Some people respond negatively to others’ good fortune. They don’t necessarily criticize or insult but their more subtle negativity can be just as wounding.

You might have won an award, or some money, your team might have won a championship, you get promoted or good marks on a test. You are excited about a new relationship, a planned holiday or a new car. Or you have a great idea, a dream, or ambition. But when you tell people the response of some is not what you hoped for or expected.

There are no congratulations, no interest, and no apparent pleasure in your good fortune. Instead you are faced with a chilly reception, disinterest, indifference, an almost disapproving disregard. The subject is dismissed, or they one-up you with how they did better, have better, or will have. Or they give a backhanded complement, sneer, sarcastically tease, or disparage your news and reduce its importance. Or they make you feel guilty - you have so much and they have so little. Or they try to frighten you by warning that you will have to pay a price for your good luck. Or they warn you of the dangers of getting a ‘big head’ or ‘too big for your boots’.

Whichever way they react, it takes the wind out of your sails and shrivels your enthusiasm. These types of reactions are particularly hurtful when they come from someone we care about and who we assume cares for us.  And they are especially damaging to those of us with sensitive natures.  Such negativity is catching and can discourage us, leave us feeling dismayed and dispirited, isolated, rejected, diminished and slighted.

So what is going on here? This type of negative response is a sign of begrudging and envy. If schadenfreude is the malicious enjoyment of others’ misfortune then begrudging is resentment and envy of another’s possessions or good fortune.  Both begrudging and envy involve a degree of hostility and malice, of wanting what the other has for the self, of wishing the other the loss of what they have and our possession of it.

So if someone cares for us, why would they feel such negative emotions at our success?

  • Natural narcissism plays a part.
  • Or even a degree of abnormal narcissism.
  • Or they have pigeonholed you and your news clashes with their judgment (which usually means they see you as ‘less’ than them and your good fortune makes them feel ‘less’, a decidedly uncomfortable feeling).
  • Or they may view you as their equal and fear you will take a step up and leave them behind.
  • It may be a manifestation of the ‘tall poppy syndrome‘, cutting you down to size to keep you on the same level as them so that they don’t need to feel inadequate.
  • They may simply be emotionally stingy.
  • Or they may be so insecure that they feel annihilated by your good fortune.

But whatever the reason, begrudging responses can damage us. They can stifle us and make us fearful of success. Fearful of rejection. They can make us afraid to grow and develop because then we will provoke envy. They make us feel like it is safer to be ‘little’.  We might try to appease the begrudgers by diminishing our good fortune (and so reduce its positive impact on our lives).

If we are honest most of us will have to admit to a bit of begrudging and envy of our own. I have a relative who leads a charmed life. The biggest problem she has is f