Got A Possessive Or Jealous Friend? Here’s Why & How To Deal With It

March 17, 2023

Do you have friends who become unhappy when you hang out with others? Clinical psychologist Dr Elaine Yeo sheds light on the situation

Do you have friends who become unhappy or jealous when you hang out with other friends, and even make mean comments about them? This was exactly my experience with one of my male friends, and although I eventually saw what was going on, it shocked me how long it took for me to realise what was happening right in front of my face.

Ethan* is a friend I’ve known for a couple of months whom I clicked really well with. We were in a friend group together, but as we got closer, we began to hang out one-on-one. We got along so well that there was a moment (well, if I’m being honest, there were multiple of them) where I entertained the notion of a relationship with him.

However, I shut all of these thoughts down when he confided in me about Ember, a mutual friend of ours that he liked. Nonetheless, we continued to spend time together, platonically of course.

But as time passed and his feelings for Ember supposedly progressed, I began to notice something — every now and then, he made disparaging remarks and subtly showed his distaste for some other friends that I often hung out with. In particular, Tobias, a friend that I had recently become close to. 

“You’re spending so much time with him, I want to meet him,” Ethan would say. Out of the blue, he would randomly bring up Tobias, making comments when I told him about the latest shenanigans Tobias and I got up to. He would say things like, “Is he straight?” and, “Are you sure he doesn’t have feelings for you?”

One day, Ethan and I were chatting and of course, he broached the topic of Tobias. But this time, he said something that struck me as particularly bizarre. “Be careful around Tobias,” he cryptically said. I immediately felt defensive of Tobias, as he had been nothing but a genuine friend to me. So I asked Ethan why, but he refused to elaborate. “I don’t know, just… be careful of him.” Feeling uncomfortable, I quickly changed the topic.

Days later, my mind was still swirling with the memory of this conversation. Why on earth did Ethan say that? This conversation stuck in my mind and I decided to bring it up to Aurora, a friend who knew Ethan too, to get a second opinion and see if I was overthinking matters.

Over an iced matcha latte, I talked about the comments Ethan made and how he always brought Tobias into the conversation one way or another. I spilled everything. When I was done talking, Aurora only had one question — why was Ethan so possessive over me? 

When she said that, everything seemed so clear. The way he always made physical contact with me when we were around others and the things he said about Tobias and others. In retrospect, Ethan’s possessiveness was painfully obvious.

With this jarring realisation, my mind spun with a thousand questions. Why was Ethan doing this? So what if I was close to Tobias? And what about Ember, and his feelings for her? I recounted everything to some of my other friends, and wow — a number of them had similar experiences with other friends, not just one of the opposite gender.

Recognising how prevalent this issue was, I set out to understand a few things, like why people get possessive, and how one can deal with it. So, I consulted Dr Elaine Yeo, a senior clinical psychologist at Promises Healthcare.

What are some signs that your friend is possessive?

Jealousy, anger and resentment when you give others attention: They consistently and intensely express jealousy, anger and resentment when you pay attention to or spend time with anyone but them. In addition, they may tell you to either spend less time or end your relationships with others, Dr Yeo shares.

Although jealousy is a normal human emotion that we are all bound to feel at some point in our lives, possessiveness is a behaviour that is an unhealthy way of managing one’s jealousy.

Judging your other friends: “They have a tendency to scrutinise and negatively judge your other friends and even love interests,” clarifies Dr Yeo. “They disparage all your friends and love interests, reasoning that they are protecting you from ‘bad’ people.”

Excessively sharing how close you are to everyone around them: Dr Yeo notes that they do so with a purpose, wanting others to know how tight-knit you are. (Whenever I took pictures with Ethan for Snapchat, he would always ask me to share them on my social stories.)

Unrealistic expectations of your attention: They may expect a text response within minutes or want to spend time together every single day, says Dr Yeo.

Unhappiness when boundaries are established: They become upset when you express your needs and boundaries. An example would be asking for more space for yourself, she adds.

What if my possessive friend is of the opposite sex? Does it usually mean there are latent feelings there?

“As human beings, we naturally wish for connections — a deep, authentic bond where we feel seen, valued and loved. We seek this bond in all our relationships, whether platonic or romantic”, Dr Yeo stresses. Hence, possessiveness is not an indicator of latent romantic feelings.

“If your friend is in a relationship with someone else, they could perhaps be lacking something in their connection with the other person”, she says. “Possibly, they may not feel as seen, valued or loved as they would like to be. On the other hand, they feel these in their bond with you, hence why they turn to you for this connection while simultaneously during the loss of it.”

Why are friends possessive?

Dr Yeo explains that jealousy is a normal emotional reaction to the fear of losing someone we have grown attached to, although possessiveness is an unhealthy method of managing it. Out of fear and jealousy, they engage in such behaviour to ensure they don’t lose a close friend, unaware that these are the very behaviours that will cause them to lose the friend.

Some of them may have existing feelings of isolation and disconnection from others, or they may struggle with a strong fear of rejection and abandonment. These feelings can exacerbate their fear of losing a friend and intensify their possessive behaviour.

How can one deal with a possessive friend? Should they talk to them or cut the possessive friend off?

Tell them how you feel: Dr Yeo suggests that you tell your friend how you feel about their behaviour and be clear about your boundaries. At the same time, give them space to share their feelings and concerns. When sharing, be specific and non-blaming. To do that, use “I” statements.

For example, you may say something like “When you tell me to see my other friends less, I feel hurt and frustrated”. Also, frame the issue as a problem that both of you can solve together, rather than putting all the blame on them, she asserts.

Express your appreciation: It may also be helpful to show your appreciation for your friend, Dr Yeo advises. Let your friend know you value them by telling them what you like about them or initiating conversations and time together.

The more secure and confident your friend feels about your friendship, the less likely they are to fear losing you and the less likely to exhibit possessive behaviour.

And if things still don’t change?

Walk away: If you have tried both tactics but they seem unwilling or unable to change their ways, it is best for your mental and emotional health to walk away, Dr Yeo reminds.

Unfortunately, that’s what I had to do with Ethan. I distanced myself from him, and while I would still call us friends, I will definitely be keeping my distance from now on.

*not his real name

Text: Natalie-Elizabeth Tan/HerWorld