Between Envy and Contempt: The Psychopath’s Emotional Pendulum

Envy and contempt don’t necessarily go together. They’re both very negative emotions, but in some ways they’re polar opposites. Envy is about wanting what others have and you lack. Contempt is about disdaining what others want or have. In a psychopath’s mind, however, these two emotions coexist. Psychopaths want what others have. They want to be loved, even adored, for who they are, despite continually lying to, cheating on and mistreating those around them. They want to have professional success, despite the fact they rarely put in the work for it and even cheat their customers or bosses. They want to be respected by their kids, despite the fact that they emotionally abuse them or regard them as mere possessions or trophies. They want to have what normal human beings often have in life but they can’t because of their underlying abnormality. This is why their main emotion is contempt for others and, more generally, for human endeavors, accomplishments and goals.

I became attuned to this pendular attitude when I noticed my psychopathic (ex) partner’s inexplicable and unjustified criticism of and disdain towards others. I recall in particular one incident, when he put down a friend of mine who is a very talented and successful fiction writer, who had just published a novel on the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union, which was very similar to my novel about communist Romania, Velvet Totalitarianism. His novel did very well not just in terms of sales but also in terms of critical reviews. My ex referred to that writer as “a Loser” and “a failure” because he didn’t sell in the same quantities as books like the Harry Potter series. I was stunned by the fact that this man (my ex), who had accomplished nothing with his life and got booted out of every job, would put down someone so much more accomplished than him, who was also a nice person. My friend hadn’t done or said anything to insult my ex. My ex’s gratuitous insult towards a talented, successful and nice person stuck with me. I didn’t see any reason for it.

Later, after I informed myself about psychopathy, I realized that he was indirectly also putting me down, so that I wouldn’t feel satisfied with the literary success of my fiction if it wouldn’t be on the scale of books like Harry Potter. Just like he had identified in his wife a low body image and conditioned her to feel fat when she wasn’t, to the point where she had joined Overeaters Anonymous, or pressured her to leave a lucrative job where she was very much appreciated by her colleagues, so he was hoping to find my insecurities and make me feel bad about my dreams and accomplishments.

There were many such incidents during the course of our one year together, which I went over in my mind retrospectively, after the breakup, when I was trying to come to terms with the pathological relationship. To offer one more telling example, I was equally shocked when he greeted the good news that his sister-in-law had just given birth to a new baby with the contemptuous statement: “The kid’s butt-ugly”. At the time, he was already pressuring me about wanting us to have a baby together. I realized that this is how he processed any news about others having something he wanted: with mean-spirited criticism driven by envy. This trait bothered me at the time but, as usual, I chalked it up to his emotional immaturity.

Psychopaths have contempt for worldly ambition, for money, fame or success in any field. They have contempt for human love, viewing it as a weakness that can be easily manipulated. They have contempt for bonds of friendship outside of casual fun or mutual utility. Envy and contempt, wanting what others have yet disdaining it at the same time, are not contradictory emotions for a psychopath. They form the essence of the psychopath’s pendular movement, which springs from an underlying narcissism: his natural equilibrium, or state of being. Psychopaths want to be better than others at everything we thrive at and hold dear, but at the same time they disdain human values and their fellow human beings.

Claudia Moscovici, psychopathyawareness

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