Teen Breathe

How to deal with feelings of envy or jealousy

Perhaps you recognise the following scenario: you’re meeting up with a friend, excited to catch up on the week and looking forward to sharing your news or planning an outing together. But before you can get a word in, your friend passes you something and excitedly announces: ‘Look what I’ve got!’ All other topics of conversation fall away and you spend the whole time listening to detailed descriptions of their new games console or admiring the features of their latest shiny phone. You should probably be feeling happy for them. Instead, a host of uncomfortable feelings arise. Situations like these are tricky, but looking closely at what you’re experiencing – as well as why – can make them more manageable.
WORDS: Lizzie Bestow
ILLUSTRATION: Tímea Terenyei

Remember that the situation that has caused these negative emotions is only temporary

When a friend is completely preoccupied with a new possession, it’s common to feel ignored and left out. It might feel like the focus of your friendship has shifted.

It’s important to allow yourself to feel this way, but also to remember that this is a temporary situation. The new becomes old quickly. And, although it might be upsetting to feel you’ve lost your friend’s attention for a while, the novelty will soon wear off.

Why it’s important to try to understand the situation from your friend’s perspective

It’s often baffling when a friend can’t think beyond their latest acquisition, especially if you can’t see what’s so special about it. Just why do people care about having a certain clothes label, shoe brand or the latest technology? It’s often helpful to understand how the appeal of the new can be powerful, and to think about what might be going on inside someone’s head when they’re focusing on something so intently.

Chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey, from County Cork in the Republic of Ireland, explains: ‘Our brains are hardwired to seek out novelty – this means we crave new things. Sometimes, the craving is for the object itself and other times it’s for the social capital or street cred that comes from having the latest gadgets, which we hope will increase our popularity and make us feel more secure.’

Owning a particular product might boost someone’s self-image or raise their status in their friendship group. This can bring a rush of confidence and self-belief, especially if they’ve struggled with insecurity.

Like many things, it’s a matter of perspective. While having expensive trainers or cosmetics might seem like a waste of money to you, your friend might see the item – or what it represents – as something that’s worth every penny they saved to buy it.

Why you shouldn’t be hard on yourself for feeling jealous or envious

It’s important to remember that feeling jealous doesn’t make you a bad friend. It’s a normal reaction, especially when social media encourages comparison with others. Catherine believes the first step to moving past envy and jealousy is to recognise these emotions for what they are.

‘The key is to allow yourself to feel them but not let them drive your behaviour and negatively impact your relationships,’ she says. ‘So, if you find yourself longing for what someone else has, the first step is to actually name the feeling as jealousy or envy.’

Giving yourself permission to have a full range of feelings – instead of always trying to suppress those labelled negative – is all it needs for positive ones to come through.

What are some more tips for dealing with feelings of jealousy or envy?

Acknowledge the emotion: Catherine says: ‘It takes a brave person to recognise the envy within.’ Once you’ve recognised these challenging feelings, try sitting with them for a while.

Be kind to yourself: Some people feel ashamed of not simply being happy for a friend, but it’s a normal human reaction. Reciting positive affirmations can help. You might want to try: ‘I’m feeling jealous of my friend, but that’s OK. This feeling will pass.’

Go beneath the surface: If you’re struggling to connect with a friend over their new possession, look beyond the object itself and see if you can share in their excitement about how it makes them feel.

Be patient: Novelty is short-lived. Your friend’s interest in their new purchase will wane and the balance of conversation will soon return to normal.

Reach out: If you’re frequently comparing yourself to others and finding it difficult to cope with those feelings, talk to a friend or trusted adult. Sharing your discomfort can often help you shift your perspective and allow you to see things in a new way.

Read more about mental health and wellbeing in Teen Breathe issue 43.