These normal human emotions can help people know when to take action to protect people and things important to them. Experiencing jealousy doesn’t make someone a bad or toxic person. But not addressing it (or dealing with it in unhealthy ways) can affect emotional well-being, lead to resentment, and cause relationships to fester.
Friendships characterized by jealousy or envy may become toxic, so we’re offering some guidance on how to recognize jealousy in a friendship and productive ways to cope with it.
Six Signs Your Friend Is Jealous
There’s nothing wrong with wanting nice things, whether these are possessions, promising opportunities, or good relationships. In fact, many people generally feel some level of envy when a friend or loved one experiences success. But these feelings usually pass before long. Often they’re outweighed by an individual’s support or happiness for their friend, even if they still have a lingering desire for what their friend has.
However, sometimes these feelings don’t clear up, and you may begin to notice changes in a friend’s behavior. The following six signs can suggest a friend may be struggling with envy.
1. They greet your good news with negativity
When something good happens, you want to tell your closest friends about it. But instead of congratulating or supporting you, an envious friend might point out the possible downsides or have only negative things to say. Alternatively, they could offer congratulations that seem superficial or fake.
2. They frequently try to outdo or one-up you
If you share something positive from your life, a friend dealing with jealousy might respond by sharing something similar, only bigger or better. In other words, you may notice a pattern of behavior where they not only imitate you, but also try to go one step farther.
For example, say you make your first major purchase: a new car. Just a few months later, they purchase the exact same car—but the newest model. Of course, purchasing the same car doesn’t always indicate jealousy. They might simply like the car. This behavior is more likely to suggest jealousy when it happens along with other signs.
You might also notice they tend to quickly turn a conversation toward their own accomplishments or successes. Perhaps you’re talking to a group of friends about becoming serious with the person you’ve been seeing for a while. But this particular friend refocuses the conversation by mentioning they’re planning to move in with their partner next month.
3. They make you feel bad about yourself
A friend experiencing jealousy can quickly make you feel guilty or bad about an accomplishment or success, no matter how wonderful you felt about it originally. They might do this intentionally or unintentionally—it’s not always easy to tell. But it can still get you down.
A jealous friend might also insist you were just lucky. They may make you feel as if you aren’t worthy of your successes or that you just happened to be in the right place at the right time. You may be told to “enjoy your luck while you can.”
Some people who tend toward pessimism often bring up what they see as potential drawbacks of a situation. This doesn’t always indicate jealousy. In their mind, they may simply want to help you prepare for a negative outcome because they care. Regardless, if this behavior bothers you, it’s important to point this out and talk to your friend about how you feel.
4. They struggle with insecurity and self-esteem
People who lack a well-developed sense of self-worth, feel inferior to others, or feel insecure about their own abilities may be more prone to jealousy. They might also experience stronger feelings of jealousy.
According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, preteens and young teens who felt like they couldn’t have the friendships they desired or felt insecure about their friendships appeared to be more vulnerable to jealousy. The study also found that increased jealousy often led to problems with friends and emotional turmoil.
Research from 2005 also found adolescents with lower levels of self-worth also reported more friendship jealousy than adolescents with higher levels of self-worth.
6. They don’t offer support
Someone who’s jealous of what you’ve achieved—a promotion, a new relationship, or even just a better apartment—probably won’t offer much support. They may even go so far as to say hurtful things, whether they intend them to hurt you or not. They could also actively discourage you from pursuing your goals further.
The Trap of Self-Deprecation
If you notice sharing certain things with your friend sparks a negative reaction, you might choose to keep your accomplishments to yourself. You may also make a habit of putting yourself down around them, even when you know you’ve done something well.
While your goal might be to shield your friend and protect your friendship, this strategy usually doesn’t help. If you talk down a success or achievement, your friend may simply see that as not appreciating your luck or advantages. This won’t do much to lessen their jealousy, and they may also come to resent you.
Remember that envy and jealousy are both normal. Your friend may even be aware of their behavior but not know how to manage their feelings any differently. Talking about the issue often works better than pretending it doesn’t exist.
Talking About Jealousy with an Open Mind
Persistent jealousy can come between friends. If you’ve noticed signs of jealousy or feel your friendship has changed, talking about it can help.
The way you start the conversation can make a big difference. Rather than accusing your friend of being jealous, focus on a few behaviors—negative comments, for example—that concern you. Use “I” statements to tell your friend how you feel.
The negativity accompanying your friend’s envy might be fueled by the fear that you, or the friendship, will change.Although your friend’s behavior may frustrate you, try to focus on what you value about them and the friendship you share. Consider things from their point of view, especially if you know they’ve dealt with challenges recently. Although they care for you and feel happy for you, seeing your success may cause pain if they’ve recently experienced a setback in the same area.
It can also help to consider your own behavior. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your good news, and you shouldn’t feel you have to keep achievements from your loved ones. But if you just bought a new car or starting dating someone great, ask yourself if you’ve been bringing that up a lot lately. Try focusing conversations on things your friend values instead. Point out things you value about them or congratulate their achievements—just make sure you do so sincerely.
When Your Friendship Needs a Break
Jealousy can happen for a lot of reasons, self-doubt and insecurity among them. Resistance to change is another underlying factor often contributing to maladaptive behaviors. The negativity accompanying your friend’s envy might be fueled by the fear that you, or the friendship, will change.
Often, talking to your friend can help you work through jealousy together. But if you’ve tried talking to your friend and their behavior doesn’t change, you may want to take some time apart or even end the friendship.
It can be difficult to know when this is the best option. But in general, if the friendship exhausts you or drains you emotionally, it’s wise to take a step back, at least temporarily. You may want to consider some time away if:
- Most of your conversations are characterized by petty remarks or other unpleasant behaviors.
- They constantly make you feel bad about yourself.
- They often try to pick fights.
Ending a friendship can be a painful process, but therapy can help you work through the loss. A compassionate therapist can also offer guidance and support if you’re trying to address jealousy with a friend or save a friendship.
- Gottlieb, L. (2018, August 6). Dear therapist: My friend treats me differently since I lost weight. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/08/dear-therapist/566753
- Lavallee, K. L., & Parker, J. G. (2009). The role of inflexible friendship beliefs, rumination, and low self-worth in early adolescents’ friendship jealousy and adjustment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37(6), 873-885. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19337827
- Parker, J. G., Low, C. M., Walker, A. R., & Gamm, B. K. (2005). Friendship jealousy in young adolescents: Individual differences and links to sex, self-esteem, aggression, and social adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 41(1), 235-250. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15656752
- Ramachandran, V. S., & Jalal, B. (2017, September 19). The evolutionary psychology of envy and jealousy. Frontiers in Psychology, 8(1). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5609545
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