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Envy Theory: A New Model of the Mind

Can "the bitter politics of envy" apply to all people?

Published on February 2, 2012 by Frank J. Ninivaggi, M.D., F.A.P.A. in Envy This!
Envy theory describes a comprehensive model of mind advanced by child, adolescent, and adult
psychiatrist, Frank John Ninivaggi M.D., of Yale University School of Medicine. It ascribes a
primary, pivotal role to unconscious envy.
Envy theory is a conceptual exploration of hypotheses and conjectures about the mind's
fundamentalcognitive and emotional makeup-origins, infrastructure, and developmental
potentials. Envy theory draws from psychology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, neuroscience,
and aspects of the humanities in constructing models of envy in the human condition (1). It
advances the traditional "love-hate" paradigm and introduces its substrata of "love-envy" literacy.
The envy model is a contribution to the psychological literature, better patient care, and new
research. Dr, Ninivaggi's study of Eastern traditions, as described in his text, "Ayurveda: A
Comprehensive Guide to Traditional Indian Medicine for the West "(1a), suggests correlations
between envy and the Buddhist axiom of desire.
While envy theory formulates basic propositions about human psychology, consciousness, and
the meaning of personhood, it suggests a number of explanatory factors to make it socially
interesting and of practical use, for example, as a research paradigm. Envy theory dynamics
have roots in earliest infancy and so transcend conventional genderstereotypes. Yet, despite
envy's genetic imperative, there may be important gender-based differences in the experience of
envy as it develops over time.
Environmental tutoring significantly modulates envy's innate dispositional loading. As
temperament and personality develop, envy becomes amalgamated in a variety of ways into
one's character. Many aspects of envy theory await testability. Its value in clinical applications is
yet to be explored.
Unconscious envy is the primitive sensation and conflated feeling of privation, powerlessness,
inferiority, and hostile distress coupled with the urge to rob and spoil in the face of advantages
and their enjoyment existing elsewhere. Envy is proposed as constituting a primary and nuclear
dimension of mind around which cognitive and emotional experiences organize from infancy into
adulthood. Unconscious envy as an orientation module denotes the mind's ultimate dissonance
default state.
From a metaphorical perspective, unconscious envy is akin to "biting the breast that feeds" and
"poisoning the well." This is part of envy's paradoxical nature. Ironically, such unconscious envy
cannot be taken personally; it is the mind's reactive default state. In its most primitive iteration, it
is a reflexive response to another based on the envier's idiosyncratic fantasy construals. In this
sense, it is insular and "impersonal." This virtual absence of empathy correlates with states
The discovery of the "mirror neuron system" (MNS) in the macaque monkey and in humans, for
example, has contributed neuroscience correlates to what envy theory proposes as the
biomental epistemological mechanism of knowing, projective internalization--identifying and
understanding aspects of the environment based on their intrapsychic and intrabrain correlates
with the external environment (4, 5, 6, 7). This relationship is characterized by simultaneity, not
one causing the other.
Envy theory also has correlations in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Although envy
dynamics are profoundly intrapsychic, they are embedded in interpersonal relatedness. The
ramifications for social psychology are yet to be elucidated. Healthy survival (the healthy
maturation of envy), for example, denotes both personal gain and gain for the other considered
biomentally similar, a relation or kin. Constructs, therefore, such as "inclusive fitness" and "kin
selection" have psychodynamic relevance in envy theory.

The significance of envy as a typical state of mind, universal but dimensional in degree, is
posited. Indeed, rather than being simple and discrete, envy is a diverse set of urges, emotions,
and cognitions with a tonic presence that waxes and wanes developmentally and chronologically
over time and experience.
Indirect behavioral indicators of unconscious envy are suggested when one senses another to be
disturbingly intrusive, acquisitive and withholding, and generally unhelpful. All self-undermining
attitudes and behaviors are rooted in unconscious envy. Conscious recognition of envy, for
example, resides in many folklore ideas such as "evil eye" and "jinx," as well as in expressions
such as "bite the breast that feeds," "the grass is always greener on the other side," and
"poisoning the well." Behaviorally, envy is the core motivating force behind defacing property and
spoiling the pleasure of others. These connote identifying something exceedingly good with the
implication of hostile spoiling and destroying the perceived source of goodness, not badness. In
terms of learning, envy brings it to a halt (8).
Dr. Ninivaggi is currently completing a comprehensive text on the practical implications of his
envy theory called Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting.