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Tuning In to Envy: It's Not the Monster You Think It Is

Have you ever witnessed another woman confidently setting boundaries, investing in her own needs, and putting herself first, only to feel a pang of jealousy? A sense of awe mixed with vague discomfort... or even judgment?

If so, you're not alone. For many of us, seeing other women unapologetically prioritizing themselves can trigger complicated emotions.

On one hand, we admire their confidence, their connection to what they want and need, their authenticity, and what we might perceive as a carefree, "f*ck it" attitude. These women embody a level of self-assuredness and self-love that we aspire to, and their boldness is inspiring.

But on the other hand, their behavior scratches at deeply held beliefs that we're not allowed to do the same. We may find ourselves questioning their choices or silently condemning them for being "selfish" or "difficult."

This reaction often stems from a lifetime of conditioning that taught us our worth lies in self-sacrifice—in deferring to others, caretaking, and setting aside our own needs time and time again to ensure that everyone else is comfortable.

The Roots of Self-Denial

This internal narrative of self-denial can be traced not only to the implicit and explicit messages received in our families of origin, but also to our experiences in school, expectations in our professional roles, our religious upbringing, and Western culture in general.

From a young age, we learned that "good girls" always put others first. We were praised for being accommodating, agreeable, and selfless, while any assertion of our own needs or desires was met with disapproval, and sometimes even punishment.

As we grew older, these messages were reinforced in countless ways. In school, we were expected to be quiet, compliant, and helpful, even at the expense of our own learning or wellbeing. In the workplace, we've seen women who advocate for themselves or challenge the status quo labeled as "bossy," "aggressive," or "difficult," while those who quietly take on extra work and emotional labor celebrated as "team players."

In many religious contexts, self-denial is held up as a virtue, with women, in particular, being called to submit to authority, serve others, and sacrifice their own needs for the greater good. And in Western culture at large, the idealized woman is still often portrayed as a nurturing, self-effacing caregiver who always puts her family's needs before her own.

The Discomfort of Counter-Examples

With this societal conditioning as a backdrop, it's no wonder that seeing other women boldly prioritize themselves can feel so jarring. Their behavior directly challenges the narrative we've internalized—that our worth depends on our ability to be selfless and accommodating.

When we witness another woman setting firm boundaries, saying "no" to unreasonable requests, or investing in her own self-care, it forces us to question why in the world we've been denying ourselves these same freedoms.

This question can be deeply uncomfortable to confront. It requires us to look objectively at all the ways in which we've been complicit in our own mistreatment and disregard. We may feel a sense of shame or regret for not having stood up for ourselves sooner, or anger at the societal messages that have kept us small and quiet.

Envy as a Compass

But what if, instead of pushing away these uncomfortable feelings, you chose to lean into them? What if you recognized that envy—far from being a little, green, shameful monster—could actually be a powerful compass, guiding you toward the authentic life you crave?

When you feel jealous of another woman's self-assuredness or boundary-setting, it's often because she's modeling something you deeply desire for yourself. Her behavior is illuminating an unmet need or a suppressed part of yourself that's longing for expression. By tuning into that envy and asking yourself what it's trying to communicate, you can start to identify areas of your life in which you're overdue for some self-advocacy and self-care.

Maybe your envy is pointing to a need for more alone time, more space to pursue your own passions and interests outside of your role as caregiver or employee.

Maybe it's highlighting a desire for more authentic communication in your relationships, or a longing for firmer boundaries around your time and energy.

Or maybe it's simply revealing a deep yearning to treat yourself with the same love, respect, and care that you so freely give to others.

By reframing envy as a guide rather than a source of shame, you open yourself up to a world of possibility. You start to see that prioritizing our own needs isn't selfish—but an essential act of self-love and self-preservation. You begin to challenge the societal scripts that have kept you small and self-sacrificing. You start to imagine a life in which you can show up fully and unapologetically as yourself.

You deserve that, just as the woman who sparked your envy does. Go get it.


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.


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