Once upon a time there was a man who received a garden as a gift so that he could cultivate it and feed himself. However, the days passed and the man did not care the garden. The weeks passed and he did not bother to grow it or fertilize it. After a few months the weeds had covered almost the entire field.
When winter approached and the harvest time came, the man did not collect anything. Desperate and angry, he looked up at the sky and asked:
– What did I do, oh God, because you treat me like that? What did I do to send me this misfortune? Look at the gardens of my neighbors, they are fertile and look at mine one, how dry it is!
This story, which is found in the book “Dialogues with Abul Beka”, shows what is the way of reasoning and acting, often quite irrational, of envious people.
Envy, one of the seven deadly sins, is a deeply hostile feeling towards a person who has something we want. Consists in desiring something that someone has, but feeling inferior and unable to obtain it.
The 5 types of envious people
1. The sarcastic envious. Apparently, this person assumes everything with a great sense of humor, but in reality he is disguising envy with sarcasm, which is his favorite weapon to make the other feel bad. He will not attack directly, but will always be ready to highlight your weaknesses or mistakes with a smile on his lips. It’s his way of making you feel inferior. And if you ask him what he wanted to say, he’s likely to get offended or angry.
2. The direct envious. This person attacks directly, to make you feel bad. Normally they are insecure people, with an aggressive personality, who are concerned with detailing your faults in an attempt not to let you enjoy what you have achieved. They remain alert, so that at every small signal of success, they will remind you of a previous failure or mistake. This kind of envious people are very careful because they will not even hesitate to put obstacles on your way, to prevent you from being more successful.
3. The pessimist envious. His goal is to undermine your mood and your motivation. Any positive news that you give to him and that can generate envy, will be refuted by using negative arguments with the sole purpose of depressing you. For example, if you tell him that you have just been hired in an important company, they will say the company will take advantage of any excuse to fire you or they will enumerate several reasons for what, according to them, the company is not so important.
4. The competitive envious. This person will not tell you anything openly, but his attitude and actions say it all. He is aware of every little detail of your life, to emulate you. If you buy a mobile phone, he’ll rush to buy a better one, if you change the sofa, he will immediately go to buy a bigger and more expensive one. It is the kind of envious people who are never satisfied with what they have, so they continually want what others have and even pretend to generate envy in you.
5. The lurking envious. Even this person will not tell you anything, at least at the beginning. It is a kind of silent voyeur, which observes your life with envy. When you finally make a mistake, fail or something goes wrong, he’ll take advantage of that moment of crisis to put his finger in the wound. His favorite phrase is “I told you so!” which hides a deep satisfaction because it makes him feel superior.
Envy is not enviable: Inside the envious person’s mind
Jorge Luis Borges underlined that in Spanish, to say that something is very good, it is said that “it is enviable”. However, envy is one of the most damaging feelings that exist. It damages those who feel it and also those who are the object, because often those persons are forced to overcome all kinds of obstacles that the envious put on their way.
Envy is a corrosive feeling that can ruin life. Carrie Fischer brilliantly condensed it with these words: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.
Now some researchers of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences of Japan have verified that, indeed, envy damages a lot those who feed it. These neuroscientists asked a group of people to imagine being protagonists of different social dramas in which they had a very low social status and other people took the credit.
Thus they discovered that envy activates the same brain regions related to physical pain. And the more envy the participants reported, the more those areas were activated.
At the same time, when these people were asked to imagine that the others were failing, the circuits of reward were activated in their brain, which means that the misfortune of the envied person activates the centers of pleasure in the envious. In other words: they enjoy the misfortune of others.
The problem is that for the envious is difficult to appreciate the beautiful things in his life, simply because he is too busy to worry about the good things that happen to others. Harold Coffin said: “Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.”
The envious person feels inferior, so he believes that he will never be happy, powerful, capable or intelligent like the others, and that is why he is envious. In fact, a very interesting study conducted at the Carlos III University of Madrid revealed that people who are optimistic, or who have an enormous self-confidence, are less likely to feel envious because they tend to be more cooperative and altruistic in their social relationships.
But envious people tend to be very competitive, they always want to have more than the others, but unlike others, they do not choose collaborative strategies but prefer to do it alone, even if it means worse results for everyone. In this way, nurturing envy is like digging the grave in which bury our own happiness. Therefore, envy is never enviable.
How to deal with envious people?
We cannot prevent someone from envying us. And in many cases we cannot do anything to limit the envy of the others because these people have a very special way of understanding the world. The Austrian sociologist Helmut Schoeck said: “The envious man thinks that if his neighbor breaks a leg, he will be able to walk better himself”.
The envious have a way of seeing the world so self-centered and distorted that the suffering of the others sometimes even seems a “blessing” to them. Therefore, the smart thing to do is try to stay away from them and pay attention to the obstacles they put on our path.
Another alternative is to highlight their strength and success, in the hope that the envious understand that we are all different and have different abilities. It is not necessary to compare ourselves because we do not have to be better than the others, but only better than ourselves.
Casasnovas, J. et. Al. (2016) Humans display a reduced set of consistent behavioral phenotypes in dyadic games. Science Advances; 2(8): e1600451.
Dvash, J. et. Al. (2010) The envious brain: the neural basis of social comparison. Hum Brain Mapp; 31(11): 1741-1750.
Takahashi, H. et. Al. (2009) When Your Gain Is My Pain and Your Pain Is My Gain: Neural Correlates of Envy and Schadenfreude. Science; 323(5916): 937-939.