There’s a strong chance this has happened to you: Someone you love gets great news—maybe they’re having a baby, or they’ve scored their dream job. You’re happy for them, genuinely, but there’s a little sourness draped over your excitement. A small voice says, “Man, I wish it were me,” or “Ugh, why do things always work out for them?”
Quite honestly, it’s a little painful to long for something your loved one has when you really want to cheer them on. And when these emotions crop up in our friendships, it’s hard to know exactly what to do. Well, to begin, let’s clear up a misconception: You may not be experiencing jealousy at all.
“Jealousy almost always involves three people,” the American Psychological Association (APA) explains in their definition of the emotion. Typically, jealousy occurs when you resent someone else for seemingly taking away your beloved’s attention or affection. Envy, on the other hand, happens when you’re coveting someone else’s accomplishments, accolades, or possessions, the APA explains. Neither of these emotions makes you a bad person, for the record.
Whether you call it jealousy, envy, or something else (like the green-eyed-monster), “it can be a normal feeling,” Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D., counseling psychologist, tells SELF. But she poses the following question: “What are we going to do with that [feeling]?” Your answer can take envy and jealousy from perfectly natural emotions to something that can complicate your friendships.
So if you’re dealing with jealousy or envy, and you don’t know what to do, read the following tips for managing your emotions.
1. Admit your feelings to yourself in the third person.
If the thought of telling your friend that you’re kind of bothered by their good fortune makes you panic, don’t worry—you don’t have to do that. What you should do, however, is tell yourself the truth. Denying that you’re jealous or envious will only make the feelings fester, and that’s not good for you or your friendship. Instead, check-in with yourself and keep it real. Then, tell yourself it’s okay.
When you’re looking to have a conversation with yourself, Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and friendship expert, tells SELF that using the third person can help you “feel a little bit more empowered or have more distance from thoughts.” If you’re feeling a lot of angst about your envy, using your name might help make it feel a little less personal. Instead of saying, “On the happiest day of my best friend’s life, I’m sitting here envious and bitter,” you might say something like, “[Your first name] is feeling envious right now because, as her best friend achieves this major milestone, [your first name] realizes that she feels stagnant and is afraid things won’t change for her.” See how the third-person makes it slightly more compassionate? Once you admit your feelings, you can practice soothing yourself the same way you’d comfort a friend.
2. Ask yourself why you’re feeling this way.
At SELF, we regularly report on the many emotions that you can feel when you’re facing a given circumstance. Why? Because even negative emotions aren’t off-limits. Your feelings are a form of information, Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., counseling psychologist and mindset coach, told SELF when discussing anger and rage In this case, your jealousy or envy is telling you something: “More times than not, it’s a reflection on ourselves, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad reflection,” Roberts explains. “It could just be [reflecting] what we’re feeling about ourselves at the time, where we think we are in life, and maybe where we think we should be.”
If you can suspend judgment and get curious about the feelings, you may find out that you have desires and aspirations you didn’t know existed. And, maybe, you can devise a plan to get what you want.
3. Resist the urge to act out (in other words, don’t be a hater).
Often, we don’t engage with feelings like envy and jealousy because we’re afraid that, by thinking about them, we’re making the feelings worse. However, when we shove those feelings aside, we’re more likely to “act out,” Roberts explains. “We start to do indirect and even passive-aggressive behaviors,” she says. It’s not unusual to take a step back from a friend when you’re feeling a little envious, change the subject whenever they provide updates on their good news, or even pick a fight. Try to resist these actions: They could hurt your friendship, and you probably don’t feel great about it either.
4. Believe it or not, try meditation—it might help.
If your best friend just bought a new home and you’re seething with envy, meditation might seem like an unlikely recommendation. But it comes back to that whole acknowledging-feelings thing. “[Meditation involves] being able to be still in some of your thoughts, and really allowing space for that self-compassion,” Roberts says. You might opt for a guided meditation, or you can listen to your breath and practice observing your thoughts as they go by. This might feel weird at first, but over time, it can help you resist the urge to take your envious thoughts too seriously.
5. Remember how much you value your friendship.
It’s reasonable to both be happy for your friend and wish you were in the same boat. However, when we’re dealing with conflicting emotions, there’s a tendency for us to focus on one more than the other. Instead of doing that, you might acknowledge your jealousy and remind yourself how much you value your friendship. Reminding yourself of the good times you’ve shared and the support you both provide to each other can help you focus on what’s important.
6. If you’re comfortable, talk to your loved one about it.
This isn’t a necessity, Roberts says, but it can deepen your relationship when done right. “It doesn’t have to be said in a super direct way where you’re making them feel bad,” Roberts says. For example, Roberts says you can tell your friend how happy you are for them, and then have an “open and vulnerable conversation” about how you’ve been trying to do what they’re currently doing. Whatever you do, don’t unload or make their happy moment all about you. In fact, you might want to split these into two separate conversations (after you’ve processed what you’re feeling). “Again, it’s validating your excitement for them … so that it’s clear, ‘I’m able to hold my feelings of sadness, grief, jealousy, whatever it is, and support you to the fullest at the same time,” Roberts explains.
7. Once you’ve addressed the jealousy or envy, brainstorm how you’d like to support your friend.
Typically, if you hide your emotions and try to push them aside, your support can feel disingenuous. Once you’ve allowed yourself to be open, you can talk through ways you can show up for your friend that feel right to both of you. Let’s be honest—talking about this will feel foreign in some friendships, so it might make more sense to figure out how to support them on your own. If, for instance, you’re trying to be there for your pregnant friend while grappling with fertility issues, you might not be the best person to accompany them to a doctor’s appointment. But there may be other ways you can help. It’s also okay to create some boundaries around how much you interact with your friend on certain topics—you might mute them on social media even if you love them, opting to check in with them another way when you have the emotional bandwidth. You’re still a good friend if you find ways to manage your own comfort while lending a hand.
8. If your jealousy or envy is overwhelming, consider talking to a therapist.
It’s tempting to think of these as frivolous emotions, but you might find that you have more intense underlying thoughts and beliefs to work through. There’s no harm in grappling with less-than-positive feelings on your own, but if you think you could benefit from chatting with a therapist about underlying issues or even learning some coping mechanisms, it’s “worth processing and talking to someone,” Roberts says.