04/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Can a Friend Who Is 'Green With Envy' Really Be a Friend?


Dear Irene:

I am in my mid-thirties and have always made and had easy friendships. People really like me and I like them and being liked. All would be well except that I harbor a very strong and miserable envious streak. I cannot bear to see my friends be happy in their romantic relationships. This is the case no matter what my own romantic situation is at the time. It is no less painful for me to see them in love when I'm in a happy and loving relationship than it is when I am completely alone.

The very fact that they have "someone" eats me up inside. I find reasons to fight with my friends or be overly critical. I give them advice designed specifically to screw up their relationships. But, because I have such a strong history of being a "good" friend, no one would ever suspect my real motives.

I hate this about myself. I am a spiritual, introspective person. But when this envy problem flares up, I feel like a very mean child. Any insight or suggestions would be very welcome. Please know I am sincerely troubled by this condition. I love my friends and hate being this miserable person who wishes the worst for them.



Dear Donna:

It's natural for even a very good friend to feel envious once in a while when a friend has something she doesn't. For example, a woman might wish she had one friend's good figure or another's quick sense of humor. But these are usually passing feelings that recede in the background because there is an overall sense of balance in the relationship. A friend may have some qualities or characteristics you admire and wish you had, and vice versa.

Because, the envy you describe seems to rear its head repeatedly and isn't specific to any one friend or situation, you need to consider the possibility that it stems from your own feelings of possessiveness and insecurity. Why else would you be wishing ill will for people you consider friends?

I must say that your problem is somewhat unusual because it's obvious from your note that you are very uncomfortable, even self-loathing, about feeling the way you do. Someone can't feel good about wishing the worst for her friends. Also, you have to feel ashamed, especially, about acting on your feelings by fighting, being critical, and purposely giving friends bad advice.

What doesn't make sense to me is how your friends can overlook this rather fatal flaw in your ability to be a good friend. I believe that it is more transparent than you realize and that it lessens the intimacy of your relationships. Close friendships are built on trust, honesty and respect.

If you want to salvage your existing friendships or develop new ones that are mutually satisfying, you need to change your behavior. The fact that you have some insight and are able to admit your peccadilloes to yourself and to me suggests there is hope for you to do so.

You might benefit from speaking to someone you trust -- perhaps a counselor or mental health professional -- to explore what's going on and find out what's making someone who isn't ordinarily a bad person act in ways that are destructive to her and to others.

I hope this is helpful.


The Friendship Doctor will be speaking at the Westport Library on Monday, March 8th at 7:30PM and at the Mount Kisco Library on Saturday, March 13th at 1PM. Come meet Dr. Levine and hear her speak about friendship. More info here.

Have a question about female friendships? Send it to The Friendship Doctor.