Jealousy Among Friends

It doesn't matter how old you are, jealous friends exist at every stage of life. They're the friends who want your exclusive attention and time and get mad if you hang out with other people. But what's behind this behavior?
Jealousy Among Friends
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Jealousy among friends is fairly common. Sometimes it’s innocent, the result of emotions as human as they are normal. In other cases, it can be toxic. Jealousy can be the sudden trigger for misunderstandings and tension that can affect your friendship.

As 17th-century poet John Dryden famously said, “Jealousy is the jaundice of the soul”. Not only is it poisonous for the relationship (romantic or not) but it’s also harmful to the person who feels it. Nevertheless, from a psychological standpoint, it’s an understandable and fairly normal process. All of us have felt it at some point or another.

Knowing that a beloved friend has intimate relationships with other people can trigger pain and jealousy. This dynamic is very common in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. As people grow and mature, they tend to stop thinking of friends as “possessions”. Relationships become healthier and free of jealousy, resentment, and reproaches.

That being said, that kind of maturity doesn’t happen automatically with age. As an adult, you’ve probably dealt with a jealous friend at some point or another and you’re not alone. Codependent relationships are also possible between friends.

Angry sisters.

Jealousy among friends: characteristics, causes, and behavior

Molière said that he who is jealous loves more, but he who isn’t loves better. Jealousy distorts the concept of affection, appreciation, admiration, passion, and friendship. It causes problems and entraps everyone involved. Therefore, jealousy among friends involves some unique realities that people don’t talk much about.

We know that jealousy is very damaging to romantic relationships. But it can be equally bad for friendships. It’s important to keep in mind that jealousy isn’t the same as envy. Jealousy is the uncomfortable sensation of losing something valuable at the hands of a third-party. On the other hand, envy is all about wanting something another person has.

Let’s analyze the complex and unique phenomenon that is jealousy among friends.

What does jealousy among friends look like?

Jealousy knows no age or gender. You can be jealous at any time and in any circumstance. In theory, mature adults should be able to have jealousy-free friendships, but that isn’t always the case. Here are some of the ways jealousy manifests itself in a friendship:

  • You feel unsettled when your friend spends time with someone else and shares their thoughts and feelings with that person. To some degree, you feel like that person is exclusively “your” friend and no one else’s.
  • A friend can feel jealous of another couple.
  • Jealous friends are always demanding things such as favors, time to talk, quick responses to their messages, a rundown of what you do every day, etc.
  • The possessive behavior of jealous friends often manifests in the form of threats. They say things such as “If you go hang out with your other friend, I’m not going to talk to you anymore. If you don’t stay with me right now, you don’t care about me”.

Children in elementary school don’t usually have the emotional maturity to handle these kinds of emotions. Hearing “If you do that, I’m not going to be your friend anymore” from a child is normal and developmentally appropriate. Saying things like that as an adult is neither appropriate nor healthy.

Causes of jealous behavior among friends

Psychology professor Peter DeScioli at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that looked at people’s interaction on social media. He wanted to know how we build our relationships, how we create alliances, and why conflict, differences, and jealousy happen.

  • On one hand, evolutionary psychologists have spent years studying jealousy. It has to do with the need for possession, to keep the people in our lives who guarantee our survival and well-being.
  • In a study conducted by Dr. Jeffrey G. Parker at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut about teen jealousy, researchers discovered something interesting. Behind jealous behavior were psychological problems and a certain degree of marginality. A child with a difficult home life often sees their friends as their only source of support.

The same occurs with adults. If your partner and family aren’t providing the structure and security you need, you might cling to a few close friends like a lifeline.

Two friends hugging.

What should I do if I have a jealous friend?

Jealousy among friends can be problematic, especially if it manifests itself in possessiveness and hypervigilance. The best thing to do if you find yourself on the receiving end of this behavior is the following:

  • Explain to your friend that their behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable.
  • There’s no place for jealousy in any relationship. Its presence isn’t a measure of how much love or affection you have for someone. Jealousy is harmful, and it’s important to set boundaries as soon as possible.
  • Try to understand what’s causing your friend’s behavior. Is it low self-esteem? Is there an issue with the friendship that triggered this kind of dependence? Knowing why your friend is jealous will help you act in a more empathetic and intelligent way.
  • Don’t let your friend’s jealousy change your behavior or lifestyle.

If the jealousy becomes too intense and starts to affect other parts of your life, you may have to take more extreme measures. Friendship should be full of understanding, trust, and freedom. It should be a bond that inspires you and helps you grow. If what you feel instead is coercion, maybe it’s time to end that toxic friendship. Think about it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kim, H. (2019). Personal and contextual factors in young adolescent friendship jealousy: The role of self-esteem and friendship network structure. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering80(2-B(E)), No-Specified.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.