The Green-Eyed (Envious, Jealous, Spiteful) Narcissist
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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Today I wrote to someone:
"The biggest source of personal strength is loneliness. The fountain of vigour and clarity and tranquillity and creativity erupts from extreme deprivation. It is when we cannot rely on others, nor depend on them (not even for our sexual fulfilment), when we neither expect, nor wish, nor dream - that we are invincible. It is when we lose everything purposefully - that we gain it back. Naked, in the moonlight, we extend a hand to the stars and are one with them, primordially and unconditionally.
When we discover ourselves - we naturally shed the world. We have no need for it, this empty shell of failed communication. We are perfectly and entirely neutral - not sad, nor elated, not scared and not proud. A state of nothingness contrasted to the former and depraved state of being. We crave no more. We are at peace.
I congratulate you on your independence."
I am constantly envious of people. This is my way of interacting with the world. I begrudge others their success, or brilliance, or happiness, or good fortune. I am driven to excesses of paranoia and guilt and fear that subside only after I "act out" or punish myself. It is a vicious cycle in which I am entrapped.
From "Cronos and His Children - Envy and Reparation" by Mary Ashwin - Chapter II "Everyday Envy":
"Envy is forever looking upwards. It does not look sideways.
In 'Facial Justice' Hartley (1960) describes a life after a catastrophic war. A Dictator has decreed that envy is so destructive that it has to be eliminated. The citizens are coerced to be as alike each other as possible.
The worst crime is not envy itself but to excite envy.
'Equality and Envy - the two E's were...the positive and negative poles on which the New State rotated '(p.12). In order to exterminate envy everything that was enviable has been destroyed. Of course that in itself is the very essence of envy.
Neither envy nor equality are spoken of as words but referred to as Good and Bad E's. All tall buildings had been destroyed in the war except the tower of Ely Cathedral and none are allowed to be built - a horizontal view of life is required. No comparisons are to be made, women are encouraged to undertake an operation so they all looked alike, to be pretty would excite envy. The result is that the populace loses its humanity and becomes a non-thinking mass. The independently minded heroine, Jael, visits the Ely and looks up at the tower and leads a dance round it. She pays the price of having her more than averagely pretty face (an Alpha face) changed to a Beta face by cosmetic surgery and so made indistinguishable from the others."
The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines envy as:
"A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck."
And an earlier version (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) adds:
"Mortification and ill-will occasioned by the contemplation of another's superior advantages".
Pathological envy - the second deadly sin - is a compounded emotion. It is brought on by the realization of some lack, deficiency, or inadequacy in oneself. It is the result of unfavourably comparing oneself to others: to their success, their reputation, their possessions, their luck, or their qualities. It is misery and humiliation and impotent rage and a tortuous, slippery path to nowhere. The effort to break the padded walls of this self-visited purgatory often leads to attacks on the perceived source of frustration.
Narcissists envy everyone: spouses, co-workers, colleagues, celebrities, neighbors. Narcissistic parents envy their own children even though they regard them as mere extensions of themselves, instruments of gratification, and sources of narcissistic supply. Frustrated by unrealized fantasies, these mothers and fathers or caretakers charge their offspring with the task of fulfilling these failed dreams and resurrecting the parents’ battered False Selves. But when their children succeed in doing this bidding, when they become established or famous, these dysfunctional parents turn on them viciously and virulently, driven by seething and all-consuming envy.
There is a spectrum of reactions to this pernicious and cognitively distorting emotion:
Subsuming the Object of Envy through Imitation
Some narcissists seek to imitate or even emulate their (ever changing) role models. It is as if by imitating the object of his envy, the narcissist BECOMES that object. So, narcissists are likely to adopt their boss' typical gestures, the vocabulary of a successful politician, the views of an esteemed tycoon, even the countenance and actions of the (fictitious) hero of a movie or a novel.
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In his pursuit of peace of mind, in his frantic effort to alleviate the burden of consuming jealousy, the narcissist often deteriorates to conspicuous and ostentatious consumption, impulsive and reckless behaviours and substance abuse.
Elsewhere I wrote:
"In extreme cases, to get rich quick through schemes of crime and corruption, to out-wit the system, to prevail is thought by these people to be the epitome of cleverness (providing one does not get caught), the sport of living, a winked-at vice, a spice."
Destroying the Frustrating Object
Other narcissists "choose" to destroy the object that gives them so much grief by provoking in them feelings of inadequacy and frustration. They display obsessive, blind animosity and engage in compulsive acts of rivalry often at the cost of self-destruction and self-isolation.
In my essay "The Dance of Jael", I wrote:
"This hydra has many heads. From scratching the paint of new cars and flattening their tyres, to spreading vicious gossip, to media-hyped arrests of successful and rich businessmen, to wars against advantaged neighbours.
The stifling, condensed vapours of envy cannot be dispersed.
They invade their victims, their rageful eyes, their calculating souls, they guide their hands in evil doings and dip their tongues in vitriol...
(The envious narcissist's existence is) a constant hiss, a tangible malice, the piercing of a thousand eyes. The imminence and immanence of violence.
The poisoned joy of depriving the other of that which you don't or cannot have."
From my essay, "The Dance of Jael":
"There are those narcissists who idealize the successful and the rich and the lucky. They attribute to them super-human, almost divine, qualities...
In an effort to justify the agonizing disparities between themselves and others, they humble themselves as they elevate the others.
They reduce and diminish their own gifts, they disparage their own achievements, they degrade their own possessions and look with disdain and contempt upon their nearest and dearest, who are unable to discern their fundamental shortcomings. They feel worthy only of abasement and punishment. Besieged by guilt and remorse, voided of self-esteem, perpetually self-hating and self-deprecating - this is by far the more dangerous species of narcissist.
For he who derives contentment from his own humiliation cannot but derive happiness from the downfall of others. Indeed, most of them end up driving the objects of their own devotion and adulation to destruction and decrepitude..."
"...But the most common reaction is the good old cognitive dissonance. It is to believe that the grapes are sour rather than to admit that they are craved.
These people devalue the source of their frustration and envy. They find faults, unattractive features, high costs to pay, immorality in everything they really most desire and aspire to and in everyone who has attained that which they so often can't. They walk amongst us, critical and self-righteous, inflated with a justice of their making and secure in the wisdom of being what they are rather than what they could have been and really wish to be. They make a virtue of jejune abstention, of wishful constipation, of judgmental neutrality, this oxymoron, the favourite of the disabled."
Avoidance - The Schizoid Solution
And then, of course, there is my favourite solution: avoidance. To witness the success and joy of others is too painful, too high a price to pay. So, I stay at home, alone and incommunicado. I inhabit the artificial bubble that is my world where I am king and country, I am the law and yardstick, I am the one and only. There, in the penumbral recesses of my study, my flickering laptop for company, the only noises are electronic and I am the resident of my own burgeoning delusions. I am happy and soothed. I am what I can dream and dream my very being. I am no longer real, simply a narrative, an invention of my fervent mind, a colourful myth, sustaining and engulfing. I am content.
Pathological envy is not the same as romantic jealousy. These two emotions have little to do with each other.
Romantic jealousy is the product of a violation of trust; a breach of romantic exclusivity of intimacy; and a denial of possession. It also involves damage to the self-esteem and self-perception of the cuckolded spouse, as he compares himself unfavourably to the "competition": the affair is perceived to be an overall rejection of the cheated partner.
In romantic pairing certain activities are exclusive and, therefore, confer meaning (render the relationship unique and thereby significant.) Sex is the most common of such pursuits, but it could be anything the parties agree on: intimate conversations, travelling together, reading poetry, or skiing. Such activities enhance bonding (generate a mild possessive shared psychosis, really). When one of the partners violates this exclusivity by engaging in the same undertakings with outsiders, the relationship is rendered meaningless (“nonspecial”).
But there's much more to it when it comes to narcissists.
Romantic jealousy is a narcissistic defence. It reflects the narcissistic traits and behaviors of possessiveness; objectification (treating the spouse and regarding her as an object); and extension (treating the spouse and regarding her as an extension of oneself: devoid of autonomy, personality, needs, wishes, and emotions). Thus, the spouse’s cheating (as in infidelity) is perceived by the narcissist to be tantamount to a violation of and an encroachment on his self, or, more simply put: it amounts to a major narcissistic injury.
Exactly like non-narcissists, narcissists are humiliated by having been lied to; suffer abandonment anxiety; compare themselves with the spouse’s new paramour; and feel deprived when the “services” of the unfaithful spouse are no longer available to them (a denial of service which may encompass sex, emotional intimacy, house chores, companionship, or any other function.)
But, in the narcissist, the violation of trust provokes full-scale and raging paranoia (where else lurks deceit?); the breach of exclusivity threatens the aforementioned narcissistic enmeshment; and the denial of possession translates to an overwhelming fear of loss and to crippling abandonment anxiety. Some narcissists even begin to display codependent behaviors, such as clinging, in a desperate attempt to regain their control over the doomed relationship.
Additionally, the narcissist's self-perception as unique, perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient - in short: his False Self - is threatened and challenged by his spouse's affair. If he is, indeed, unique and perfect - why did his spouse stray? If he is omnipotent - how did he fail to prevent the transgression? And if he is omniscient - how come he was the last to know about his wife's fling, or, worse, her long-term illicit liaison?
Narcissists are, consequently, even romantically jealous of intimate partners their spouse has had before the marriage and after the divorce. Some narcissists, realizing that they cannot control their spouses forever, become swingers or engage in group sex, where they feel that, by bringing adultery home, they have “tamed” and “controlled” it. If you can’t beat it – join it, as the saying goes.
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