How to Deal With a Jealous or Possessive Friend

By Katherine Fluor

You may have finally gotten the big promotion at work, lost weight, booked flights for a dream vacation, or found out you were pregnant after trying to conceive with your significant other. Excited about your happy news, your first instinct is to share the joy with those you love most—your family and friends.  But what happens when their reactions are not at all what you expected? What if instead of being congratulatory and excited for you, they brush it off or downplay your achievement, leaving you hurt and confused? 

Instead of getting upset at the unexpected rain on your parade, it may be best to take a birds-eye view of your relationship with this person. Could their underwhelmed reaction be rooted in feelings of jealousy or competition? If so, you may be unknowingly caught up in a toxic friendship—the kind that has a negative effect on your mental well-being and happiness. Does your friend try to control you and your feelings? Do they become bitter and demand an explanation when you don’t text them back immediately? Or make you feel guilty when you don’t hang out with them every weekend? If any of these signs sound painfully familiar, it may be time to have a difficult but necessary chat about what exactly is going on.

Life’s too short for toxic friendships. Here’s how to deal with a jealous or possessive friend who consistently leaves you feeling disrespected, frustrated, or bad about yourself. 

Look for patterns. 

Before talking to your friend about their jealousy, try reflecting on the jealous moments to see if you can determine a pattern. When does their jealousy seem to come out most? If they make spiteful jabs towards you in a group setting, they may put you down in an effort to bolster their waning self-confidence. If they make envious comments after you’ve shared plans for your future, they may feel like theirs isn’t as bright as yours, and should therefore discourage your future goals. Thinking about what possibly triggers their jealous behaviors and recognizing a pattern can help you steer the conversation.

Know the difference between jealousy, negativity, and depression.

Humans are complex beings. Our emotional, mental, and physical health are all interconnected to drive our mood, actions, and words. While you may initially write off your friend’s comments as negative or petty statements, there may be more to it than meets the eye. Recent studies suggest that individuals struggling with depression have a difficult time distinguishing between negative emotions. If they truly are envious of you, they may not identify their actions or comments as such; if they are angry or sad, these emotions may manifest as jealousy. If your friend is constantly comparing themselves to you, they may be struggling to manage their negative thoughts and caught in a cycle of self-doubt. 

Even though it’s frustrating to be around a friend who is constantly negative or putting you down, try to frame the situation from a place of compassion and empathy. Because when someone is overwhelmingly negative, it’s often because they’re struggling emotionally. Before bringing up their jealous or controlling behavior, ask your friend how they are doing personally. Are they struggling at home, or work? Did they just get out of a relationship? Were they passed over for a great promotion opportunity? Consider that they may be coping with personal challenges by acting out in jealousy towards you.

Ask your friend how they’re doing, and remind them that you’re always there to help or listen. As friends, you should certainly be there for each other through difficult times. However, if they’re projecting their negativity onto you and bringing you down simply because they’re miserable, and think you should be too, you need to draw the line and look out for yourself. 

Talk to your friend soon as possible. 

Once you have an idea where their jealousy might be coming from, talk to your friend as soon as possible and tell them how you feel. It’s best to have the conversation in person, without any distractions, and at a time when you aren’t feeling angry or attacked by their behaviors. It’s important to go into the conversation with a calm, open mind so your friend doesn’t feel threatened about the future of your friendship and react with negative comments. To keep the conversation as smooth as possible, Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., a psychologist and creator of the popular advice blog The Friendship Blog says to, “utilize “I” statements and assume that her intentions were not to hurt you. If you’re lucky, this conversation will open lines of communication between you and your friend and the two of you can talk things out. If not, it might be time for some troubleshooting,” Levine says.

Nervous for the conversation? Here’s some tips. 

Talking about jealousy can be tricky, but there are strategies to make it easier. Here’s Levine’s top tips for making the conversation as smooth and productive as possible:

1. Bring up the envious comments tactfully—instead of accusing them of being green with envy, acknowledge that these negative statements concern and hurt you. Note that you are worried about the status of your friendship and alarmed by the shift in their demeanor. Communicate your feelings clearly and listen attentively to your friend’s response.

2. Practice active listening. Put away all forms of distractions. Maintain eye contact with your friend, while leaning forward and tilting your head slightly. Do not interrupt your friend. Attempt to see the issue from their perspective.

3. Instead of dismissing their emotional response, validate their feelings. “I understand why you feel that way.” “I can see how my actions upset you.” “I get why you felt jealous of my (success, relationship, vacation, etc.).” If you take issue with your friend’s justification for their actions, remain civil, acknowledge the validity of their response, and politely agree to disagree.

4. Don’t feel bad for needing to take some space from the friendship or sever ties. If communicating and attempting to change the situation leads nowhere and your friend continues to disrespect you, it’s time to move on. Friendships are voluntary relationships that are supposed to be mutually satisfying,” says Levine. We all deserve friends that build us up and help to make us better people.