Envy Isn't Always Bad - But There Is One Type Better Than The Other

Envy is an emotion that every human can relate to. Since the birth of social media, comparing yourself to other people and wishing you had some aspect of their life has become the norm. Just between us, what people show on social media is rarely an accurate portrayal of their lives; the glimpses we get are often designed to evoke pangs of envy in friends and followers.

Most of us have been conditioned to feel guilty for envying others, even though this is a natural human emotion — and is completely understandable in the modern world. There are actually two kinds of envy: benign and malicious. And as you might have picked up from their names, one is better than other.

Both types of envy involve you wishing you had something that someone else has. In the case of benign envy, wanting what someone else has just inspires you to work harder (via Psychology Today). Malicious envy, on the other hand, occurs when wanting what the other person has leaves you feeling bitter and resentful. Of course, it's okay to feel envious, as long as you don't allow the feelings you have to hurt other people (or your relationships with them).

Identifying benign and malicious envy

Benign envy is better than malicious envy because it doesn't involve negative emotions towards the person you're envying. You might wish you had their job or their house, but seeing their blessings only encourages you to work harder to achieve what they have. When you feel benign envy towards a friend or family member, you still feel happy for them. The two emotions can exist side by side.

"The primary difference between benign and malicious envy is personal security or insecurity," licensed therapist Dr. Deborah Vinall told Well + Good. "You may envy a friend for her success, wanting the same for yourself, and be inspired to increase personal efforts in that direction."

When it comes to malicious envy, by comparison, you aren't happy for the person who has what you want. This can create tension when you maliciously envy a friend or loved one. Rather than celebrating their success, you begrudge them for it. Common behaviors associated with malicious envy include downplaying other people's achievements, trying to undermine their confidence, or in severe cases, actually trying to jeopardize their success.

Not only can this have an impact on your relationship with that person, but malicious envy also tends to leave people feeling bad about themselves. Instead of feeling motivated by someone else's success, you feel like you've already failed.

So you feel envious. Now what?

Envy is a natural emotion; you can't stop yourself from wanting what someone else has. However, you can lean towards benign envy rather than malicious envy by paying attention to your confidence levels. When you don't believe in your own ability to achieve success, you'll feel threatened when others do because you don't feel you can catch up to them.

One effective way of reducing insecurity is to adopt a growth mindset (via BetterUp). Remind yourself that you're always learning and you've always got the potential to improve. Identify the areas that you are particularly insecure about and make solid plans to work on them. For example, if you envy a colleague who got promoted, focus on how you can be better at work rather than on how they "stole" an opportunity from you. Also be aware of your internal dialogue. Using positive self-talk over negative self-talk really can reframe how you see yourself.

You don't need to hate someone because they're more successful; you always have the potential to achieve your own success. But try not to hate yourself for fleeting feelings of malicious envy, either. You are only human! If you can't help but feel resentful of someone you envy, accept those emotions without acting on them. Find healthy ways to express them, like writing them in a journal or venting them to a therapist, rather than letting them ruin your relationship with someone you care about.