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friendship jealousy
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What Causes Friendship Jealousy—And What To Do About It

None of us escape jealousy or envy. We either feel it ourselves or are the subject of it in others. What causes these less than desirable feelings that can make us a little crazy from time to time? Let’s talk about friendship jealousy and how to discuss it

Similar But Different

Jealousy doesn’t discriminate. Opening ourselves to the beautiful benefits of relationships also means we are sometimes vulnerable. We often think of jealousy as a romantic drama, but other essential relationships like family, career, and friendships are also susceptible. And the common thread is that there is a perceived threat to what we have. Then the need to keep what we have—be it a thing or a person—takes over.

Envy, on the other hand, starts within us. It begins with a notion that we lack something and need to have it or have a better version of it; the grass is greener on the other side, type of thing.

Both experiences involve some comparison and leave us feeling like we don’t quite measure up. These feelings can create a subtle worry or full-blown suspicion. So, distinguishing between the two similar feelings can help sort out the source of our concern. That will, in turn, make dealing with it more accessible.

Jealousy versus Envy

Think about when you have felt jealous of someone else, it has usually involved a third factor. That factor could be another person or thing that changes your relationship. The amount of extra time your partner spends working on his car or hanging with his friends can evoke resentment. Perhaps you’re hurt that your best friend has a new love relationship and now shares more with them than they do with you. The change feels like you’re losing something, that something is slipping away.

Then there’s that friend that seems to have it all—or close to it. She has the hair, looks, and lifestyle you would love to have. You know you shouldn’t be envious because she is your friend, and she is kind, hard-working and generous (which makes it worse). You share the same values, morals, and ethics, so you are stumped why your constant (but covert) friend-envy persists.

Personal Weakness Not A Factor

Most of us find ways of living and working through our jealousy and envy with the people we love. When it gets challenging to resolve, our understanding of the source of inner conflict can offer some relief. Professionals agree that the causes can stem from various experiences. Experts Mary C. Lamia Ph.D., and  Jennifer Freed, Ph.D. talk about shame and abandonment as fundamental triggers to jealousy and envy. Meanwhile, others attribute competition and comparison to the constant need to prove that we measure up.

As described by Freed, “Jealousy activates our primary dependency issues and often a sense of infantile defenselessness.”

As academic as that might sound, I agree that the feelings of jealousy and envy run deep. Understanding that those irrational feelings are a primal response and not a personal weakness can ease the shame we feel about having those reactions as an adult.

Worrying about someone else getting the attention or adoration we want for ourselves is a classic infantile response.  The adult version often plays out with feelings of insecurity and anxiety about the relationship. The results are often common thoughts such as “I can’t compete with that, or, how can she prefer her to me?”

friendship jealousy

Typical Reactions and Behaviors

Consequently, these involuntary reactions can lead to negative and sometimes extreme behavior. We may recognize some of the typical behaviors:

  1. Withdrawal from the friendship—freezing them out or ultimately ending it
  2. Avoidance— overindulgence; drinking, drugs, food
  3. Self-attack— what’s wrong with me, what did I do wrong, if only I were…
  4. Attacking the other—reality TV show examples

From Upset to Upshot

While we’re caught in the throes of these feelings, we forget that they’re an affirmation of our relationship. Our vulnerability shows the depth of our friendship. And although it can sometimes be hard to handle, the feelings are always a rare opportunity to learn and improve that relationship. So, instead of being a threat (perceived or real), we could think of them as gifts.

Could jealousy and envy be the perfect prompts to ask ourselves important questions about self-worth, equality, and expectations?

  • Has the friendship been mutually satisfying?
  • Is there equal respect between you?
  • Are you being treated the way you want to be by others?
  • Are there characteristics that you want to develop in yourself but don’t know how to?

Our Conclusions

What could I do with the answers to these questions? Will they inform my next actions in my friendship? Can I beat friendship jealousy? 

Your self-inquiry will evoke personal awareness worthy of your attention. Take it on. I imagine the likes of Brené Brown, Byron Katie, and Oprah would tell us we are most definitely worth it.

In the meantime, realizing the complexities beneath these potentially paralyzing emotions, I declare that I will never utter “they’re just jealous” consolation again. Instead, I will offer this beautiful quote: “A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.

Have you ever heard of the term ‘gaslighting’? Learning to recognize the signs of gaslighting and false guilt can help you stay in control and quickly and safely exit a toxic relationship.

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