Mirror, Mirror: Narcissists and Envy

I  have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats, ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’

Content Note: narcissistic abuse; financial abuse; gaslighting

Narcissists are pathologically envious. You’d like to think they’d be pleased when you get that promotion or win the award but any perceived threat to their status as the only one deserving of attention, ever, is noted and brutally dealt with.

Any perceived challenge to their superiority is experienced as a narcissistic injury which will, in time, morph into narcissistic rage.

An example may be your gaining a qualification and the narcissist attends the graduation, waxes lyrical about your success in front of family and friends and when the day is over and there is no audience the abuse starts.

They belittle and criticise you – you couldn’t have done it without them; they put up with so much whilst you were studying; anyone could have done it, you are to stop being so boastful. In a heartbeat the joy is gone. Your success has reminded them of what they are not.

Profiting from Your Success

In many ways you are to be congratulated. Narcissists are inclined to choose partners who make them look good so in the idealization phase you walk alongside them believing you have shared pride in each other.

You are likely to be accomplished and capable. They are happy to benefit from your hard work, wealth, success and standing but in time the low level criticisms start. They feign care and assure you that they are giving you constructive feedback.

So why does it feel like they are stealing your joy and dimming your light? They exaggerate your small mistakes and remind you constantly that you made them. And they are unrelenting.

Whether it be months, years or decades, they never lack the energy to find fault in you and all that you do. Your shoulders lower, you gaze downwards, you feel inadequate, ashamed, invisible and diminished. Their work is done.

They may sabotage special occasions; your birthday, parties, family holidays, the birth of your children and a well earned promotion. They are the colleague who takes the credit for all your work, the sibling who turns up late for your wedding, the parent who makes sure your new partner knows he/she does not compare favourably with the previous. Their envy leaves them with no option other than to spoil.

“Joy Extinguished”

You will appear as if you are coping but you are likely to feel neutralized and confused – the happy event has been overshadowed by the narcissist. The joy extinguished.

They will have said they don’t love you any more just after the birth of your child or that you are looking fat/thin/old/tired during this, what should have been special, time.

They have filled you with such self-doubt that you do not feel confident enough to apply for that promotion or they may leave you with all childcare so that you cannot even think about it.

They may become ill – real or imagined – or have a financial crisis and this means that your energy goes into finding solutions to problems they have created and you no longer have the time and focus to enjoy your moment. In the end you stop even trying to have those moments.

Any achievement you keep to yourself no longer risking a backlash. Those eggshells you are tip-toeing on show hairline fractures and you fear that they will crack and unleash a narcissistic rage. You are dying inside.

With the self-doubt comes a willingness to believe the narcissist’s narrative. You may begin to doubt your own reality. This is gaslighting. You no longer dress the way you used to or wear make up because they say you are beautiful/handsome as you are. Surely, that’s a lovely thing to say – isn’t it? You can become confused and start to change the way you are to avoid conflict. This is controlling behaviour.

You believe your narcissist but feel something is not quite right about their insistance on what you should say or do, where you should go and who you should go with. You may want to lose or gain weight – but they feed you more or limit your intake, give you out of date or unpleasant food or make it difficult to enjoy your choices. They may say the gym or an exercise class is a waste of money or that you are vain. Whatever you do is wrong.

grayscale photo of woman peeking on planks

They also say they love you and you believe them. They get offended when you want to spend time with friends and you feel guilty. In the end you don’t go out. They want you all to themselves and have a pathological need to eliminate the competition.

This level of control leaves you without social oxygen. Their envy sees off family, friends, colleagues and social support. You are being suffocated.

In the beginning, you may share your hopes and dreams, your ambitions and potential, and they will say they believe in you and have faith in your abililty. You feel as if you have found your soulmate.

And then you try to start your business or go back to work or school or audition for that show and they say you are overshooting or will not cope or don’t have the skill set.

They will minimize and devalue you and express doubt that you have the intelligence/contacts/education/ambition. They trample on your dreams. And they do that because in intimate moments you shared them.

They stored these precious insights as an arsenal to be weaponised when you were at your most vulnerable. Besides, they have no dreams of their own. They piggy back on what you have achieved.

Narcissists and Envy: An Inability to Move On

Even after you have left them or they have discarded you, they are consummate saboteurs. Any hint that you have found success in love, work, business or personal goals and they will swoop in and attempt to devour this new delight.

They may frustrate or delay Court and divorce proceedings and continue financial and legal abuse using these processes; they may mislead your partner, children, family members and colleagues. They may contact a new partner, your employer, social services or their equivalent and slander you. This may take up so much of your time and energy that any potential new partner decides that to be around such destruction is too much to ask or an employer decides your presence is a liability.

You may feel as if you are in a living nightmare. You may not be able to function. This is when you may get very sick indeed. Please educate your health care professionals, share this information and be proud to do so.

Your joy is your narcissist’s rage. They cannot move on. They cannot bear that you refuse to be supply. You therefore need to be punished.

The only way out is out. Go no contact if you can or minimal contact if you need to for family reasons. And stick to it.

You are still supply. They are parasitic in relationships and will suck the life out of you if you let them. Decide in this moment that you refuse to be controlled by them anymore. You are free – they will never be.

Tap into your power, learn about narcissistic abuse and coercive control, understand the difference between ugly and genuine love, reduce contact with your abuser, speak to your doctor or mental health professional about practical help and support, Get legal advice if you can and above all, keep yourself safe. Build a new life and revisit your hopes and dreams. You will find ways to make them real.

You are stronger than you think.

Margaret Ward-Martin
Margaret Ward-Martin

BA (Hons), MA, PGCE, Post Graduate Cert. in Coaching Psychology, MBACP, Int. Aff. APA