This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Laws Of Human Nature" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are the different types of envy? How can you tell if someone is being envious?
There are 5 main types of envy. Using this guide, you’ll be able to identify enviers, their type, and decide what to do about them.
Keep reading to find out the types of envy and what you can do about them.
Types of Envy
Now that we’ve learned how to identify some of the cues enviers give off, it’s time to look at different types of enviers. If more specific instructions aren’t given, the best way to deal with envy attack from one of the types below is to:
- Remain calm. When an envier attacks, they’re trying to provoke you so that they can use your reaction as more fuel to justify their actions.
- Distance yourself from the envier as much as possible. You can’t fix your relationship, because that would involve you being gracious, which would only make the envier feel even more inferior.
- Don’t bother trying to get revenge on an envier—their envy already makes them miserable.
Type #1: Levelers
Levelers want to reduce everyone to their level of success. They’re very aware of unfairness, and if anyone does well, they accuse them of being lucky, ambitious, or cheating the system. These types have a brutal sense of humor, but can’t cope with jokes about themselves. They tend to prize things that are mediocre because mediocrity is unthreatening.
Levelers are one of the especially dangerous types of envy in the workplace because they’ll try to bring you down if you’re ever more successful than they are. They’ll do this via passive-aggression or even by sabotaging your work.
Type #2: Entitled Lazers
These types feel that they don’t have to earn attention and success—they deserve it. They’ll do the minimum amount of work possible—for example, they’ll outline a novel but not actually write it—and expect praise for this. In secret, these types don’t think they can succeed, so they don’t bother developing skills. They’re hostile towards those who have earned success, and they’re usually narcissistic.
- For example, William Talman, a low-level architect, was envious of his boss, Christopher Wren, the architect who designed London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Talman believed that he was just as talented as Wren and deserved the same assignments and honors. Talman dug through Wren’s past, looking for anything he could use to discredit him. After years of this, Talman finally got some commissions from the king.
You can recognize these types in the workplace by the fact that they keep their position by being charming and strategic, not by doing any actual work.
Type #3: Insecure Bosses
These types occupy a high position but are insecure about it, so they envy anyone who might take it from them, even the people who work for them.
These types can be hard to recognize because we assume that people who have achieved a leadership role are secure. Sometimes, you can identify them in advance by their history of firing people for unusual reasons or because they’re unhappy when you turn in good work. In other cases, you might only find out that you were working with this type after you’ve done a good job on something and been fired.
- For example, Disney CEO Michael Eisner fired Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was head of the film studio. Eisner said it was because Katzenberg wasn’t a team player, but in reality, it was because Katzenberg’s work and talent threatened Eisner. Eisner continued to fire people who triggered his self-doubt.
To deal with them, if you don’t want to be fired, let them take credit for your ideas and work, and soothe their insecurities by deferring to them.
Type #4: Status Hunters
These enviers measure their relative superiority using status. You can recognize these types because they ask questions about money, such as what your salary is, what class you fly, if you own your home, and so on.
- For example, the Yankees’ Graig Nettles was a status hunter. He always wanted to talk with the other players about their salaries, and he was especially envious of Reggie Jackson, who was not only paid more but got more media attention. Jackson deserved both of these things—he was a strong hitter and a character. Nettles, though, thought Jackson had gotten all of it by manipulating others. Nettles attacked Jackson with paradoxical praise and mean jokes, and made others dislike him. Race may have also played a role—Nettles thought he had to be higher up because Jackson was Black.
If you rank higher than a status hunter, you’re probably safe enough—secretly they’ll envy you, but they’ll hide it with admiration. If you’re at the same level though, they’ll be constantly comparing themselves with you and attacking you if you get more. To deal with them, avoid telling them what you have and praise what they have.
Type #5: The Parasite
These enviers get close to the people they envy by becoming their staff or friends. They want two things: to have some of what their target has and to hurt their target.
- For example, Yolanda Saldivar envied the singer Selena. Saldivar started a fan club, and then became the manager of Selena’s clothing stores. Saldivar felt she deserved more and embezzled funds. When Selena’s father asked Saldivar about the embezzlement, she murdered Selena.
These enviers are harder to recognize because they’re good at hiding their envy under praise and admiration, but you can identify them because they’re overeager to get close to you.
Types of Envy in Enviable Circumstances
Certain circumstances tend to trigger envy. If you find yourself in one of the following circumstances, it could be the opportune moment to identify enviers because they might display more cues than usual.
Circumstance #1: Status changes. When your status changes for the better, the people you know, especially in your field, might feel envious. This circumstance is the most common trigger of envy, and people who are older or wrapping up their careers are more susceptible to this circumstance.
When your status changes, don’t brag. Consider joking self-deprecatingly or bringing up the element of luck. For your close friends, you can offer to help them if you can do it without being patronizing. Don’t take any comments personally. If someone else’s status changes suddenly, make sure not to praise them in front of other people in their field, or this might increase all types of envy directed at them.
- For example, Robert Rubin, who worked at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, was very good at preempting envy. As he rose within the company, he became more deferential. He asked more junior people for their opinions and often used the phrase “just one man’s opinion” when referring to his own ideas.
Circumstance #2: Natural talent. If you have natural talent, people may envy you. Avoid displaying your talent around enviers and even consider revealing some flaws or telling people about past mistakes.
- For example, John F. Kennedy had a lot of natural gifts including intelligence, charisma, and attractiveness. Once he revealed that he was flawed—by launching the failed Bay of Pigs invasion—he became far more popular.
Circumstance #3: Encountering non-enviers. Enviers hate people who don’t feel envy because it makes the fact that they’re consumed by envy much more obvious in comparison.
Circumstance #4: Being a woman. People tend to envy women more than men, and this envy is often expressed through criticisms such as being too unwomanly or cold. Act humble to deflect envy.
- For example, illustrator and designer Paul Iribe was envious of Coco Chanel and criticized her. She stayed with him because she didn’t want to be alone, but she later acknowledged that he hoped to ruin her.
Control Your Own Nature: Manage All Types of Envy
As we’ve learned, it’s impossible to avoid feeling envy, so all you can do is learn to identify it and control your response to it. Because envy quickly and often unconsciously transforms into another emotion, you have to consciously pay attention to your instinctive reactions to figure out what envy feels like. For example, the next time you hear about someone in your field having success, monitor yourself. Before you feel angry or hostile, first you’ll feel a whiff of envy. Notice it so you’re aware of it the next time it strikes.
Once you’ve identified that what you’re feeling is envy, use the following strategies to defuse it:
- Get closer to whomever you envy. Most people’s lives aren’t as perfect as they appear, and when you know more about a person, you’ll realize that while they may be enviable in certain areas, there are parts of their lives you won’t envy at all (a bad boss, a great husband but terrible in-laws, and so on). You’re not trying to knock the person down, just see the whole picture.
- Remember that certain desirable-looking circumstances, such as fame and wealth, come with built-in downsides.
- For example, famous people have little privacy.
- Compare yourself with people who have less rather than more. You won’t be envious of these people because you’re superior to them, and you’ll also develop your empathy and gratitude.
- Be grateful for what you have. Write a list of all the good things you have in your life so that you can focus on them instead of what you don’t have.
- Empathize with successful people. When something good happens to someone, don’t just admire or congratulate them, actually try to feel the same feelings of joy that they must be experiencing. The other person will feel your mirroring and it will strengthen your relationship.
- Rise up instead of tear down. When someone is superior to you, use her status as motivation to reach her level (instead of trying to hurt her and bring her down to yours). To rise up, confidently believe you’re capable and develop discipline and work ethic.
- Admire humanity as a species. Admiration involves admitting that someone else is superior without feeling any pain. We’re all humans, so when one of us does something impressive, that raises up the whole species. You can start by admiring dead people, because it’s easier, but move on to living as well.
- Look for happiness outside of success. Create moments where you’re happy because of your surroundings or in awe of the majesty of life.
- For example, contemplate the universe or admire the beauty of a landscape.
- Find a purpose. If you have a purpose, it’s easier to focus on yourself instead of others. When you succeed, the satisfaction is internal rather than external. For more on purpose, see the section on personal authority in Law #10: People Have Conflicted Feelings, Especially About Authority Figures.
Extended Example: Jane Williams
Jane Williams is an example of a dangerous envier—her envy drove her to attack and hurt her more successful friend Mary Shelley.
When Jane first met Mary, Jane both admired and envied her. Mary was an accomplished writer with an exciting life, famous friends, and a desirable husband. Jane was a musician who had never had much success.
Jane repressed her envy and became friends with Mary. Jane liked that Mary liked her, but the closer they became, the more obvious it was that Mary was superior. To live with this, Jane had to cast Mary as someone who didn’t deserve to be envied. Mary wasn’t talented, she was lucky—Frankenstein was only successful because Mary had literary parents and friends. Mary was moody (two of Mary’s children had recently died), not charming.
Because Jane had decided Mary was a bad person, Jane felt justified in trying to steal her husband and spread rumors. Mary’s friends pulled away from her, and she didn’t know why. Jane pulled away too, confusing and hurting Mary even more because by that point Jane was one of Mary’s closest friends
Mary finally found out that Jane had been spreading rumors about her. Mary didn’t understand what had driven Jane to do this, but she realized Jane had been attacking her in other ways too—she sometimes caught Jane looking at her with hostility or encouraging her to do things that weren’t in her best interest. Mary eventually ended the relationship.
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- Why it's in your nature to self-sabotage
- How you behave differently when you're in a group
- Why you're wired to want the wrong things in life