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Telltale Signs of Envy in Friends, Family & Peers

Let’s talk about the signs of envy, particularly in the people who are most likely to feel it towards you: friends, family and peers.

Though envy is trickier to detect than most emotions, there are indirect signs that a person feels envious towards you, both in the moment of their experiencing it and as a broader trend in the relationship.

Let me tell you: your ability to decode the signs of envy might save you years of suffering, futile attempts to repair broken relationships, and the mental suffering brought by turning over confusing situations in your head.

You can realise that the envious person is fundamentally in pain and learn not take their hostility to heart. You can cut the toxic enviers out of your life, letting them stew in their self-generated misery. You’ll learn how to deflect envy away from you and not stir it up in others.

Though we rarely admit it, we all experience envy. It’s a core fact of being human and having an individual identity. So let’s begin by getting a handle on this ubiquitous emotion and its origins.

Envy and Its Origins

If you want to understand this emotion, I suggest you begin by looking for the signs of envy in yourself, and how you deal with them. Chances are you constantly compare yourself with others in terms of status, respect, attention, money, job, skills and achievements. When you notice another person has something you desire, just for a second you feel inferior, frustrated and hateful.

If you experience many of these pangs of envy, you subtly begin to dislike this person and justify it with excuses that veil the cause.

Nobody admits to acting out of envy. We don’t even admit to feeling it, because this entails admitting we’re inferior to someone else, and that we dislike them for it. It’s difficult to admit to yourself, let alone the recipient or other people.

As enviers we create a narrative that conceals the envy and justifies whatever actions result from it. The other person is lucky, or ruthless, or knows the right people. They don’t really deserve what they have. We have the right to bring them down a notch.

Go through this process enough times, and you’ll begin to make covert or overt attacks on the person. They won’t suspect that you’re envious, and you’ll have largely forgotten by this point. All you’ll see is a monster that you hate and seem to have grounds to attack at will.

Envy occurs most commonly among friends, family and colleagues because these people see our life up close. They see us continually, are exposed to our character more than anyone, and hear about our successes. But if we’re victims of their envy, we often experience only their hostility, nasty actions or put-downs, and we’re left confused and guilty. We must learn to decode envy.

Thanks goes to Robert Greene for his insights into envy: I learned a lot from him, and many of my insights here are based on his work.

Of all the human emotions, none is trickier or more elusive than envy. It is very difficult to actually discern the envy that motivates people’s actions or to even know that we have suffered an envy attack from another.

Robert Greene

Let’s talk about the four top signs of envy.

Signs of Envy 1: Displeasure with Your Success

If you want to share your success with someone, and instead of receiving praise and joy, you get a muted response or even sadness, disappointment and anger, it’s pretty likely that the person envies you.

You might notice they smile and praise you, but it feels forced and unconvincing. This is because on one hand they resent your success, but they also know they must maintain their image as a good friend or family member, so will oblige themselves to praise you.

Though this first sign is obvious and intuitive, it can be confusing. “Why would this friend or family member react so halfheartedly to this great news? Aren’t they happy for me?” Their response might make us think we’ve done something wrong.

It can be puzzling for another reason: their negative response can seem disproportionate to the size of your success. This is because the internal experience of success is very different from the external one. From the outside, success looks like an orgasmic moment, a fireworks display, a flash of magic. But the inner experience is quite different, because you’ve gone through a 1000-step process that nobody else saw. You might wonder why they get so envious, and this might explain it.

Then there’s the look of envy. For a brief moment you might detect their eyes boring through you, their mouth turned down, nose turned up, and chin jutting out. This is a huge giveaway.

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Signs of Envy 2: Hostility

As we’ve made clear, envy often makes comes out as hostility. This is the envier’s way of channeling the envy in a disguised manner. The attacker will never advertise their envy: it always disguises itself as another emotion. Hurting you is satisfying and helps them to release the rage stoking inside them.

If envy builds up for long enough, it’ll eventually explode inside the person. They’ll then act uncontrollably, saying ugly things you don’t really deserve.

Here are some ways this hostility might come out:

  • they compare you to others who are better than you while offering you little praise,
  • point out your failures,
  • highlight your weaknesses and mistakes
  • throw criticisms aimed at your biggest insecurities or difficulties, yet not related to anything you’ve done.

Some of these are more extreme, but know that little comments often foreshadow a huge attack.

Sign 3: Schadenfreude

Another clear sign of envy is that the person takes satisfaction in your failures and struggles. In German, schaden means to hurt or damage, and freude means joy or pleasure.

Sure, if you share some of your bad news to them, they might not throw a party, but you’ll notice subtle signs of joy in their speech and tone of voice.

You might notice that they’re particularly keen to offer advice and be a shoulder to cry on, except they don’t seem to be walking in your shoes. Instead, they’re inviting you to share your pain because it assuages their sense of inferiority.

If their envy is strong, they’ll take advantage of such moments to plunge a knife into your wound and make you feel even worse, while subtly disguising their attacks as “advice” or “honesty”.

Copyright Till Lauer

Signs of Envy 4: They Talk Only About Their Successes

I’ve also found that those who envy me talk mostly about their successes, rarely their failures or difficulties. They make their life out to be one unending stream of happiness and success, which in reality is rarely ever the case, no matter what your life is like.

When this happens, it seems as though the relationship has become more about one-upmanship than bonding and reciprocity. You might initially react with admiration and idealisation, even envy, believing that they’re incredibly successful and perfect. But their behaviour actually stems from a strong sense of inferiority and insecurity.

Essentially, they’re trying to convince you that they’re successful so that you might feel some of the envy they do. They worry that you perceive them as a loser or failure, so they go overboard in hiding their failings and accentuating their triumphs.

Be careful not to blame them, though: it might be that you unknowingly do the same, and have inadvertently stirred disproportionate envy in them by skewing their view of your life.

If this becomes a pattern, be aware that they could turn nasty very soon. Whatever you do, don’t trigger their inferiority. Never bring into question their success and happiness: go along for the ride. In this case, I prefer to pretend than speak my mind.

Now you know the telltale signs of envy, it’s time to learn how to deal with envious people.