7 ways to deal with a competitive friendship

Fed up of the constant pressure to compete, Nadine Murphy worried that the rivalry which had gradually appeared in her group of close girlfriends was about to pull them apart. We sent her looking for answers to find out how to deal with competitive friendships

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4 minute read

From evenings spent comparing examples of how important and high pressured our jobs are, to group bragging about the wonderful presents our partners got us for Christmas, somehow my competitive friendship group has lost itsway.

When I’m with them, everything feels like a competition. Toxic and tedious; every dinner, drinks and weekend away with them leaves me feeling exhausted from trying to keep up with the competitiveness that seems to have established itself as part of our friendship.

Worried it was about to tear my friendship group apart, I set out to find a way to deal with my competitive friendship…

7 ways to deal with a competitive friendship

1. Differentiate between positive and negative envy

When trying to deal with a competitive friendship, it’s important to know the difference between positive and negative forms of envy – wanting something you can’t have versus wanting something you can.

‘Envy can motivate and empower you to achieve,’ says Professor Tracey Vaillancourt, who has researched competition in women, ‘but it can also be a negative waste of energy.’

2. Work on your own self-esteem

If you feel vulnerable around competitive friends, it might be worth working on your own self-esteem. ‘People with high but fragile self-esteem are likely to be more vulnerable, but somebody who readily accepts that they are good at some things and not so good at others will be less susceptible to making social comparisons,’ says Vaillancourt.

3. Talk to your friends to see if they feel the same way about the competitiveness

You may think you’re alone in how you feel, but it’s worth confiding in a friend who you think might feel the same way about the competitiveness. Or, they might understand your feelings without judging.

If you decide to take action, clinical psychologist Melanie Greenberg advises: ‘speak your truth without blaming anyone. Explain why you want things to change and what outcome you would like. For example, to be happy for each other as a group, stay positive. And take your ally with you.’

how to deal with a competitive friend friendships

4. Try to focus on the positives of the friendship – even if it’s competitive

When trying to deal with competitive friendships, try to turn a negative into a positive. Be the one to choose love not war first. When it comes to friendships, Greenberg reminds us: ‘We want acknowledgment, we want respect. We want to be seen, heard, validated and be an accepted member of the group.’

Instead of letting yourself get sucked into a new competition, support your friend and give her the acknowledgement she is seeking from you. It will be easier for her to open up and give the same to you in return.

5. Question the motivation behind the competitive friendship

It’s a good idea to ask yourself what the motivation behind the competitiveness could be, before immediately trying to make it stop. If your friend simply needs you to be her audience and has no interest in your achievements, take a step back and give the friendship some room to settle.

6. Read up on competitive friendships

If you’re struggling with a competitive friendship, read The Group by Mary McCarthy (Virago, £8.99). Set around a group of university friends in the 1930s, it’s the perfect example of competitive friendship. It’s also a great reminder that rivalry is normal and experienced across many generations.

7. Be realistic and rational

If you’re feeling competitive with your friends, take a step back and remind yourself of the ridiculousness of your emotions by listening to Morrissey’s classic song ‘We hate it when our friends become successful’. Or read some Shakespeare, who famously wrote: ‘How bitter it is to look at happiness through another man’s eyes’…

More inspiration: My difficult friend – how to deal with ambivalent friendships