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Envy Attacks Explained: Mild & Severe Varieties

Let’s talk about typical envy attacks, the levels of severity, and how to discern whether an attack is motivated by envy.

To be clear, I speak about the signs of envy in a separate article. Most of the time we don’t act on our envy. It remains passive, stewing inside us, and others can only detect it by decoding our body language.

However, when our envy becomes unbearable, we act on it, usually by attacking the person we envy in some way. An envy attack is a visible action that our envy drives us to take.

Understand this: enviers believe their attacks are justified, because though they admire you, they also construct a narrative that justifies their hostile feelings and hides their source, which is their own envy. As Robert Greene, one of my favourite writers on envy, says:

With envy comes the secret desire to hurt, wound, or steal from the envied person, to right the unfairness that comes with his or her supposed superiority.

Robert Greene

As such, envy attacks are unpleasant, damaging, even traumatising.

Let’s begin by talking about their mild form.

The Mild Variety of Envy Attacks

In their softer form, envy attacks are unpleasant but not traumatising. They may hinder or harm you, but not extremely. They often have a passive-aggressive flavour. Though they won’t ruin your life and you should be able to shrug them off easily, take them as a warning sign. You must begin to assuage the envy, otherwise this mild variety will descend into the vicious kind.

Look out for the following:

  • Subtle digs concealed behind humour: the envier feels tension and hatred. They release it by making comments at your expense or pointing out your flaws, all concealed behind a smokescreen of humour.

  • All criticism, no praise: enviers feel inferior. If you have an envious superior, peer or teacher, they’ll continually highlight what’s wrong with your work. They’re trying to bring you down a peg and have you doubt your capabilities, rather than push you to the next level.

  • Playing down your achievements: enviers die a little inside every time you achieve something. It pains them to compliment you for it, so instead they’ll bring into question the achievement itself. The language you mastered wasn’t so difficult after all. You got lucky and won the natural-talent lottery. You might be a good guitarist, but you’re not at professional level. They minimise it so that you don’t feel so proud.

  • Constant comparison with those superior to you: on that same track, they may admit that you’re pretty good at something, but they’ll continually compare you with those superior. They know a friend who’s doing better in their career, or who plays the piano better than you, or who runs a faster 10k time. Of course, they’re never the person who is superior to you, otherwise they wouldn’t be jealous.

  • Quashing, not giving you an inch: enviers won’t help you advance yourself, and in the mild variety will subtly sabotage you. Sure, they might not destroy your career, but they’ll be reluctant to help you improve it. They’ll withhold information, send you on a wild goose chase, or delay your progress. Watch out for this in envious bosses and colleagues.

  • Puzzling advice: finally, they’re likely to give you puzzling advice. It seems like advice and is logical and sensical, but it actually goes against your interests and is designed to sabotage you or distance you from your goals. Often it’s unsolicited and subtly aggressive.

in order for enviers to feel entitled to take harmful action, they must create a narrative: everything the other person does reveals some negative trait; they do not deserve their superior position.

Robert Greene

That’s the mild variety of envy attacks. Notice that these alone are unlikely to cause lasting damage. It’s common to experience them if you’re successful, and they don’t necessarily mean the perpetrator can’t remain your friend or colleague. However, they do mean that you should carefully monitor the situation and try to deflect their envy before it turns ugly.

Let’s talk about the vicious variety.

The Vicious Variety

The vicious variety of envy attacks are those that cause lasting damage to you. Though they are overt, unmistakeable attacks, you’ll only know that they’re motivated by envy if you learn to detect the signs of envy. The perpetrator will never tell you this. Heck, they turned you into a villain a long time ago, and by now they’ve probably forgotten that their envy motivates how they treat you.

Here are some examples of this variety of envy attacks:

  • Criticism aimed at your deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities: those who most envy us are often close enough to our lives to know our vulnerabilities, and rest assured they’ll attack them when their envy is too strong. They make cutting remarks. They’re ruthless, like a bully, and you’re left wondering why they’re so sadistic, why they can’t show compassion.

  • Pick out flaws and mistakes: the toxic envier will go beyond ignoring and downplaying your successes: they’ll inflate your flaws and constantly bring up your mistakes, as though they were the only thing that mattered.

  • Backstabbing: behind the scenes they plot and scheme to ruin your career, turn your friends and family against you, or steal your customers. All you see is the effect, and often have no idea what brought it about.

  • Set you up for a fall: they’ll propose something to you that seems like a good opportunity, deliberately hiding the negative aspects of it. I’ve had this happen to me several times. The envier delights in seeing you fail.

  • Push and pull: after a spell of coldness and antagonism, the envier will suddenly change tact. They love your ideas, they praise you, they want to be around you. You think things have turned around and that you’ve won them over. But soon after, they turn again, and you’re left desiring their attention and warmth. They do this to unsettle you, gain control over you, and have you chase them for a change.

  • Present one front to you and another to those you’re close to: they’ll talk positively of you to others and do you favours in public, but will treat you horribly when you’re alone. Their goal here is to prevent you from convincing others of their dirty games so you’re left unprotected and they can continue attacking you at will.

This might seem horrible and negative, but we have to be honest about what envy does to people. When envy it this strong, it’s horribly unpleasant to be on its receiving end. So it’s best to know about vicious envy attacks. This will motivate you to take preventative action and not inadvertently stir up envy, especially if you’re on the rise.

As for what to do with enviers who resort to these attacks, I have an article on how to deal with envy. My favourite strategy, one I’ve learned through much suffering, is to cut the person out of my life. There’s usually no repairing the relationship, and it’s not your responsibility to do so. Get as far away as possible, continue your rise, and leave them to stew in their petty, envy-filled life.