Success is an elusive concept as it comes in different “shapes and sizes”. You could be professionally, economically, romantically successful, or even have excellent health. In any case, there will always be people who are envious of other people’s success. Sometimes it is healthy envy, other times it is not.
However, sometimes it is disconcerting that when things start to go well for us or we start to shine, people close to us start to feel jealous of that success. Normally they would feel happy for us, but that is not always the case. There are those who find it difficult to digest other people’s success. Why?
5 reasons why people can’t stand other people’s success
The most banal explanation refers to envy and jealousy, feelings that can reach extremely toxic levels and become very destructive, both for those who experience them and for the person towards whom they are directed. However, behind envy there is a much more complex psychological mechanism that needs to be understood, especially if we want that person to really enjoy our success or we want to keep them by our side.
1. Power struggle
One of the reasons why people do not respond well to the success of others is the need for control. We all need to keep some aspects of our lives under control to reduce stress and uncertainty, as research conducted at Rutgers University Newark showed, but these people need to control the others to feel good.
When they realize that you are more successful than them, they perceive it as a threat to their sphere of action, because they understand that they will lose influence over your decisions. They fear that their opinion will no longer be important to you and, therefore, they are afraid of losing the control that they may have exercised up to that point over your life.
2. Feeling stuck in life
Another reason why people don’t digest other people’s success well is that it can make them feel stuck in their own life. When someone notes the success of a college classmate, for example, he/she may feel that he/she has been left behind.
This reaction is not strange since we live in a highly competitive society in which we are pushed to outdo the others since childhood. As a result, these people, instead of being inspired by your success, become depressed because they feel like they are falling behind. The fact that you have “jumped ahead” makes them angry.
3. Personal failure
Not all of us can be successful in everything we set our minds to. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we cannot achieve our goals. When the success of the others reminds us of a personal failure, emotions that are difficult to manage are activated. We begin to make comparisons. Different types of regrets appear…
In those cases, to protect a bruised ego, those people will most likely belittle your success simply because they couldn’t achieve it. In fact, a study conducted at Jiangxi Normal University found that the more reactive the ego is, the more malicious envy increases. As a result, these people can be dismissive, cutting, and particularly biting because in their mind, your success equals their failure. And they may even take it as a personal affront because they feel like you’re rubbing your success in their face.
4. Feeling inadequate
Whether we like it or not, we all compare ourselves – sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. We tend to look for external reference points to measure our success in life. It is the result of a competitive mentality and the desire to be accepted and valued.
However, when someone around us is successful, we can feel like they have placed themselves a step above. That changes our reference points, automatically pushing us downward. This feeling of inadequacy, or of lacking the skills, generated by the success of the others can make us feel very bad, so we lash out at the person who triggered it.
5. Fear of abandonment
In some cases, the rejection of other people’s success is born from a deep fear of abandonment. In fact, this is a common reason for the people closest to you, such as your friends, family or even your partner, although they do not always openly acknowledge it.
Deep down, these people fear that success will change you and they will no longer be meaningful to you. They fear that your priorities and needs will change, so that they will no longer occupy a relevant place in your life. In this way, they begin to see your success as an enemy that can distance you.
How to deal with those reactions?
In some cases, these people are likely trying to make you feel bad about your success. You must understand that in reality they have nothing against you, their problem is with what the path you have taken represents for them. Therefore, try not to take their reactions personally and put yourself in their place.
However, do not let yourself be carried away by their pessimism or fall into the blame game unleashed by their reproaches and recriminations – direct or veiled. Life is unfair. That’s all! Sometimes those who try hard don’t get what they want. But you don’t have to apologize for your success.
Don’t seek approval from the others. But don’t compete or boast either. Follow your dreams and focus on what makes you happy. In the long run, people who were bothered by your success will likely end up accepting it and even feeling happy about it. They may also end up feeling inspired by what you’ve accomplished. And if not, that’s their problem, not yours.
Yang, C. & Tang, R. (2021) Validating the “Two Faces” of Envy: The Effect of Self-Control. Front. Psychol; 12: 10.3389.
Leotti, L. A. et. Al. (2010) Born to Choose: The Origins and Value of the Need for Control. Trends Cogn Sci; 14(10): 457–463.