Friend-Enemies: How To Handle Jealousy In A Friendship
“Jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies."
Imagine that you have a friend who becomes cold, distant, punishing, and appears to dislike you when you receive praise, happy news, and/or success. It can feel like a big betrayal to be punished by a friend when you want to celebrate moving forward in your life. Jealousy can be triggered in circumstances that involve a social comparison where someone perceives that you have possessions, attributes, or attainments that diminish their own status. Jealousy is also different from envy, as envy is “I want what you have,” whereas jealousy is “I have something I think you want; that I think you're coming after.” It's not unusual to want the same love, success, and talents that we perceive in others. However, jealousy becomes problematic in our relationships with others when we feel resentment, the need to punish, and/or take away something from another.
Quite often, we think of jealousy as only pertaining to fear of abandonment in romantic relationships. However, jealousy can also enter into our relationships with friends. Have you ever wondered why some people struggle with jealousy more than others? According to traditional evolutionary psychology, jealousy is an inherited response that increased our levels of survival. In other words, those who experience higher rates of jealousy have also had more experiences of betrayal and abandonment by losing what they love to another person. Therefore, they have an increased fear and an inclination to tightly grasp and protect what they value.
Anyone who has ever fallen prey to jealousy knows that this feeling can be one of the most complex and difficult emotions to hold. Feelings of jealousy directly reflect our own sense of security and self-worth. To anyone who struggles with jealousy, I send you much compassion and encouragement to get support. Working with a trained professional can help you better understand your emotions and support you in developing new patterns. Any unresolved feelings of jealousy will be hurtful and can destroy relationships. To those who have a friend who struggles with jealousy, please see, below, my 5 tips on how to compassionately move forward. In honor of #AcceptanceinAugust, I send everyone wishes of acceptance and kindness.
Tips On Coping With A Jealous Friend:
1. Lead with Kindness
I believe in embodying the emotions we want to see in others. When someone is experiencing a large amount of jealousy, I know that underneath those feelings are much deeper emotions of pain, insecurity, and fear of abandonment. Through leading authentically with kindness, we can allow for deeper connections to come forth that will unite us. Remember, regardless of how things look outwardly, none of us have a life that is devoid of pain, fear, or disappointments. When someone is struggling with jealousy, we should give this person even more doses of kindness, because chances are they need it more than we think. As an added bonus, when we send thoughts of kindness outward, they ripple inward into our own hearts.
2. Be Direct
Regardless of whether a relationship is platonic or romantic, when one person in the relationship experiences jealousy, it is a sign that something in the relationship needs to be addressed directly.
Accordingly, research has shown that those who respond directly to the other party about perceived jealousy and then reassure them of their interest and commitment to working through that jealousy together tend to have more stable relationships. Being direct can make one’s voice tremble out of nervousness and/or fear. However, if we lead with compassion, our honesty makes us trustworthy and can even make our relationships stronger.
3. Set Boundaries
Healthy relationships have boundaries. It's important to know your limits and to be able to feel safe in sharing your needs with others. According to PsychCentral, psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D, said, “You need to know what you like and dislike, what you’re comfortable with versus what scares you, and how you want to be treated in given situations.” While feelings of jealousy may be beyond our control, jealousy is never a valid excuse to behaviorally act out through cruelty or mistreating another. Pay attention to how you are feeling and set healthy boundaries. Feeling our feelings isn't easy, but it's vastly important to acknowledge, honor, and bring safety to all of our emotional experiences.
4. Refuse to Compete
Quite often, jealousy will bring out a need to compete. Honor yourself and your friendship by refusing to play the competitiveness game. Sometimes you may need to avoid topics that really rev up your friend’s competitive and/or jealousy triggers. If you feel the conversation heading in that direction, change the subject. For example, if the friend boasts (again) about how many deals they are closing at work, say "That's really awesome,” then change the topic to something non-competitive.
5. It Isn't Personal
As a therapist, I observe that people generally aren't upset about the things they think they are upset about. We will get triggered by jealousy when a colleague gets chosen over us for a promotion, our best friend falls in love, or an ex gets married. Current emotional experiences often ignite very early memories. We often take on feelings our parents or important caretakers had toward us or toward themselves. We then, unconsciously, replay, recreate, or react to old, familiar dynamics in our current life. For example, if we felt, as children, that we were somehow “not enough,” we may perceive others as “better” than us. We may unconsciously even recreate similar situations over and over again. People and life circumstances become so much easier to manage when we go deeper and realize that quite often reactions aren't personal.
Recognizing feelings of jealousy, our triggers for those feelings, and their underlying causes in ourselves and others is a first step to compassionately dealing with and working through them. Should you find yourself feeling or receiving jealousy, I hope these tips can help you see your way to the other side in a healthy way.
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Sending you peaceful thoughts and wishes for brighter days.