Abusers manipulate victims because they enjoy the feelings of power and control, not because victims themselves lack merits. In fact, narcissistic abusers feel particular joy at bringing down anyone whose accomplishments and traits they envy to reinforce their false sense of superiority. -Shahida Arabi, POWER: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse.
Out of all of the manipulative tactics and forms of coercion and control a malignant narcissistic abuser subjects us to, the pathological envy of a narcissist is one of the most baffling and devastating experiences of the narcissistic abuse experience. We often cannot fathom that a loved one, whether a friend, a family member or significant other, would ever want to sabotage our success, undermine our joy or belittle our accomplishments. Yet this horrifying aspect of a narcissist’s diagnostic criteria is even noted in the DSM-5, which states that not only are narcissists envious of others, they believe others to be envious of them.
A narcissist’s pathological envy arises from their need to be the best, their excessive sense of entitlement to being the center of attention at all times, with the most fame, wealth, and status. Any threat to their grandiose delusions of grandeur will result in a narcissistic injury, and inevitably, narcissistic rage. This is why narcissists tend to be pompous critics, usually incapable of the same efforts they criticize in others. The success of others evokes their pathological envy, reminding them of what they lack and could never achieve themselves. As a result, they will do anything and everything possible to minimize the accomplishments of those who threaten their false sense of grandiosity and superiority.
Initially, narcissists and otherwise toxic people may claim to be very happy for your success; during the idealization and love-bombing phases of the relationship, they may even excessively congratulate, praise and flatter you. They may use you as a “trophy” to show off to others, gaining status and prestige from simply being associated with you. They have no problem in benefiting from your wealth, your reputation and your various assets. As the relationship moves forward, however, their need to devalue their victims kicks in and their pathological envy and competitiveness becomes more and more apparent. What was once a subtle look of contempt at the sight of your success soon becomes hour-long arguments bashing every aspect of your identity, your dreams, your goals, and any source of joy outside of the realm of the narcissist’s control.
What many people don’t realize is that narcissists don’t just gravitate towards us because of our vulnerabilities; they are also attracted to our assets – and not only because they can exploit those assets for narcissistic supply. Anything you achieve or gain joy from stirs this envy within them and an inexplicable need to win or one-up you at all costs. It also represents a threat to their control over you – after all, if you are gaining happiness and validation from somewhere outside of the narcissist, this means you don’t need them. This strengthens their desire to destroy us and our success in every way possible – so that they can isolate us from other sources of validation while demeaning the very core of who we are.
The starry-eyed admiration followed by anger and envy is a classic case of the type of crazymaking you’re likely to encounter in a narcissist once in the devaluation and discard phases of the relationships. Whatever happiness they seem to project in the idealization stage is merely a facade for the deep contempt they feel for anyone they feel threatened by.
Signs of Pathological Envy in a Malignant Narcissist Can Include Someone Who:
- Praises you highly for your accomplishments initially; uses your accomplishments as a way to associate themselves with you and look good. Likes feeling as if they have the “successful girlfriend” or boyfriend – while simultaneously resenting you for it.
- Competes with you often; if you bring up what you achieved, they have to bring up something bigger or downgrade what you’ve achieved to make you feel small. Nothing you do is truly special or “impressive” – or, it’s really, really special until the narcissist gets tired of praising you and wants to cut you down a thousand pegs or so.
- Highly competitive in any and every context; will be a sore loser in recreational games, sports, or other activities and resort to immature actions to “win” or insult your ability.
- Will accuse you of being arrogant should you happen to share your happiness or present a healthy confidence in your abilities. They are in fact projecting their own sense of arrogance onto you.
- Behind closed doors (or sometimes even out in the open), devalues and minimizes the things they once praised, making them seem unimportant and lacking because they know they would’ve never been able to accomplish those things themselves. They will emphasize the idea that people are against you (projecting the fact that it’s them that is against you), that your contribution isn’t valuable or degrade/ignore accomplishments that are in fact a big deal, all with an innocent or smug look on their face.
- Sabotages important events in your life such as big interviews, projects, deadlines using methods like put-downs, crazymaking arguments that lead to sleep deprivation, pressuring you to spend time with them right beforehand, insulting you, covertly casting doubt onto your abilities and talents, one-upping you and making themselves seem more important, accomplished and talented to stroke their sense of superiority.
- Treats your goals, dreams and interests with contempt or a condescending attitude, all while bringing the conversation back to them.
It is also helpful to keep in mind that a narcissist will often deny they are envious, though their actions clearly say otherwise. They strive very hard to hide their own envy not just from their victims but from themselves, to the point of delusion. Their false sense of superiority and haughty contempt often accompanies their put-downs, subtle digs, minimizing statements and demeaning insults – all of which serve to belittle the victim and make the victim ashamed of succeeding, of feeling joy, of creating new connections, of flourishing – of thriving and owning their power to create a beautiful life.
To resist internalizing the verbal garbage a narcissist may spew at you out of their envy, remember the following: if someone expresses rage and contempt towards you for daring to be proud of yourself (with a healthy level of pride, of course) or loving yourself, your life, and your accomplishments, the problem is not you. It is them.
How to Cope With the Attacks of a Green-Eyed Narcissist
Survivors may struggle with self-sabotage after experiencing a narcissist’s abusive bouts of envy, rage and verbal attacks. They may begin to fear speaking about their accomplishments or their happiness, lest they evoke their narcissist’s wrath. The cutting words of the narcissistic abuser may reverberate in their minds long after the relationship has ended, instilling in them a sense of pervasive self-doubt and worthlessness. Walking on eggshells and disowning your power, however, is no way to live. Survivors have to regain the certainty that the reason they experienced such a pathological reaction was because they were so powerful in the first place.
As I describe in my new book, POWER, it is essential that survivors develop a “toxic people phrases filter” – one in which anything a toxic person says is translated into what it actually means. For example, a narcissist’s degradation of the victim’s goals and dreams can be translated and seen for what it truly is: a sign that the narcissist is attempting to sabotage them, because they recognize what the victim has (whether it be financial assets, talent, a support network, etc.) is valuable. This is how survivors can begin to turn put-downs into power.
Remember: normal, healthy people do not sustain a narcissistic injury or lash out in narcissistic rage when they see other people succeeding and doing well for themselves. Healthy people have enough security and empathy to feel happiness for others, and to witness someone else beaming with authentic pride and self-love – without wanting to destroy it or sabotage it in some way.
You deserve to succeed. You deserve to flourish. You deserve to be abundant. You deserve the support of others who are happy for you and share in your joy. Do not let any green-eyed narcissist rain on your parade, trample over your boundaries and make you feel less than because they sense you are rising above and beyond what they ever could. You owe it to yourself to be powerful and victorious.
See the narcissist’s pathological envy for what it really is: a measure of how powerful you really are and have the potential to become.