An Expert Reveals The 5 Toxic Habits of Pathologically Envious Narcissists

A researcher specializing in narcissism reveals the five tell-tale signs you’re dealing with a pathologically envious narcissist in dating, friendships, or the workplace.

Benign envy is the envy that allows us to admire and aspire – it pushes us to achieve greater heights based on what we see others accomplishing. When we want what others have, we may be more motivated to take the productive actions that help us reach the level of those who possess the traits and lifestyle we covet for ourselves. Malicious envy is the type of dangerous envy that spurs attempts at sabotage and denigration directed at the person we envy: according to research, it’s associated with both narcissistic and psychopathic traits and behaviors. This will come as no surprise to survivors of narcissistic people in romantic relationships, the family, the workplace, or friendships. Envious narcissists can bully people, sabotage goals and celebratory occasions, and even attempt to ruin relationships and connections. They can do a great deal of damage if their actions go unchecked and they are not held accountable. Here are five toxic habits you will commonly find in pathologically envious narcissists:

They exploit you and use you to make themselves look good, while simultaneously devaluing and minimizing your achievements and attributes.

The narcissist’s ability to both exploit and degrade the people they envy at the same time is paradoxical and baffling. For example, they may use an attractive romantic partner as “arm candy” to show off to the world, while verbally abusing them behind closed doors. This is because while the narcissist knows their victims are desirable and can be used to raise their own status simply by association, they also want to ensure their victims don’t recognize their worth or search for a better partner. They want to take down their partners a peg or two and maintain control by belittling them. In the workplace, a narcissistic individual might openly reap the benefits of a talented colleague, while at the same time denigrate and minimize their achievements because they do not possess those achievements themselves. They feel threatened by the idea that this colleague has something they don’t, so instead of acknowledging this with maturity, they prefer to deflate such achievements. They might even go so far as to take credit for their labor and steal their ideas while criticizing them covertly or overtly. In contexts like the family or friendships, the accomplished victim is inevitably scapegoated by jealous peers and family members who want to exploit the resources and status of the victim while also degrading this victim. For example, a narcissistic father might routinely make rude comments about his son’s career, while also demanding he help out with their finances. This sense of entitlement runs rampant among envious narcissists who feel they “own” the positive qualities and assets their victims possess, yet are invested in making their victims feel small as a result of their own inferiority complex.

A shocking lack of appreciation, acknowledgment, or gratitude accompanied by contemptuous hypercriticism.

You can always identify a narcissist by how they choose to give criticism. Narcissistic romantic partners will usually nitpick and criticize you in ways that are nonsensical, fabricating flaws that don’t exist or raging over minuscule matters. For example, a narcissistic spouse may have a temper tantrum over the way you cooked dinner or pick at the way you dress, even if you spent hours cooking a delicious meal for them or put on an extravagant dress for a night out. They might put down your goals, claiming you’re not intelligent enough to pursue a degree or a certain career. In reality, what they’re trying to do with this hypercriticism is control you. They don’t want you to wear that beautiful gown because other suitors may notice you; they don’t want to be appreciative of your domestic labor because they want you to continue trying to go overboard to win their approval; they don’t want you to go back to work or school because it means you’ll no longer be dependent on them. A healthy, empathic person knows how to criticize in constructive ways that do not border on being condescending, excessive, unnecessarily cruel, false, and callous. They know how to make their point with tact, empathy, and dignity. Notice the difference between saying something like, “I really enjoyed hearing your ideas and feedback, and here’s where I think I need further clarification,” and “I see no point in what you’re saying. This is all rubbish. It’s like you’re starting drama for no reason. You’re a bad person.” The former acknowledges the value in someone’s work or input and goes on to offer helpful insight. The latter avoids accountability altogether and uses diversionary false accusations to detract from a person’s perspective. A narcissist will attack people for no reason other than their own ego and overwhelm their targets with false accusations, hypercritical comments that are neither relevant nor applicable, and plenty of projections consisting of their own misdeeds and wrongdoings. This is especially atrocious to witness when the victims they attack are the same people who have gone out of their way to exceed expectations and even benefit the narcissist in some way; it shows a stunning lack of appreciation and gratitude for the hard work, attentiveness, and talent these victims bring to the table.

They always move the goal posts.

A pathologically envious narcissist is never satisfied: that’s because they choose not to be. That is why you will see them constantly moving the goal posts so that their arbitrary standards and expectations can never be met. This moving of the goal posts can also happen within romantic relationships, family, friendships, and the workplace. One minute, you’re too independent and guarded as a romantic partner: the next, you’re labeled too clingy and needy when you dare to show some vulnerability. You need to dim your light to make your narcissistic friend comfortable, but once you do, you’re labeled a doormat and this toxic friend will make you feel weak for doing so even though they previously criticized you for being too “boastful.” You may have a number of credentials and accomplishments to your name, yet somehow the narcissistic co-worker finds a way to minimize and downplay even these contributions and act like they could’ve achieved just the same even though they didn’t. The point of moving the goal posts isn’t to address any actual flaws or shortcomings in the victim: it’s to simply keep you in your “place” so you never feel like you’ve satisfied the narcissist and they can assuage their own sense of inferiority and mitigate feeling threatened by you. In the presence of an envious narcissist who continually moves the goal posts, it’s important to focus on satisfying yourself, not the narcissist. Don’t try to fulfill their bizarre, arbitrary “standards” of what a narcissist portrays as “good enough” because chances are you already surpass them – and they know it.

They issue covert put-downs, turn others against you, or compare you to others.

One effective way narcissists attempt to detract from your achievements or the positive qualities that distinguish you is by setting up false comparisons to other people or by pitting people against you. In workplaces, they could spread gossip about you to others or misrepresent you to those in charge.  They may attribute your achievements to “luck” rather than talent, or assert that they are just as capable as you are of skills, knowledge, and accomplishments that took specialized training or a certain level of natural ability to attain. They will mention irrelevant people who do not actually compare to you as a way to take the spotlight off you, especially during celebratory occasions where you are being praised and congratulated on a job well done. The envious family member will bring up other relatives or siblings to pit you against others in the family unit. The jealous co-worker might praise another co-worker (who is in reality underperforming compared to you) as a snide reminder that you can’t possibly be that “special,” even if no one else compares to you and you bring irreplaceable assets to the team. The narcissistic friend might appear to praise you one second, only to center themselves the next or covertly mention something they perceive as “lacking” in you. This is a way for them to rob you of your “moment” and can be especially excruciating to endure, especially if you worked hard and are more than deserving of what you’ve achieved.

They have a need to “humble” you and attempt to sabotage you.

Beware: if you dare to have a healthy sense of confidence around a narcissist, you will usually be made an automatic target. Narcissistic individuals don’t like when their victims are grounded in their own sense of validation. They prefer their victims defer to their authority and be dependent upon them for approval. A misogynistic dating partner doesn’t want you to know you’re attractive or intelligent; they want to be the ones who “validates” your attractiveness and intelligence – otherwise, they lose their power over you. So if you’re pursuing your PhD, just got a promotion, or obtained a modeling contract, that will be right around the time they start crazymaking arguments with you to sabotage you before important meetings, interviews, or exams. A vindictive, narcissistic family member doesn’t want you to pursue your dreams and career opportunities because they know your financial independence takes away their control over your agency, so they will put down your abilities so you have less confidence. An envious friend feels irked when you exhibit healthy pride because it’s a nagging reminder of their own incompetence, so they change the subject aggressively any time you’re mentioned in the social circle. Or, they feel threatened by your beauty and do everything possible to monopolize attention that’s naturally directed at you or make cutting, resentful remarks to “punish” you for outshining them. That’s why it’s important not to automatically label a woman taking a selfie as a narcissist while dismissing the woman behind her staring at her with seething resentment: true narcissism in women goes far beyond vanity; it is most evident in the envious rage and retaliation narcissists carry out against innocent people.  It’s important to understand that the pathological envy of a narcissist is actually representative of how powerful you are and have the potential to be. Do not let these toxic types convince you to dim your light or shrink.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.