What gives? Surely, a good friend could never be jealous of you—they should treat your wins as their wins, right? As it turns out, jealousy can be a bit more complicated than that and often stems from deeper sources of hurt and inadequacy. Ahead, experts explain where jealousy comes from, common signs of it, and how to address it in your relationships.
- Adrine Davtyan, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker and EMDR-certified psychotherapist based in Sherman Oaks, California
- Danielle Bayard Jackson, friendship coach, author of Fighting for Our Friendships, and host of the Friend Forward podcast
- Morgan Anderson, PhD, clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and author of Love Magnet: Get Off the Dating Rollercoaster and Attract the Love You Deserve
Where does jealousy come from?
Before we dive into the root causes of jealousy, it’s important to note that jealousy is different from envy. Often used interchangeably, “envy involves two parties, and jealousy involves three,” explains Danielle Jackson Bayard, friendship expert and coach and author of Give it a Rest: The Case for Tough Love Friendships. “If I just want what my friend has, that would be envy. But if I'm jealous, it means that I feel threatened that some third party is going to take what I have.”
Envy, then, stems from coveting the things your pal may have—and jealousy stems from a fear that your pal’s possession of those things is somehow keeping you from having them, too.
As for where jealousy comes from, Morgan Anderson, PhD, clinical psychologist, relationship coach, and author of Love Magnet: Get Off the Dating Rollercoaster and Attract the Love You Deserve, says it can stem from insecurity, low self-esteem, a fear of abandonment, or a fear of the relationship ending. “It could also come from a desire to control, and we would see that more with narcissism,” says Dr. Morgan.
Jackson points out that jealousy breeds when we subscribe to a fixed mindset rather than a growth mindset. First discovered by researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset revolves around the belief that our personal abilities and circumstances cannot be changed, whereas a growth mindset assumes that we can tackle any challenge that comes our way and we are capable of expanding our skills and abilities.
“If I see that my friend got a new apartment, and I'm still living with my parents or hate my current place, her getting access to that doesn't make it less available to me,” says Jackson. “But if my mindset is fixed, where I believe there's a limited availability of certain things, or that I myself am limited in my abilities, then I'm always going to interpret my friend’s gain as my loss.”
While the sources of our jealousy may stem from feelings of hurt or inadequacy, the feeling can serve as a positive motivation to enact changes. “Jealousy can give us clues about what we want in our life,” echoes Dr. Morgan. “If you're noticing jealousy—like maybe your friends keep getting married, and you’re super jealous about it—that could give you a clue of ‘wow, that's something I really want.’ The jealousy is only telling you that you have a belief that it's not available to you, that you’re afraid that it's not going to happen for you.”
Still, jealousy can turn an otherwise lovely friendship sour, fast. Luckily, recognizing the signs that someone is jealous of you can help prevent that from happening.
3 telltale signs someone is jealous of you
1. They aren’t excited about your good news
A common sign of jealousy, says Dr. Morgan, is a lack of enthusiasm regarding news of your good fortune. If they subscribe to a scarcity mindset—a belief that there’s a finite amount of resources—they may see your good tidings as a potential threat to their own happiness.
“It may be [through] subtle comments, or it may be more explicit,” explains Jackson. “When there is something positive going on [for you], this person is making remarks to chip away at it or try to humble you, instead of amplifying it.”
2. They’re overly critical of you
According to Jackson and Dr. Morgan, passive aggressive, overly-critical comments can be a telltale sign that someone is jealous of you. In an effort to bolster themselves up, jealous people will attempt to punch down on those they see as superior.
These snarky comments are often used as a self-defense mechanism, says licensed psychotherapist and certified EMDR therapist, Adrine Davtyan, LCSW. “It’s important to remember that when it comes to jealousy, it more than likely stems from some sort of insecurity that that individual has, which may come from their childhood or separate life experiences,” says Davtyan. “Unfortunately, it's easy to personalize it and still feel attacked.”
These comments, says Jackson, are an attempt to highlight your faults or flaws in order to make them feel better about their real or perceived shortcomings.
“It’s worth looking into when you have to measure how much you share for fear that a person will tear you down,” says Jackson. “If they’re regularly pointing out [your] flaws or inadequacies, that could be another sign of jealousy.”
3. They downplay your achievements
Jealous people tend to minimize the significance of your accomplishments as well as the hard work it took to achieve them. If, while sharing your wins with the other person, they attempt to change the subject, avoid asking follow-up questions, or express discomfort physically (eye-rolling, for example), they very well could be jealous, says Dr. Morgan.
“If you notice that when you receive good news, there are certain people you would not share it with—explore why that is,” says Jackson.
Do these signs sound familiar? Worry not: Ahead is a step-by-step guide for addressing jealousy in your relationships from a place of compassion and understanding.
How to navigate jealousy in your relationships
Step 1: Get curious
When you notice signs of jealousy in your relationships, approach them with curiosity rather than accusation. Focus on the actions of the other person rather than any conclusions you may have drawn about their behavior. For example, if your friend makes a snide comment about how your new promotion was handed to you rather than earned by you, lean into curiosity and ask them about why they made that comment and to explain what they meant by it.
Both Jackson and Dr. Morgan warn against outright accusing them of being jealous. Rather, they recommend having this talk alone while maintaining a neutral tone. “One of the best things you can do is have a conversation [about it] by gently pointing it out at first,” says Dr. Morgan. “Sometimes people aren't even aware that they're jealous; it may not even be conscious for them.”
Step 2: Practice empathy
Ideally, the conversation will open a path of communication between the two of you, and provide context for the jealous friend’s actions. Maybe they were passed over for a promotion at their workplace recently. Maybe they’ve just been having a real rough go of life lately and hearing about your sparkly promotion pushed them over the edge emotionally. It doesn’t justify their actions, of course, but it could present you with some feedback about why they reacted the way they did.
“When someone is jealous, there’s often a lot of hurt in that person,” explains Davtyan. “Recognize that it's not about you—it's about them.”
Jackson says we tend to characterize a whole person by their jealousy, but it’s important to remember that anyone can experience it at anytime. “Even I’ve had seasons of being in that emotion,” she says. “Depending on what we're going through, it may make it more difficult to celebrate a friend’s success.”
Step 3: Stay self-aware
While criticism may be a sign that someone is jealous of you, honest feedback can easily be misconstrued as jealousy, especially if it involves an area of your life that you feel the need to defend or protect. If you’ve come to the conclusion that most of your friends past and present are jealous of you, some self-reflection may be in order, says Jackson. “Look at the evidence,” she Jackson. “What makes you feel that she's being jealous? Is it because she did not compliment your outfit last night, but everybody else did? What evidence do I have that she does support me and has my back? Is the behavior I'm seeing consistent with all the other things I've seen?”
If a certain topic seems to be a consistent area of jealousy for the other person—say, when you gush about your new baby to a pal who’s been consistently struggling with IVF—consider the ways in which that area of discussion may be a raw source of hurt for them. In these instances, Jackson suggests considering your role in their healing process regarding this period of their life. This specific cause for celebration may be best shared with someone else.
Step 4: Separate yourself if you must
Even after addressing the other person’s behavior with curiosity and exploring the root cause of their jealousy, you may find that their negative attitudes toward you have failed to improve.
Boundary setting, says Davtyan, can protect you from enduring their attempts to bring you down. And if that doesn’t work, it’s worth considering whether theirs is a friendship in which you want to continue to invest. “Be mindful that if it ever gets to that level, then you may have to walk away and take care of yourself, instead of tolerating their abuse or the toxic dynamic,” Davtyan says.
Step 5: Let your light shine regardless
If the exhibited signs of jealousy persist, Jackson suggests pivoting your energy and attention toward individuals who amplify, not dull, your light. You deserve to feel excited about your accomplishments, and you deserve emotional reciprocity—one of the key elements of friendship. “One thing I tell people not to do is stop sharing about the thing that brings you joy,” says Jackson. You can’t make anyone feel bigger by making yourself smaller.
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