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The Psychology of Envy and Success – Why Do People Hate You When You Succeed?

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Picture this: You’ve finally achieved your long-held dreams of success and accomplishment. But instead of receiving the applause and support you expected, you encounter a surprising phenomenon – people hating you for your achievements. This puzzling reaction stems from the intricate workings of envy, a psychological phenomenon that often emerges when individuals compare themselves to others.

But why is it that some individuals harbor animosity towards those who have reached the pinnacle of their goals?

The envious dilemma

Envy, a universal human emotion, often manifests itself in intriguing ways. Take Sarah, for instance, a talented musician who finally lands a record deal after years of hard work. While she expects her friends to rejoice in her success, she finds herself facing their subtle jabs and backhanded compliments. Their envy stems from their own unfulfilled dreams and highlights their feelings of inadequacy.

Similarly, we encounter John, an entrepreneur who successfully launches his own startup. Instead of receiving admiration, he becomes the subject of gossip and rumours among his acquaintances. Their envy is born from a sense of stagnation in their own careers, causing them to begrudge John’s achievements.

The success-envy paradox

These anecdotes mirror the findings of psychological research on the success-envy paradox. A 2023 study, published in the European Journal of Investigation in Health Psychology and Education, explored the impact of envy on social relationships. The results revealed that envy often arises when individuals make social comparisons and perceive themselves as falling short in comparison to others. Moreover, those with lower self-esteem tend to experience envy more intensely, feeling threatened by the success of their peers.

Another research study conducted by a team of psychologists delved into the destructive aspects of envy. The study found that malicious envy, characterised by resentment and a desire to harm the successful individual, can lead to a toxic cycle of competition and hostility. Envious individuals may engage in behaviours such as spreading rumours, actively undermining the success of others, or experiencing pleasure in witnessing their downfall.

Furthermore, envy often arises from the fear of being left behind. Envy is amplified when individuals perceive a significant gap between their achievements and those of others within their social circles. The fear of being overshadowed and experiencing a diminished sense of importance fuels resentment and animosity towards successful individuals.

Takeaway

The intertwining of anecdotal evidence and psychological research sheds light on the perplexing dynamics between success and envy. Understanding that envy stems from individuals’ own insecurities rather than any fault in our achievements can help us navigate these complex emotions.

When faced with envy, it is important to approach the situation with empathy and compassion. By recognizing that envy arises from deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy, we can foster a supportive environment that encourages others to pursue their own dreams.

In a society that often reveres success, it is disheartening to witness the negative reactions faced by achievers. However, armed with the knowledge of the psychology of envy, we can rise above the resentment and cultivate a culture that celebrates achievements without breeding animosity.


Sophia Martinez, PhD is a psychologist specialising in positive psychology and emotional well-being. With a passion for understanding the intricacies of human behavior, she explores the psychological factors that shape our relationships, success, and personal growth.

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