How to Deal with Jealousy In Friendships

Jealousy is normal and doesn't have to spell the end of your friendship — but you do need to deal with it.

How to Deal with Jealousy In Friendships - shot of girlfriends focusing on different thoughts and ideas
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Jealousy in friendships isn't just normal, but also common. As much as you may hate to admit it, odds are there have been times in your life when you've been jealous of your friends.

Whether you're talking about the deep jealousy Iago had for Othello in Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello or the jealousy that's played out between Cassie and Maddy on Euphoria, jealousy among friends is nothing new. But just because jealousy is common doesn't mean it's NBD. In some cases, it can have dramatic consequences. (I mean, just think of all the characters who lost their lives in Othello because of Iago's jealousy.)

Read on to learn why it's common to experience jealousy in friendships, why you shouldn't feel guilty about it, and how to deal, whether you're the jealous one or otherwise.

Why There Tends to Be Jealousy In Friendships

"Jealousy in friendships can crop up for a variety of reasons, but most of the time, it's because the jealous friend has low self-esteem, low self-confidence, or feels threatened somehow," says Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and relationship expert. "Someone with low self-esteem generally has a negative view of themselves, so when [their friend] succeeds, they compare themselves and feel inferior…they compare and believe they are less lucky or talented or valuable than the other."

A fear of abandonment could also be at play, says Nickerson. If one friend continues to succeed while the other one doesn't, the friend holding the jealousy can feel hurt and may worry that their friend may move on and outgrow them. (Related: All of the Relationship Attachment Styles, Explained)

This all may sound harsh, but you shouldn't feel ashamed for experiencing jealousy in a friendship. Jealousy is just one emotion in a series of human emotions that's natural to feel at times.

"Jealousy gets a bad rap," says licensed psychologist Pauline Yeghnazar Peck. Ph.D."But it's just an emotion sitting alongside all the other ones. That being said, just like you may feel hurt or annoyed or angry at your friends from time to time, so too might you feel jealous. We often connect to people with whom we have shared values, hobbies, and world views. With that similarity, it's not uncommon to feel jealous. As long as the person is not intentionally hurting you, these feelings are not signs that something is wrong in the relationship." (More here: This Polyamorous Therapist Thinks Jealousy Is a Wonderful Emotion — Here's Why)

Just because there's jealousy in a friendship doesn't mean it's over — it's just something that you need to address. Here's how.

How to Deal If You're the Jealous Friend

You can indeed handle your jealousy by identifying it within yourself and then taking action. But TBH, it isn't always easy, says Peck.

First, it's important to know that jealousy is different than envy, although they are often interchanged, says Peck. "When you feel envious, you often want what someone else has. When you feel jealous, you might feel suspicious of or competitive with others. The reason it's important to think about the nuances of emotion here is because the first step in dealing with whatever is coming up for you emotionally is to fully identify what it is and then get curious about the deeper reason for your emotional response."

Asking yourself some questions will help you get to the bottom of your feelings, so you can make your next move and deal with them in a healthy manner, explains Peck. (You can also turn to a wheel of emotions to help.)

"Are you coveting your friend's accomplishments? If so, you might be feeling anxious about where you are professionally," and that's more akin to envy, says Peck. "Are you feeling competitive with a close friend? You might be feeling insecure about your strengths and unique identity." The former example is more like envy, and the latter example is more like jealousy — but the important thing to take away from this reflection is that naming the emotion helps you figure out the underlying reason behind why you're feeling that way.

From here, you can actually turn your jealousy into a positive thing that not only helps you but can be beneficial for your friendship.

Use Your Jealousy As a Fuel

Because of the negative stigma around jealousy, sometimes people forget what good can come from these feelings. Due to a negative perception of jealousy, "people fail to view jealousy as a motivational tool," says Shawnessa Devonish, M.A., licensed clinical professional counselor in Maryland. "People can use jealousy as an encouragement to obtain the happiness or success that their friend is experiencing by achieving their own goals."

"A powerful reframe of jealousy is to acknowledge that the feeling is highlighting a value or something that is important to you," says Peck. "You wouldn't be jealous of someone's close relationship with their family if that didn't matter to you. Now that you know it does, you can use that emotion as information and let it guide your next steps (e.g. making more of an effort to connect with your loved ones). Jealousy can often make us feel like something is intangible for us, but when we use it to identify our values and priorities, we can take actionable steps toward cultivating that in our lives." (Related: The Non-Perfectionist's Guide to Self-Growth and Personal Development)

Avoid Being Hard On Yourself

You're jealous of your friend? Well, you're certainly not the first or the last to feel this emotion toward someone important to you. "Again, jealousy is natural and a lot of people experience it," says Devonish. "In addition, be mindful that having jealous feelings will not prevent you from feeling happy for your friend. You are capable of experiencing multiple emotions at the same time. Hence, you are not a bad person." (Related: What Is Self-Awareness Exactly?)

Understanding that there's nothing wrong with feeling jealous and sitting with your feelings, as opposed to fighting them, can help. "Taking a moment to name the feelings softens them," says Peck. When you do that, you don't waste valuable energy trying not to feel how you feel. "That just adds tension to the situation and rarely works. Whatever you push away becomes amplified. So meeting the feelings directly is a great use of your energy and is a kinder way for you to be."

Talk About It

It's understandable if the thought of admitting to your friend that you're jealous of them makes you cringe. It's already hard enough to admit this emotion to yourself and even harder to admit it to the person you're jealous of — but it needs to be said. Your friend will likely pick up on the fact that something is wrong, so there's no point in not addressing it, says Devonish. By bringing your feelings out into the open, you keep them from morphing into something even bigger and scarier in the shadows, Rachel Wright, M.A., L.M.F.T., previously told Shape. In other words, when you bring your scary feelings to light and address them, it takes their power away.

Choose a medium — email, text, phone call — that works for you and have an honest conversation with your friend. Don't feel like you even need to use the word "jealous" because it might make you feel even more awkward, says Devonish. Because it's a conversation about how you're feeling, you want to make sure you lead with that.For example, you could say: "I feel like I'm not at a great place in my career, which is making me feel a little down," offers Devonish. It helps to start with why you have these feelings, because it allows you to to open a dialogue that's honest and comes from the heart — and is about what you're experiencing versus the other person's actions or behavior.

How to Deal If Your Friends Seem to Be Jealous of You

Even if you're riding high in your life and things are really going well for you, it's important to occasionally take a step back and see how your success affects others in your life. While you should never feel bad about what you have that others may not, you should be cognizant of its effectson those around you who may not be so successful at the moment. You don't want to alienate those closest to you or put your friendships in jeopardy, says Devonish.

Keep in mind that with this jealousy often comes fear, low self-esteem, and even pain. It doesn't mean your friend is wishing ill on you or hoping to see you fail. Human beings are capable of feeling multiple emotions at once, and feeling proud and jealous of someone simultaneously isn't uncommon. (Related: Why It's So Important to Experience Both Positive and Negative Emotions)

Offer Your Support

Ask your friend how you can help them work through their jealousy. Are there certain things they'd prefer you keep to yourself? Are they afraid they're going to leave you behind? "Focus on exploring how you can best support your friend during this time," says Devonish.

"If your friend is jealous, you can kindly ask about it," says Nickerson. For example, "you can say, 'Did I hurt you with what I just said? If so, please tell me about it.'Then listen and point out anything you hear that makes sense and you can agree with. Validate your friend's hurt feelings and then offer a different spin on your friend's interpretation, something more positive and that paints you both in a good light." Reassure your friend, offer support, and point out evidence or examples to contradict any negative thinking.

Set Boundaries

Although you deserve and should celebrate every accomplishment you achieve, you may want to set up some healthy and realistic boundaries for your friend who's struggling with jealousy. "If a friend is making you feel guilty or not as excited about your success through their behavior, you may want to consider setting some effective boundaries to avoid complete elimination of the friendship," says Devonish. (See: How to Set Boundaries with Anyone In Your Life)

Even if they're your best friend, they don't need to know about every pay raise, every perfect date you have, and otherwise. You're not keeping things from them; you're setting up boundaries to protect them. On the flip side, if you're only presenting a highlight reel to your friend, perhaps it's as simple as mentioning some of the not-so-great things happening in your life. (After all, no one's life is perfect 100 percent of the time.)

Be Mindful

It takes a lot for someone to admit to their own insecurities, especially ones that revolve around jealous feelings, so have this in the forefront of your mind when spending time with your friend. "Jealousy does not mean that your friend will sabotage your success," says Devonish. "Reality check: It is possible for a friend to feel jealous and genuinely happy for you at the same time."

While there are situations where jealousy in frienships can get out of control, they usually play out in fictional situations or extreme cases that eventually find themselves on the Lifetime channel. But if you look at all the real friendships in the world, you'll see the latter is pretty damn rare.

At the end of the day, because jealousy is an emotion, it will pass in time. Take it from Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke: "Just keep going. No feeling is final." Jealousy isn't exempt from this rule.

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