Benign Envy Vs. Malicious Envy: What's The Difference?

Jealousy is a natural emotion for humans to experience. It can strike at any time without any signs or warnings. While it's commonly believed that jealousy is the same as envy, there is a stark difference. Change strategist and coach Jacqueline Misla explained to NPR that jealousy "is a reaction to losing something or someone that you have." For example, you might feel threatened by your partner's coworkers because they spend more time with your significant other than you. This, in turn, can lead you to become sick from jealousy or feel insecure in your relationship.

Experts say that you can transform jealousy into a positive learning experience. Research psychologist Joli Hamilton told NPR that jealousy can be introspective and "deepen our awareness of what we want, who we care about and who we are." But what about envy? This is a different emotion. Envy stems from wanting something you don't have. Envy is known for being one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity and is said to interfere with an individual's relationship with themselves and God. However, there are two types of envy: benign and malicious. As their name suggests, one is harmless, the other not so much.

Benign envy can push you to do better

When you envy someone, you want something they have that you don't. This could be a job promotion, a skill, and so on. Benign and malicious envy are similar emotions that can cause someone to feel negative about themselves. Despite this, they lead to different reactions; thus, the most significant difference between the two is how an individual manages their feelings of envy. Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, "Validating the 'Two Faces' of Envy: The Effect of Self-Control" states that someone experiencing benign envy will strive to improve themselves to achieve what the person they envy has.

Even though it can be painful, benign envy can be used as a motivational tool to accomplish or set goals. Moreover, you can still do this while wishing the person you envy all the best, such as a friend who received a high-paying job offer. Licensed therapist Deborah Vinall explained to Well+Good why this works. "When you are secure, others' success is not threatening," she said. "You can both desire to have what they have while feeling genuinely happy for them."

To use benign envy to your advantage, psychology professor Gerrod Parrott told Vox to ask yourself how and why the person you envy got to where they are. He said, "Then you can imitate or emulate that other person's methods, techniques, ideas, moves, and what have you to, in fact, be better yourself in some way."

Malicious envy is synonymous with self-doubt

Unlike benign envy, malicious envy can be self-destructive. Instead of being used as an incentive, individuals with malicious envy don't want to see the person they envy succeed. This leads to feelings of bitterness and rancor. Gerrod Parrott told Vox that with malicious envy, "The motivation is to try to take away what they have or undermine their success or happiness."

Deborah Vinall told Well+Good that malicious envy is more likely to occur if an individual already lacks self-confidence. She said, "If your envy is fueled by insecurity, you may feel threatened by others' success, and be driven to tear down your friend, sabotage her success, or minimize the accomplishment." This can ultimately ruin relationships and lead the envious individual to their downfall. Vindall noted that if you believe your friend is envious of you, thank them for their support in helping you achieve your dreams and wish the same success for them.

If their behavior continues to be antagonizing, you might have to come to terms with the fact that the friendship is irreparable. If you have feelings of malicious envy, experts recommend you reflect on why you feel envious and change the narrative from negative to positive. You can take into account your past accomplishments, the things you have yet to achieve, and the realization that everyone's road to success is different.