hostile envy: because there CAN’T be TWO of YOU!
photo by Pia Venegas at The Island House, Nassau
“sometimes I wish I WAS you”, she said. I was 13 years old and we were sitting at my kitchen table. “she” was my best friend.
she was more beautiful, more confident, more outgoing, more applied in school, and I looked up to her. I was in the midst of the worst time of my life, in a chaotic and volatile home environment, I was being bullied at school, and my parents were on the brink of finally separating. her words caught me completely off-guard, and they actually scared me. and the words themselves, in light of where my life was at that moment, made no logical sense to me either. at 13, I had no idea why those words would scare me — but looking back, it was my internal gps working. my stomach felt funny right when she said it. I actually felt like I wanted to leave the room. but I just got up and made English muffins for us.
that year, during the 7th grade, there was fresh writing on the bathroom walls about me on a daily basis. I feared going to school each day and going to the bathroom, because I never knew what the walls would say. I used different bathrooms that I thought the monster who was writing about me would not have time for each day. I went out of my way, a floor up or a floor down, to use those bathrooms. nonetheless, I would still hear about the unthinkable words and claims about me that were inked into certain stalls. on occasion the stall walls would be repainted, just in time for some fresh and larger obsessive writing about me. once a month or so, I would end up going to the school’s guidance counselor to voice my distress over the bathroom wall writing. my best friend would come with me for support.
after the school year, the summer after 7th grade, my best friend and I continued to spend all kinds of time together. we went to movies, we had sleepovers, and we had pool parties with one of our other close friends who I will call Sarah. at the close of the summer, my best friend moved out-of-state. I don’t remember how I felt about it, actually. I don’t remember being upset or missing her or anything. it could just be the fact that I have general amnesia for a number of things prior to my 15th year in life.
when the first week of 8th grade began, Sarah and I were in the same homeroom (I think). all I remember is what the room looked like and where we were standing when it happened: I remember saying to Sarah that it was too bad my best friend had moved, and that I was glad that the writing on the bathroom walls had stopped because she wouldn’t have been able to go to the guidance counselor with me anymore. Sarah told me, in so many words, that I wouldn’t have to worry about the writing on the walls because my best friend was no longer at our school. BOOM. in an instant, the sick feeling I had nearly a year prior, when my best friend looked at me with a dead stare and said “sometimes I wish I WAS you”, made sense. this is a pattern that would repeat itself in my life, into and throughout adulthood. I’m certain it will happen again. and, it’s ok. I’m a veteran at handling this shit now.
when I was 30, this ex “best friend” of mine reached out to me, and to another friend of mine she enjoyed bullying during middle school, via social media. ex bf had become a school counselor (irony) and lived close by to Manhattan. she suddenly wanted to reconnect. and, apparently she had seen my online presence as an actress on television — because it just so happened that she decided to pursue modeling and acting that very year! it was a short-lived and unsuccessful pursuit. obviously. I politely declined to reconnect with her. I feel bad writing this, actually. but I didn’t do this to her.
HOSTILE ENVY. it is a psychological condition, and those who experience it are not consciously aware of it. in exaggerated form, it works similarly to the movie Single White Female with Bridget Fonda. and it goes like this: like a mother’s loving gaze upon her newborn child, person A becomes that newborn and falls deeply in love with an aspect of person B (or, as their unconscious territory would define it, “THEMSELVES“). the aspect may be real or imaginary. person B does nothing other than be…person B. person A, like a person in a mirror, begins to EXPERIENCE all that person B intrinsically is. person A begins to CONFUSE the energy of person B with their own, and suddenly that mirror of all of those qualities of self that they can not access becomes THEM. person A BECOMES, through transference, person B. then, there is only one problem: PERSON B STILL EXISTS. they are still alive. there are then only two options; 1) obliterate person B in any way possible, or 2) disappear and blame person B for making them disappear.
paired with all of the things I went through as a child and young adult, the notion of hostile envy was a major complication for me. there were awful (and untrue) things I had learned about myself early on in life, and here they were again in examples of hostile envy, being reinforced right before my eyes.
a few years ago, I experienced a “grown-up” version of hostile envy thrown my way. a woman friend seemed to fall in love with me at first sight. she offered me all kinds of things. she called me an angel. she had me on a pedestal. her boyfriend hated me before he even met me. I had not yet seen every form of mental illness out there, so I was a bit slow to pick up on hers. she reeled me in, and slowly but surely I felt compelled to “return” all of her “kindness”/adoration/manipulation. let’s just say, I helped her in ways she could never, ever, have helped herself on her own. as an unwitting participant in a psychological game, I was happy to! and, like my 7th grade best friend, she slowly…became me. so she thought. of course I was blind to it during the infatuation stage, when she began to abduct friends or colleagues of mine into her life and deliberately exclude me. I found it odd, but I was convinced of her seeming generosity and innocence, so I never questioned it. plus, I was not in a place in my life where I was any longer activated by those kinds of mind games. in fact, with some compassion, I found them fascinating more than anything else – until they grew to a palpable proportion that crossed the yellow lines of my road.
like clockwork, when the mirror of me that shone all of my intrinsic components penetrated her gaze long enough, she flipped a switch. looking back, it is so obvious that she truly believed that my abilities, talents and core qualities were actually HERS. which should have been quite the feat for her to believe, considering she was nearly a shut-in when we met with zero friends or interpersonal relationships. if there are any around her now, they are introductions I made. when the switch was flipped, and she could no longer tolerate the existence of TWO of “us”, I became a “terrible” person to her. randomly, unprovokedly, suddenly and bizarrely. unconsciously, in order for her to remain “alive” and “real”, I could NOT EXIST. my actual existence was simply a reminder of her gleaming, borrowed, defunct aspects of ME — and that could not be tolerated by her.
having dealt with mentally ill people my entire life, I knew how to handle it. there were no explosions. just a deflation of her very “being”, by her own confusion and her own doing. when hostile envy is involved, there is no “doing” necessary on the end of the hostily envied; just being. like my ex 13 year old best friend, she just evaporated — with nothing left, once it was clear that I was still a real person. I’m sure it was super shocking to her, too. but all that ever was is all that ever will be. we can not destroy, borrow or imitate a pillar of core essence. so, if any of the above happens to you, this is my suggestion: unless your life is being physically threatened, don’t do — just be. be nice, be neutral, just…be.
those who carry hostile envy will always look for themselves in others, and then attempt to murder them — either spiritually, psychologically, or physically. because remember: there can not be TWO SELVES. in the eye of the hostile envy beholder, there can only be ONE, otherwise it means that they do not exist. another decent yet exaggerated film example of this transference would be The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon.
those who experience hostile envy either truly have no core (consistent and strong psychotherapy is the only way to help this form), or have extreme difficulty accessing their core. the mere sight of someone with some “aspect”, either tangible or intangible — and it can really be ANY aspect (beauty, charisma, intelligence, motivation, money, partnership) — that person A perceives themselves not to have and then recognizes it in person B can create an extreme allergy and anger in person A. how they choose to deal with it is a wild card. it might be a bad attitude, it might be a falling in love with, or it might be frightening passive aggressive behavior.
in adulthood, spotting a person who carries an extreme arsenal of hostile envy is important, and it is important to look at the on-paper “facts”; such as often 1) they have no longstanding friendships (outside of family or romantic partnership, both of which are most always dysfunctional to the max) 2) your friends become their only friends 3) they have no real resume/significant or reputable job history, and no real professional references — because they have burned all of their bridges (often through hostile envy, which can also = obsession, addiction or depression). we often never think to look at the on-paper facts, because we think it is judgemental. it is not. it is importantly discerning. that said, there can be other facts besides the above, especially with a higher functioning individual. there are also varying degrees of hostile envy, which will affect the facts, and vice versa.
if we become consciously aware of the fact that we are suffering from hostile envy, it is important to know that the core can and needs to be built, worked, filled, and TENDED to with the help of a gifted psychotherapist. otherwise, our patterns and deep pain will just repeat harder.
from a therapeutic standpoint, I am careful not to be pedestaled, ever (because truly, there is no such thing in reality. we each possess unique talents and qualities, whether we see them or not). being pedestaled is different from being shown gratitude and thanks and love for helping someone to see THEIR gifts. being pedestaled is dangerous and I feel consciously intolerant to “teachers” who need a pedestal. therefore, I share my raw experiences and personal challenges, both in writing and mostly in person. and I choose to work with (equals) people who have core selves, and perhaps they just have trouble accessing their cores. in fact, I choose to work with rather exceptional people. wonderful people. those with no core, I can now spot far away. I have been and am extremely fortunate to have the practice I have with the quality individuals I have seen and continue to see. because, there is only one of each of us.
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