Whether it’s a co-worker, friend, or influencer, seeing others succeed can lead us to question our abilities. Feeling threatened by others’ success is normal and does not make you a bad person. But it does mean that there are some beliefs that you need to take a closer look at. The good news is that we all have the power to override feelings of envy. Find out what’s at the root of this emotion and the steps you can take to regain self confidence. (Estimated reading time: 9 minutes)
“Be your own competition. Strive to be better than the person you were yesterday.”— Kevin Hart
Almost everyone knows the feeling when we see someone doing better than us. When a coworker gets promoted to a position higher than yours, a friend gets into healthy shape and starts attracting more attention from others, or an influencer in your field has hundreds of adoring followers while you have a handful, it can make you feel intimidated and inferior.
Rather than being happy for them, you find yourself thinking:
I am a loser.
I can never be that good.
I keep messing up and falling behind.
I’m doomed to live a life of obscurity.
In addition to feeling crappy about yourself, you might experience envy. A part of you may believe that they don’t deserve success and that you should have received their good fortune instead.
But before you start beating yourself for feeling this way, know that it’s normal. We’ve all been there (myself included) because it’s hard not feeling like a winner in life.
Feeling threatened by others’ success does not make you a bad person. But it does mean that there are some unaddressed beliefs that you need to take a closer look at. You’ll see that life is not a zero-sum game and everyone can get a slice of the prosperity pie when you do.
Why we feel threatened by the success of others
When you witness someone accomplishing big things, you’ll automatically check in to see how you measure up. Our brains are programmed for this.
All animals compare themselves to others because their survival depends on it. The mechanism that causes a moose to feel threatened by another moose with bigger antlers is the same one that makes us feel intimidated by an attractive or accomplished person.
When this happens, our brain releases cortisol, a chemical that tells us that our survival is under threat. By comparing yourself to others, you’re instinctively trying to promote your survival.
However, unlike animals, we have a rational mind that can override the reptilian brain. You can manage your mind’s impulse to compare and control how you interpret your response.
In addition to our biology, we must contend with the forces in our culture of comparison. While our obsession with competition isn’t anything new, it has intensified in the past decade.
An explosion of social media, where everyone is sharing their airbrushed images and a carefully curated feed of the highlights of their life in a prominent and public way, has brought comparison to the forefront of our daily lives.
While it can be enjoyable to get a glimpse into the lives of people we like and admire, it can negatively affect us. On the days when we don’t feel good about our appearance, relationships, work, or life in general, we can be easily triggered by the comparison, and it can be hard to regain self confidence.
Some people manage these emotions better than others. Those who consistently have their egos bruised might suffer from some of these mindsets:
1. Low self-esteem: When you don’t believe in yourself and your abilities, you’re more likely to feel threatened when someone achieves something substantial. These feelings of insecurity usually come from childhood. If a person grows up hearing the message that they are unworthy from their primary caregivers, it can carry into adulthood and impact their self-perception.
2. Perfectionism: Some people set exceptionally high standards for themselves. You’re constantly worried about falling short of those standards when you have these tendencies. If your barometer is based on the achievements of others, you’ll always feel you’re not measuring up.
3. Scarcity mindset: Feeling like you don’t have enough, whether it be money, time, or relationships, is known as scarcity. Viewing life from this lens can make you search for evidence to validate it, including when someone gets more of something that you want.
4. Victim mentality: Someone with a victim mentality will look to blame others for their deficiencies. When another person does well, they see it as something happening to them. They feel helpless and believe that they can’t do anything to change their life and that others have it easy.
Understanding the root causes and social influences behind the threat of others’ achievements is the first and most crucial step to transforming our unhealthy patterns and beliefs.
The role of envy in our feelings of being threatened
Envy is the emotion underlying the act of comparing. Envy happens when we want something that another person has. If they didn’t have what we desire, we wouldn’t feel threatened in the first place.
In her book “Atlas of the Heart,” Brené Brown states that envy can be attributed to one or more of these areas: attraction (physical or romantic attraction, popularity), competence (knowledge, intelligence), and wealth (lifestyle, financial standing).
According to Robert L. Leahy, author of “The Jealousy Cure,” there are three types of envy:
1. Depressive envy: When you feel like a loser or a failure if someone is doing better than you. You see their achievements as proof of your shortcomings.
2. Hostile envy: This is a toxic type of envy where we get so envious that we may want to see them fail or experience bad fortune like having an accident or breaking up with their partner. Superstitious beliefs would refer to this as someone giving you the evil eye. If the other person fails, we feel better knowing that both of us lost in some way.
3. Benign envy: This type of envy does not cause us to feel threatened. The success of others either leads to neutral feelings or admiration and respect. We might also be inspired and willing to learn from them to develop and improve ourselves.
We tend to envy those who are in our social or professional groups. You might measure yourself against the merits of someone who works in your department, a friend group, a sibling, or a similarly attractive friend. We tend to stay away from those who have achieved things out of our league, like competing in the Olympics or winning an Oscar.
How to regain self confidence when threatened by others’ success
Turn your focus inwards
When you feel yourself being triggered by success, take a step back and check in with your feelings. Resist cycling into a downward spiral of hurt and worry. Remember that you are not your thoughts and consider these points while reflecting:
1. Pay attention to what you’re telling yourself: Negative self-talk can be harsh if you don’t feel good about yourself. The voice inside your head will give you a laundry list of your flaws and why you’re not good enough. If you detect a negative inner dialogue, be firm and relentless in addressing false beliefs.
2. Get to the bottom of your insecurities: We wouldn’t be threatened by others if we were sure about ourselves. Our reactions stem from a perceived lack in ourselves. If you feel like you need to regain your self confidence, here are four ways to do it:
- Affirm your worth: Squash your knee-jerk response to others’ success by reminding yourself of your own success and strengths. Look back on your personal and professional life and note your wins and milestones, big and small. Remember that you have value regardless of whether others recognize it or not.
- Involve others: Speak with friends and family you trust who can remind you of how amazing you are and how much you’re appreciated. When you feel yourself slipping into a negative thought loop, reach out to a supportive friend or coach.
- Address deeper issues: If you’ve endured painful and traumatic experiences that obliterated your sense of worth, seek professional help from a therapist to heal.
- Stop aiming for perfection: Wanting everything to be perfect only exacerbates our feelings of threat. Realize that perfection is an illusion and that trying to chase it is futile. Instead, have specific and tangible goals that you can work towards.
3. Don’t focus on others’ success, focus on yours: When it comes to your life path, stay in your lane. While it’s okay to look at what others are doing to learn and find inspiration, you need to stop and bring the focus back to yourself to regain self confidence.
4. Stop worrying about what others think: As social creatures, we’re prone to worrying about how others perceive us. Most of us prefer to be higher on the totem pole and be recognized, but this can cause us to lose focus on what we need to do to reach our destinations.
5. Develop from a mindset of abundance: See people’s wins as proof that what you want is attainable. When we live from a mindset of abundance, we believe that there’s more than enough to go around, and we let go of the worry, stress, and fear of not having enough.
6. Use it to unravel a deeper message: Feeling threatened by others’ success is a clue that can lead us to what we really want and what we’re yearning for deep in our hearts. It can be a powerful way to clarify our desires when appropriately harnessed.
Look beneath it and ask yourself (from a place of love):
“What about their success makes me feel threatened?”
“What qualities do they have that I might need to work on?”
Use these responses to better understand what aspect of your growth needs your attention.
Celebrate their success
This may sound counterintuitive, but the more judgmental we are about others and their successes, the more difficult it is for us to create our own success without the fear of being judged in a similar way.
When you let their accomplishments bother you, you’re using it as a smokescreen for not coming to terms with your feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. What if instead, we celebrate and feel happy for them.
This will attract more our way because we’re emanating good vibes instead of negativity and fear. Rejoicing in others’ glory feels lighter, fun, and uplifting because it’s natural to who you are.
Get moving and act
- Focus on what you can do: You free up your energy to create outcomes under your control when you stop ruminating on how and why others are doing so well. You’ll feel a lot better when you spend the time and effort creating a plan, executing it, and seeing the fruits of your rewards.
- Get it out there: An average project, write-up, or piece of art is exponentially better than none. Don’t be concerned if things are messy and imperfect – the key is to get moving.
- Break a sweat: One way to change how you feel instantly is to get moving or, as coach Tony Robbins says, “change your physiology.” That could range from doing breathwork or going for a run. Anything to get the blood flowing and release feel-good hormones. This will cause an instant shift and help you regain self confidence.
Whatever we notice in others reflects our own potential. When we appreciate and admire their wins, we acknowledge our potential star power in them. See it as confirmation that you’re capable of achieving the same or more, and you’ll be unstoppable!
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: How do you feel when the success of others threatens you? Which tools and exercises work best for you to manage your feelings?
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