THE BLOG
12/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Friends Who Are Green with Envy

QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

I just walked away from a very painful friendship that almost ripped off my self-esteem. It is true that I have not always been the most confident person, but I have never encountered anyone like this before. She is always judgmental, negatively critical, pessimistic, and uses emotional blackmail. When I read your 20 ways to spot a toxic friendship, I answered YES to 16 questions.

It took me a year to finally be decisive and realize that the friendship wasn't worth saving. What pains me the most is the fact that she has always been envious of me even though she has the same things that I have. I never feel comfortable sharing my happiness or success with her. It really hurts because I see her as a sister and have always wished her well so it feels like a betrayal.

Now that I have walked away she accused me of abandoning her and took this opportunity to play the victim in front of others. She keeps saying I hate her and never want to see her again. People have no idea that I am just putting up my boundaries and protecting my mental well-being.

I have been patient, forgiving and understanding over the past three years. All she did was take me for granted. Although it is over, sometimes her negativity still bothers me and some of the hurtful remarks are hard to let go of. Nonetheless, at least now I am certain I no longer want her close to me. I am determined to move on and want nothing to do with her. The writings in your blog help me a lot, knowing that a lot of people have experienced the same thing.

Signed,
Bruised

ANSWER:

Dear Bruised:

Thanks for raising the topic of envy, although I'm sorry to hear that you feel bruised by an envious friend. It is always disappointing when a friend falls short of meeting our expectations.

Because we are all different, it's natural for each of us to compare ourselves to others. We tend to gauge ourselves by how we stack up against our friends and acquaintances along a variety of dimensions-e.g. looks, intelligence, career success, wealth, material possessions, and social cache. Most times, we realize that while our friend may have X, we are lucky to have Y.

However, women with low self-esteem, or who are depressed, tend to focus exclusively on their shortcomings and are bitter about what they perceive as the advantages or good fortune of others. Taken to its extreme, such an individual can be very self-involved, hostile and cutting. It's natural to feel envious occasionally but if this is a persistent pattern, it can be toxic to a friendship. (By the way, jealousy is an attitude of possessiveness when someone feels that a valued relationship is threatened; envy is a broader concept that can include coveting another person's characteristics or possessions).

An excess of envy makes for an uncomfortable relationship because you can't be open and share your successes. If you do, you run the risk of making your friend feel more badly about herself. After three years, it sounds like you have finally realized that your friend is consistently envious and resentful and you have become confident enough to let go of the friendship. It's unfortunate, but predictable, that your friend felt more threatened and put down, becoming more openly hostile to you when you decided to distance yourself from her.

Stick with your decision because it isn't very likely that your friend will change: She is who she is. On the other hand, make sure that you aren't falling into the trap of choosing best friends who feel one-down to make you feel one-up. Solid friendships need to be reciprocal -- with two friends looking up to one another.

My best,

Irene

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships that will be published by Overlook Press in 2009 and recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.

Please send your questions about female friendships to Irene@fracturedfriendships.com and I will try to answer them.