From all the mussar sefarim, Rav Avigdor Miller, Pele Yoetz, and many more, I knew I was wrong to feel the way I did, but simply could not change this particular middah.
Mostly, it did not affect other people or most aspects of my life.
It simply stood as an obstacle within my own personal growth, only affecting others in specific circumstances.
I davened about it, spoke to Hashem about it (which often felt like running into a brick wall, for some reason still not fully understood by me), read Torah sources about it, did writing exercises to overcome it and internalize the correct middah, but...nothing.
A few years of investment achieved some progress in external behavior.
But internally? Almost nothing.
Furthermore, I observed people who naturally possessed the middah I knew I needed to cultivate.
Initially, I admired them.
I tried to learn from them.
But the more I learned, the more frustrated I felt with myself.
Why couldn't I make this change AT ALL?
Why was even a baby-step of progress so impossible?
Others seemed to manage, even in situations similar to or much worse than mine.
And still others even seemed to excel in this middah, no matter how challenging.
Why was I so different and — let's face it — so much more defective than nearly everyone else in this particular area?
Then, in a short amount of time, Hashem suddenly revealed something to me.
When Good Middot Go Bad & Bad Middot Come to the Rescue
I saw how people imbued with this middah opposite to mine lead broken lives with not much hope for any improvement.
They made & continue to make destructive mistakes, enduring a lot of suffering in the process, a lot of which seemed to be partly self-inflicted.
Despite them succeeding in a certain middah in which I continue to fail miserably, I noticed my life, for all its flaws & disappointments, was much more successful (according to Torah definition) than theirs.
And it lifted a burden from me.
When everything became clear, I felt so grateful that I was NOT like those people with the middah I so badly desired.
In fact, the revelation made me high for 2 days.
And while I still realize I need to work on this middah, I'm so grateful for NOT having it naturally because it's highly destructive if one lacks balance & awareness.
I guess I was being harder on myself than I realized.
This blog keeps pounding away against toxic shame and feeling bad about having bad middot because the bare presence of bad middot is from Hashem & not something to feel bad about in and of itself.
It's your response to your bad middot that shows how good (or bad) you are.
But I guess for myself, with all the work in which I invested without reaping more than a tiny piece of grain, I just felt like I should be doing better already.
Also, I felt like I'm really not such a good person if I feel this way, ESPECIALLY after all the work I invested in that area.
Like, "Wow, I must be pretty bad if this is the result after all this work!"
Sort of like someone who does everything they can to succeed in algebra, including tutoring, tons of practice, and all sorts of alternative methods for YEARS — yet still fail every algebra test — may conclude they are stupid or at the very least, really bad at math.
But that's a worldly parable.
Spiritual physics work differently.
Our feelings & middot don't define our goodness or badness.
Our success in better behavior (or lack of) doesn't define whether we are good or bad.
Rather our DESIRE/RATZON to struggle against certain feelings & middot (as defined by Torah & mussar) define how good or bad we are.
Attack of the Potentially Holy Green-Eyed Monster
They read about it, talk to Hashem about it, constantly do their best to internalize the truth that Hashem decides everything and there is no need for envy because Hashem gives each person what they TRULY need and deserve.
And yet, after years of working on this, the person still suffers terrible envy!
It feels like failure because if a person developed an acute awareness of how lacking in emunah envy is, then they feel like they're a hopeless atheist or something when they cannot move beyond the envy, feeling stuck exactly where they started.
"Maybe I'm a religious hypocrite..." the person may start to muse.
Or the very few times they managed to overcome envy, they snapped right back to square one, as if they never moved in the first place.
It's very frustrating and discouraging.
(BTW, envy isn't my problem; just using it as an example.)
But then the person discovers people completely lacking in any envy whatsoever.
And they see people with potential who never moved their entire life.
Their magnanimous nature leaped overboard, causing them to give too much credence to other opinions (including anti-Torah opinions), behaving too generously with not-very-good people, and not accomplishing all the spiritual potential they possess.
Rather, due to your struggle with envy, you balanced yourself out without even meaning to.
You also made tremendous strides in life because your envy also ignited you with the fire to strive for certain goals.
For some people, the fire of envy gives them the fortitude to create a large family or to be more tsanuah or achieve more in Torah learning or to perform greater acts of kindness.
Envy used positively imbues them with the courage & fire to go against the current when the current roils in the wrong direction.
A wonderful person also brought to my attention something said by Rav Itamar Schwartz:
The sin of man was a lustful desire, but the jealousy itself which brought about this desire was not a sin.
Jealousy is rather the very nature that Hashem has designed man with.
It is upon a person to use jealousy for holiness, by being ‘jealous’ of the Creator, so to speak – to desire to integrate one’s being with Him, and, through this yearning, to become integrated with the Creator.
The holy use of jealousy, the desire to integrate with the Creator, is also a quick “destruction” [in the positive sense]:
It is a complete self-nullification, where man becomes completely integrated with the Infinite.
So despite how ugly envy feels and looks (if you've ever encountered a person who stares daggers at you while curling their upper lip in rage & disgust when you mention even a small nice thing experienced in your life, then you know how ugly it looks)...it's actually a holy middah in its essence.
Kinah brings a person to complete bonding with Hashem!
So a person suffering from terrible kinah might actually possess the potential for holiness & deveikus MORE than others.
That's just one example and, like mentioned above, not my personal grueling frustrating impossible struggle.
The Real Difference between Esav & Yaakov, and What It Means For Us
Esav's failure lay NOT in feeling drawn toward all the bad stuff that attracted him, but his failure lay in SUBMITTING to these attractions.
Esav gave up & gave in.
THAT was his mistake.
Not the fact that he experienced these terrible taavot, but that he caved in to them.
And that's what I learned to embrace.
So yes, I will continue to work on this impossible (for me) middah.
But I no longer feel bad about failing...as long as I work it.