“I feel very possessive over my close friends. I get upset when they show other friends attention in a group or when they turn me down because they have plans with someone else. I know it’s not healthy, but I don’t know how to stop.”
Do you find that close friendships bring up strong feelings for you? You may feel that you want to be closely intertwined with your friend to the inclusion of others. Romantic partners, other friends, work, and separate hobbies may even feel like a threat.
This can be a problem because possessive behaviors get in the way of forming the close, healthy friendships we want to have.
Here’s how to stop being possessive over friends.
Jealousy is a feeling, and there is nothing wrong with feeling jealous. It’s different to possessiveness, which is a (typically unhealthy) behavior. Jealousy is usually the underlying emotion beneath possessive behavior.
It’s essential to learn how to observe and listen to our emotions without acting on them. For example, you may feel angry, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to yell, hit someone, or break things. If we lose our cool due to anger, we apologize and try to find ways to make sure it won’t happen again. When we feel anger coming up, we may choose to take deep breaths, count to ten, or distance ourselves from the situation.
The same goes for jealousy and possessive behavior. For example, we may notice jealousy coming up and with it a desire to look through our friend’s phone. Perhaps we want to demand that our partner stop their friendship with a specific friend or take other action to reduce our jealousy.
That is possessive, unhealthy behavior that is likely to create an unhealthy dynamic or push someone away.
The healthy way to deal with jealous or insecure feelings may be to journal about it, talk to a therapist or friend, and bring it up with your friend when it feels right.
Read our guide on how to overcome jealousy in a friendship for more tips on handling your jealousy.
Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel whatever you are feeling. There is no such thing as a “bad” emotion. It’s normal to feel needy, angry, jealous, and insecure. Psychologists agree that jealousy is common in friendships.
If you’ve identified that you feel possessive, jealous, clingy, or insecure regarding your friendship, set aside some time to “sit with it.” Trying to suppress negative feelings doesn’t always work; accepting them can help you feel better.
Here’s an exercise to try: Sit down or lie down in a quiet and comfortable place. Try to notice what you feel in your body. There may be a heaviness in your heart area, increased heartbeat, shortness of breath, tightness in your jaw or another body part. It may help to think or say a sentence like, “I see you,” to this sensation. Some people like to put their hand on their chest or stomach to help connect to the body.
The more you understand about what lies behind your possessive behavior, the easier it will be to work through. Notice which situations, thoughts, or words bring up these feelings in you. Learn to recognize signs of possessive behavior so that you can stop yourself from acting in an unhealthy way.
For example, if you know that you get tempted to look at someone’s belongings if you’re alone in their room, make a plan to deal with these types of situations. When your friend goes to the bathroom, go get yourself a glass of water, or take the time to respond to messages on your phone. Remind yourself that everyone is entitled to privacy.
If you feel possessive when your friend spends a lot of time with another friend, read our article on what to do when your best friend has another best friend.
Boundaries are essential in every relationship. They define what is and isn’t OK. If you are possessive, you may be breaking or ignoring your friend’s boundaries. It can help to consciously decide what is and isn’t acceptable in your friendship.
Some examples of healthy boundaries we can set in our friendships are:
- Privacy boundaries, such as not looking at someone’s phone, reading their journal, or eavesdropping on their conversations.
- Not “checking in” to see if they’re online if they’ve ended a conversation.
- Refraining from giving unsolicited advice about things like who they should date, what they should wear, how they should eat.
Setting and respecting healthy boundaries will help you and your friend feel more comfortable around each other. Read our article on setting boundaries with friends. If you’d like more in-depth advice on this topic, check out the book Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab.
Every healthy relationship needs a good balance between sharing things together and spending time alone. Striking that balance is highly individual because everyone has different needs.
It may help to remember that we are often disconnected from our needs. We may think we want to spend time together with our friends every day, and in the process, neglect our need for alone time.
Try to see independence and time apart as good things. Remind yourself that doing things separately will help you grow into unique individuals who will have many things to talk about and discuss. The quality, rather than the quantity, of the time you spend together is more important.
Relying on a particular friend too heavily is a fast-track to jealousy and possessiveness when they spend time with other people. One way to solve this problem is to make sure you don’t rely on one person by increasing your social circle. That way, if your friend is busy because they are spending time with someone else, you know there are other people you can talk to or meet.
Sometimes, when we feel bad, we tend to focus on negative things. Say you’re in a group, and you start to feel possessive over your friend. You may notice that your friend is laughing a lot at what someone else is saying, and you begin to feel annoyed and upset. You start thinking that your friend never laughs that much with you and fixating on your friend’s interactions with other people.
One thing you can do in this case is to remind yourself of the positives in your friendship. Remembering that your friend values you and your friendship can help make the current situation feel less threatening.
If your friendship is solid, talking to your friend can help and even bring the two of you closer. Make sure that you don’t blame your friend for how you feel. Here are some important things to keep in mind when bringing these types of issues up with a friend or partner:
- Focus on facts. For example, “You’ve been ignoring me lately” is not a fact. A fact may be, “We haven’t talked on the phone for the past two weeks.”
- State your feelings and not your story. “I felt sad is an emotion,” but “I felt disrespected” is not actually a feeling: it’s a story you’re telling yourself (“I was disrespected”). The feeling under “disrespected” may be anger, grief, shame, or several other feelings.
- State a need. You can find a list of needs here. “I need you to stop following other people on Instagram” is not a need. However, a related need may be “I have a need for touch” or “I have a need to feel appreciated.”
- Ask your friend or partner for help. Instead of telling them how you want the problem solved, ask, “Can you help me with this?” or perhaps “How can we solve this?”
Friendships naturally change as the people involved grow and change. Try to refrain from jumping to conclusions about what these changes mean.
For example, you may assume that your friendship is over because your friend is in a new relationship. They used to text you every day, but now it’s once a week at best, and you rarely see each other. While there are obvious changes in your friendship, it doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is done.
Sometimes people grow apart as they become busier, but they are still important to each other. Perhaps your friend will have more time when the relationship is more stable (or work becomes less busy, or the children are older). Maybe you will have less frequent but deeper conversations. Become open to changes; they are inevitable.
Possessive behavior can be a sign that you don’t feel “good enough.” Work on increasing your self-esteem by setting small, achievable goals for yourself, and give yourself praise when you do them. Make sure that you’re doing things that you believe will be good for you and not goals that you think you “should” do.
Some ideas you can start with are:
- Go for a ten-minute walk every day to clear your mind.
- Don’t look at your phone for the first half-hour after you get up.
- Listen to a song that makes you feel good every day.
- Take care of your physical and mental health. Start with making small changes such as eating a piece of fruit every day or going for a walk.
- Take up a new hobby or pastime; this can also distract you from jealous feelings and give you a sense of independence.
For more, read our article: how to build self-esteem as an adult.
You may be possessive in your friendship if you feel upset when your friend hangs out with other people, doesn’t ask you for help if they have a problem, or when they talk about things they share with others. Trying to control your friend’s life or feelings in any way is a sign of possessiveness.
Possessiveness often comes from insecurity and jealousy. You may feel that if you don’t control your friendship, your friends may leave you when they find someone “better.” Another reason may be that you lean on someone too much and worry that you can’t cope with your own problems.