Are You Envied?
Success can bring rejection, but graciousness can counter green-eyed envy.
By Carlin Flora published September 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
It's better to be envied than pitied, perhaps, but it's still no fun. "Marketers tell us we should want to be envied, but if you are top dog, you are a target of hostility," says Julie Exline, assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Ambivalent feelings accompany a surge in status, she says. You'll be proud of your success, but you'll also become uncomfortably aware that you now pose a threat to someone else. There's a very real possibility that others will reject you.
And get ready to have your accomplishments diminished: "People will try to make it look as though what you have going for you is actually a bad thing," Exline says. "That's why a gifted kid is labeled a nerd, why a cheerleader is called superficial."
If you are extra gracious about your success, though, you may steer people toward befriending you so as to share in the spoils. "If a rival is nice, we tend not to feel as envious," says Sarah Hill of the University of Texas, Austin, "because it's a clue that she is socially cooperative, and it would be in our best interest to have her as an ally."
Discussing your good fortune can be just as awkward as bearing sad tidings. Show empathic concern for a friend who badly wishes to get promoted as you just have, Exline says.
"Women in particular will self-deprecate, but that doesn't necessarily diffuse envy. Anything you can do to strengthen the relationship is better than focusing on the status difference itself." Losing a lofty position is a sure way to squelch others' envy. But it only brings another nasty sentiment your way: schadenfreude.