regina’s elder, half-sister.
Although Regina never knew she had a sister, Zelena was very much aware of her family heritage. She spent much of her time in Oz staring into a reflecting pool that showed her Regina’s life. She saw Regina born to a wealthy family, becoming queen through marriage, and worst of all, being chosen to cast Rumple’s Dark Curse even though Zelena’s more powerful than her.
As Zelena watches her younger sister’s life play out, the life Zelena knew should have been hers as the elder and stronger sister, the jealousy for her sister’s life rots her soul until her body becomes pigmented and her skin turns green with envy.
My Own Struggle
When I saw this moment on screen I felt kindred to it. In fact, when I met Rebecca Mader, the actress who plays Zelena, I thanked her for showing such a powerful portrayal of what envy can do to a person, because I knew what it felt like. I knew what it meant to be so jealous of someone the envy took on a life-like, almost controlling, quality of its own.
See, in school there was this girl, let’s call her Elena, and Elena was amazing. I looked up to her like she was perfect, the ideal of humanity. She could do no wrong, everything she did was right; she was athletic, intelligent, artistic, kind, one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.
Standing next to her, I felt like a worthless piece of trash, because I wasn’t any of those things. I wasn’t smart like her, I wasn’t skilled like her, I wasn’t talented like her. I was nothing, I had nothing, not like her, who had everything.
My Green Monster
There were times where I’d be sitting across from her in class wrestling with my green blob monster of envy (and yes, I really did visualize it as a green blob monster). How could I sit here pretending to be worthy, while she sits over there taking notes and being perfect? Sometimes, I don’t think I heard the lecture at all, I was so focused on containing this all-consuming need inside me.
I know this sounds extreme and it kind of was. I’m not using hyperbole when I say that for years a part of my brain was always focused on how much better her life was then mine. Comparing myself to her became an unhealthy, draining obsession, but I couldn’t stop.
An Opportunity to Change
In the episode, Kansas Zelena is visited by Glinda the Good Witch of the South, who offers her a chance to be a part of Oz’s Sisterhood of Witches. Zelena can have everything she’s ever wanted, family, power, respect; the only catch is she has to let go of her envy.
As Zelena contemplates the offer, standing over her reflecting pool and watching Regina poorly execute rudimentary magic, she takes a step back and waves the image away claiming, “Sorry Sis, but I’m over you.” Her rotted green skin heals and she’s returned to looking human once more.
I didn’t like this scene. Not because I wanted Zelena to hold onto her envy or anything like that, but it can’t be that easy, it doesn’t make sense. What’s really changed? Sure, she got offered everything she ever wanted, but that’s all external. That doesn’t subdue jealousy once it’s taken a hold of your heart.
Elena was my friend, my good friend, and I didn’t like being jealous of her. I didn’t want this monster inside of me sucking my energy whenever we hung out. I wanted to let it go. More than anything I wanted to let it go, but I didn’t know how. Whatever the way to rid myself of envy couldn’t just be stepping back and saying, ‘Nah, I’m over it’ . . . can it?
I Have Talents Too, Right?
Years later, even with Elena on the fringes of my life, I still found myself comparing what I’d accomplished verse what she had accomplished, and though I tried to convince myself otherwise, I knew I came up lacking.
I tried to convince myself that we just had different skills. That I didn’t need to be good at what she’s good at, because I’m good at things she’s not good at. Which was only a temporary band-aid to keep the green monster at bay. I still couldn’t get the thoughts out of my head, the thoughts of no matter what, she’ll be better than me.
Then something clicked.
Is it Really that Simple?
Another friend, more a mentor really, gave me some advice recently, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something like, “It’s not just that you two are different, that doesn’t matter. Envy comes from the act of comparing. So, even if it’s a one-to-one comparison, she can do that, you can do this, it will still create envy inside you because you’re still comparing yourself to Elena.”
Sometimes I can hear a thing 1,000 times, but it takes the 1,001st time being just slightly different for me to finally understand what everyone was trying to tell me. As long as I compare myself to Elena, even if it’s positively or in a one-to-one fashion, I will still be holding onto envy. All that work I thought I was doing to unknit from the envy wasn’t the answer, only a stepping stone.
So, maybe Zelena had it right after all. Because it’s not just that we have other opportunities or different skills then the object of our envy. It’s simply that it doesn’t matter. Releasing the need to compare myself to others is the true way to rid myself of envy. So, I’m taking a step back, choosing to change my mind and my attitude, and say, “Nah, I’m over it.”