For as long as I can remember, envy was always a huge problem for me. This is one of the reasons I think I probably have covert narcissism. Envy isn’t something usually associated with BPD (borderlines are much more likely to become codependent to those they see as “superior”). Of course, it’s possible to be both.
Envy is associated with a sense of entitlement. For a covert narcissist, the emotion of envy is a lot more complicated than it is for an grandiose narcissist. A grandiose narcissist, believing they are better than others (but only the false self actually believes this), feels entitled to be treated accordingly. They are filled with anger and resentment when they see someone else who has something they want and if they are malignant, they may try to sabotage the other person’s good fortune. They don’t try to hide behind a facade of deference to others.
Covert narcissists also have problems with entitlement, but it’s a lot more hidden. They normally do not think of themselves as superior, at least not in the overt, in your face way a grandiose narcissist does. They may even consciously suffer from low self esteem and feel worthless. Being a victim often becomes a way to obtain supply, in the form of sympathy or attention. Not all covert narcissists are like this, but many of them are. But at the same time they feel worthless, they also feel a sense of superiority or entitlement.
The dynamics of how this works are complicated, but try to stay with me here.
Emotions at war.
Covert narcissists, as opposed to grandiose narcissists, tend to be low functioning (though not always). If, let’s say, a covert narcissist is the outcast in a group or ignored (and they are often introverted and sometimes socially awkward too, though not always), they feel victimized or unappreciated. To resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by wanting to feel superior to others but their reality indicating anything but, they take on a kind of “sour grapes” attitude. So, for example, they might pretend (or even convince themselves) their introversion or social awkwardness makes them somehow “better” than others who are more extroverted or popular. They tell themselves the reason they’re ignored, rejected, or unappreciated is because they are actually more intelligent, more insightful, or have more “depth” than the extroverted or more popular “peons” who are ignoring or rejecting them. They tell themselves others just don’t appreciate their superior mind (or whatever) because they are too stupid (or shallow, or whatever). They believe they deserve better and resent others for treating them like they’re less. They might even go so far as to tell themselves others are jealous of them! This is actually projection, because the reality is, no one is jealous of them–they are actually deeply envious of others. Of course they will never tell you they think they’re better than you, because that would make them grandiose. They keep the feelings of superiority and entitlement to themselves and it’s still mixed with feelings of worthlessness and self hatred.
Unfortunately, as ugly (and confusing) as this description is, I can identify all too well with it, because I’ve been this way since adolescence. Telling myself I was really better than others made the fact I was usually an outcast (or deliberately isolated myself, assuming I would be cast out) more bearable. But the truth was never far away, and the truth was: I felt absolutely worthless and hated myself.
Life as a zero-sum game.
Until very recently, it was hard for me to feel any joy when something good happened to someone else (unless there was something in it for me) because somehow another’s good fortune made me feel diminished. It was as if I regarded life as a zero-sum game. If you win, that means I must lose. I’ve been aware of this trait for many years. I always hated this about myself and tried not to be this way, but it was nearly impossible to drum up any joy for others. It was so difficult to fake being happy for someone that I compensated by changing the subject or ignoring the good news of someone else. Or sometimes, even throwing subtle barbs into a compliment or congratulations. Yes, it was very narcissistic and I’m ashamed of that.
It got so bad that when I was married, when my husband got a promotion (even though the extra money we’d have DID affect me positively), I was overcome with envy and all I could do was change the subject because I found myself unable to even fake happiness. I remember thinking, “why don’t I ever get promoted? I deserve to be recognized for my hard work too.” Somehow his achievement made me feel like a failure in comparison, and I felt bitter and miserable for days after that. I tried to hide these feelings because I knew they were wrong and filled me with shame. But I couldn’t make my emotions obey my mind (which told me his promotion–or anyone else’s good news–had nothing to do with me). Because this isn’t a BPD trait, I think I developed a thin sheet of narcissism on top of my BPD.
Fortunately, this awful trait never extended to my kids. Even when I was at my worst, I always felt happy when my kids succeeded in something or were happy. I always felt sad when they were sad or hurt. I had a lot of empathy for my kids, even when that didn’t really extend to anyone else.
Learning to love your real self.
I’m happy to say that this is changing, and my empathy is starting to extend way beyond my children. I’m no longer so envious of others (though I can’t say it’s completely gone–I do have relapses, especially when triggered). I don’t always feel diminished or resentful when someone tells me their good news. More and more often, I’m actually able to feel happy for others when they tell me something good happened to them–even when there’s nothing in it for me. It sure is a lot nicer to feel happy for someone than to resent them!
I’ve written about this recently, but lately I’ve been feeling a kind of softening inside, more tender and loving emotions, like something inside me has shifted. I think this is because in therapy (and because of my faith too), I’m learning how to accept my inner child (true self). This basically means replacing shame and dislike with love and empathy for that child. When you begin to stop feeling ashamed of who you really are, and begin to see the gifts your inner child was born with but you were blind to because shame was always in the way, you begin to stop rejecting that child and allow your real self to come out more often and shine (and in so doing, you no longer have a need for a fake, false self as a shoddy replacement).
In my case, I always tried to hide my inner child’s positive traits — high sensitivity, emotionality, desire for connection, appreciation of beauty, and wanting to love and be loved — because I was programmed at an early age to believe all these traits were “weak” and that emotional vulnerability and everything that goes with it was something to be ashamed of. It was the narrative I lived that my parents (and later, bullies at school) drummed into me at a very early age. I tried to cover that over with a tough exterior for awhile, but when that didn’t work (grandiose narcissism was a very bad fit for my temperament!), I turned inward and began to isolate myself and at the same time, resent everyone else. I wouldn’t let anyone get to know the real me, and isolating myself was the easiest way for me to hide.
Fortunately I never developed full-blown NPD (just a lot of N traits as a way to protect myself from the emotional ravages of BPD–I call this my “aluminum foil” false self because it’s so thin and easily torn), so it may be taking less time for me to be able to access my real self, and begin to replace shame with acceptance and real self-love. I’ve only been in therapy for 10 months and I can’t believe how far I’ve come already. Of course it also helps to have a therapist who is highly empathetic and skilled in getting someone like me to be able to see themselves from a different vantage point and teach me how to empathize with my inner child (and in so doing, learn to re-parent myself). I also had a head start because I was blogging about my mental and emotional state for about a year before I started therapy, and that helped me gain a high degree of insight into myself (and temperamentally, I’ve always been analytical). Prayer and meditation have helped enormously too.
I’m also highly motivated. I don’t like these traits in myself at all. I hate them so much that if I were offered a choice between being rid of them for good and a million dollars, I would choose to forgo the money but be emotionally free. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I really am going to win this fight.