toxic

Reader Q & A: Escape from a toxic mentor

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QUESTION

Dear Irene,

 

Never thought I'd write but... years ago, when I started my current career, I was befriended by an older woman. She and I bonded and have become very, very close over the years. In the past few years, though, I've started to think of her as "toxic" - she's very negative about others, events, the profession, etc. and when she talks, it's like that old fairytale about the frogs and snails falling from her mouth. In one joint venture, she created problems that have taken about a year to clean up.

 

I've been pulling back: not sending as many e-mails, not calling, not spending time with her at meetings, etc. I don't want to hurt her, but I don't want my reputation to be hurt nor can I take the constant negativity. Any advice?

Signed, Amy


ANSWER

Dear Amy:

 

It sounds like as your own career has blossomed, you may have grown apart from—or simply outgrown your friend—who you once saw as a wise mentor. During this period of time, she may have also changed. It sounds like she is more jaded and negative about her work than she was when the two of you first met.

 

It’s great that you are aware of the growing schism between you and that you have instinctively done the right thing by pulling back from the relationship. You are also wise to be cautious about not alienating her since she is part of your professional circle.  

 

My advice would be to try to establish better boundaries between the personal and professional relationship. Do acknowledge her and say hello at meetings but don’t get into extended discussions. Send her work-related questions or information if you need to, but don’t send her personal emails or plan after-work dinners.

 

Unless she is clueless, she will probably recognize that you are pulling back. If she asks you why or confronts you, come up with an excuse that allows her to save face. Remember that she helped you become the person/professional you are today. You might say that you’re working on a relationship, working on a book, or realizing your own need for more down time.

 

Taking the time to write this note suggests that you are sensitive to your mentor’s feelings, as you should be. Because of that, I’m confident that you won’t do anything to provoke a backlash or damage your own professional reputation. If “frogs and snails” are spewing from your mentor’s mouth,” it’s likely that others will recognize her toxicity and won’t question your motives for backing off. They may be thinking, “Why didn’t she do it sooner?”

 

I think you are doing all the right things and hope your escape goes smoothly.

My best,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Mean Girls

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QUESTION

Hi Dr. Levine,

It's been about 5 months since I broke up with my boyfriend due to conflicting schedules, frequent disagreements and life stresses. This guy was friends with my ex-girlfriend for over 15 years and I was friends with her for 10 years.

He took me to this party and I had no idea what was going on. My ex-girlfriend and her best friend, who I also knew from high school, completely snubbed me; I said "Hi" and got no reply along with very nasty looks. Anyhow, I invited my ex-girlfriend to my sister's wedding. That's how close she was to my family. I sat at the party for three hours with no communication from anyone except my ex-boyfriend. I then decided to leave, and told him I knew something was up.

The following day, I had tried calling this ex-friend with no pick-up, I attempted to speak to her online, no reply. I then managed to speak to her best friend online. She didn't hold back. She told me I failed to make a good impression with his friends from the get-go, for example, that I used my now ex-girlfriend by calling her when I had rough patches with my ex-boyfriend. She went on to say that I could break-up with my boyfriend over this because now I have the perfect drama-filled excuse.

Let me inform you Irene, I am 23 years old, not a teenager. I thanked her for her honestly. She immediately called my now ex-boyfriend to let him know what was said. I asked him if her would defend me. He said no because they have their opinions. He admitted that they have been telling him that the relationship wouldn't work out.

My best friend emailed these girls because she saw the damage it was doing to my body. I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and feelings of hopelessness, and had a drastic weight loss. My now ex-girlfriend stated she felt betrayed because she never heard from the guy and me once we started dating. I think "life" is the issue. I started working as a full-time nurse, dealing with teenage girls; and basically trying to support my ex-boyfriend as he went back into school, quit smoking, and focused on his life. My best friend also asked my ex-friend to return my call, but she never did so.

The hurtful part is that a week after the breakup, she was hanging out with my ex-boyfriend, and they have maintained their friendship since. I spoke to my ex-boyfriend recently, and he told me he never believed the things they said about me, but he has to remain loyal to them and doesn't think we can ever get back together.

I knew he was toxic for me, so I had to set limits and stop supporting him emotionally because it was draining. But why can my ex-girlfriend maintain contact with him and not me? I do miss her but I know our friendship could never be the same again. I thought about contacting her, but fear that she won't pick up my call. Then I tried online messenger, but learned that she had blocked me from her MSN.

I am terribly hurt and feel rejected, guilty and confused. I understand that I was entering a new chapter in my life with a new job, a serious relationship, and basically growing up. It was difficult to carry on the relationship, but it's the backstabbing I will never understand. Is it worth contacting this individual? There will be Christmas parties as well. Do I attend those? Sometimes commuting to work, I fear running into these girls.

Signed,
Having Trouble Coping

ANSWER

Dear Having Trouble Coping:

I understand how painful it is to feel let down by a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time. First, I want to congratulate on having the courage to break up with a boyfriend who was focused exclusively on himself and was insensitive to your feelings. You did the right thing.

The behavior you describe at the party sounds like teenage behavior. Whatever the age of these women, they were acting like "mean girls." There is absolutely no reason for you to contact this mean, disloyal, toxic friend who dumped you and rejected your overtures, choosing instead to befriend your ex-boyfriend. She has to know how hurtful that would feel to you, yet she didn't care.

It sounds like you have a good career and I think that the best Christmas gift you can give yourself is to move away from these low-life people. Perhaps, you can make new friends with colleagues at work. It's up to you whether or not you want to place yourself in the position of attending Christmas parties where you might see these mean people. Would you want to be snubbed by them again? That's a good possibility.

My advice for you for the New Year is out with the old and in with the new! Taking control of this situation will help you better cope, and make you feel less hopeless and insecure.

My best wishes,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Dealing with a pattern of fractured friendships

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QUESTION:

 

Dear Irene:

Add me to the list of people who stumbled upon your blog with relief. It's really good for me to hear that this is not an entirely uncommon problem, and some of the posts on this blog have been very helpful to me.

 

I'm definitely one of those people who seem to be prone to friendship problems. I have this pattern of going through a friend every two years. It's weird and embarrassing (my family has even pointed out to me that I can't seem to hold on to friends.) I'm working really hard on honest self-evaluation to identify the pattern, but I haven't found one overarching tendency, just a couple of smaller ones. I'm considered going to see a therapist to work out these problems.

 

Friends have dumped me because I was relying on them for too much support when I was depressed (I can't blame anyone for that.) But I've also been rejected for reasons unknown (A good friend rarely invited me out and when she came to my city to visit, she visited our mutual friend and told her not to invite me.) I've also dumped some toxic friends. One friend had many mental problems I couldn't handle (she knew I suffered from depression by weaseling it out of another friend, even though I very rarely talk or complain about it.)

 

Right now I've been avoiding my "good" friend of two years and trying to figure out if it's worth just cutting the cord. I'm sad that I keep doing this, but all the bad signs are there, I feel anxiety when I know I have to see her, and relief when I don't. I've tried to look at her positive attributes, but she has said so many mean things that I feel sick when I have to see her. One problem might be cultural. She's a different race than me and always makes fun of blonde girls (I'm blonde.) She also makes lots of mean comments about how she is annoyed by short girls, even though she also calls me short. The worst thing though, sadly, involved a guy. I told her once that I had met someone that I liked, and she didn't seem that interested, supportive, or excited. But she's rarely supportive of good things that happen to me in general.

 

I don't want to go through life not having any friends that knew me when I was young, but I also don't think this is a friendship worth saving. And I'm not sure if there is a way I can tell her this. Thanks for listening.

 

Signed,
Dorie

ANSWER:

Dear Dorie,

 

First, I want to tell you how much I appreciated your candor in sharing your friendship problems. Your honest self-appraisal is the first step in resolving them.

 

One suggestion: Pay attention to the quality of your relationships rather than how long they last. It sounds like your "good" friend is downright mean to you. Saying cutting things and not being supportive doesn't have to do with race and culture; it's a personality issue. She doesn't sound like a good friend and if you don't enjoy being with her, I hope you'll move on to greener pastures. You deserve relationships that are supportive and reciprocal.

 

I don't know if you are still depressed or whether your depression has been effectively treated, but clinical depression can impair friendships. It makes you see the world in a negative light and it's also very difficult for another person, even a friend or spouse, to be around someone who is very depressed.

 

It sounds like you are very eager to have some healthy friendships; that is a laudable goal. Since you recognize a pattern of friendship problems that you can't explain, I think it's a great idea to speak to a professional to gain more insight into what is going on.

 

Thanks for sharing your story; let us know how it goes.

Best,
Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Help! New friend is too much

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QUESTION

Dear Irene:

 

A few months ago I met a woman and her daughter at a children's event. We hit it off and even though her daughter is considerably younger than mine, we got together for a few playdates. The problem? She calls me everyday to complain about how hard it is to figure out naps and a feeding schedule for her daughter.

 

At first I didn't mind giving her advice, my daughter was nap resistant as well. But every day calls about the same subject is overwhelming. Sometimes I want to go off on her because her daughter doesn't even act out or cry despite being overtired.... she is very mellow.

 

Meanwhile, my daughter is hyperactive, I have an infant son and my husband has recently become unemployed. I think, 'How come I can cope with all of this without wallowing, but her life is comparatively easy and she can't even figure out a schedule for her child without daily support from me?'

 

She always says I'm one of her closest friends, that she appreciates me, values my advice, etc. I'm bewildered because we have only gotten together a few times.... and we've only known each other a few months? She has other friends, she apparently calls them for the same needs. She has even told me that one of her friends told her she is nuts, and doesn't want to talk about naps anymore. I don't feel very close to her, she is a bit abrasive and doesn't really comment when I talk about me (which is not very often). What I want is a very casual friendship with no more than one call a week and a get together every few weeks. What should I do?

 

Signed,
Anonymous

ANSWER:

Dear Anonymous:

 

You answered your own question. You know what you want, a very casual relationship with someone who calls you no more than once a week and with whom you can get together every few weeks. You don't want a relationship with someone who is needy, self-centered, and demanding---and doesn't give you a chance to get a word in edge-wise.

 

Don't let yourself get sucked into this toxic friendship any deeper. You're obviously adept at making new friends. Go to another children's event and find another friend who better fits your own criteria and friendship needs.

 

In the meantime, do whatever you can to distance your relationship from this woman. Say you have to focus on your infant son and don't have time to talk on the phone much. Don't make any plans to meet with her. Tell her you are busy. With any luck, she'll hitch herself onto someone else's wagon.

 

My best,

Irene

 

Reader Q & A: Envy among friends

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QUESTION:

Dear Irene,

Just want to say thank you for this blog. 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. So once again, thank you and all the best for your forthcoming book.

Signed,
Bruised

P.S. I hope you will write more about envy among friends. I have experienced it a few times and surprisingly enough, people who are envious of me are almost always those I consider my best friends. I find this very difficult to understand. It is okay to feel jealous of someone - wishing you have what they have. I feel that way sometimes, too. But I am always happy for every success and happiness of my friends, and I never take pleasure in seeing them miserable. It is sad how some people can only sympathize with someone's misery but not their happiness.

ANSWER:

Dear Bruised:

Thanks for raising the topic of envy although I'm sorry 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 a natural instinct 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

 

Reader Q & A: Emotionally drained newlywed

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QUESTION:

Hi Irene,

I'm in a really tight spot and would appreciate ANY advice you could provide. I have had two friends, A and B, since elementary school, but we went our separate ways after high school. A went to college, B partied and worked various jobs, and I went on to complete undergraduate and graduate studies. Shortly after, we happened to all live in the same city, started hanging out again, and had a great time. I got engaged with my boyfriend of 8 years, and it just seemed fitting that A and B would be my bridesmaids.

The trouble started during the year leading up to my wedding. We all spent tons of time together and I started feeling self conscious, saddened and emotionally drained after spending time with A and B. I just couldn't figure out why I had these negative feelings. I would come home to my fiancé and all I would do is complain about them, which is totally out of my character. As the wedding date approached, it hit me! I realized that I hardly had anything in common with A and B anymore. They are superficial, and obsessed with appearances-weight, dieting, plastic surgery and gossip, whereas I'm more down-to-earth and laid back.

On top of that, I realized that B does not respect me very much. She is judgmental, critical and totally unsupportive. When I talked about the trouble I was having at my new job, she would have no sympathy and tell me it was my own fault. She would often say, jokingly, that I was lazy because I did not exercise, but when I finally signed up for a fitness program, she told me I was wasting my money. She never misses an opportunity to point out that I am the "prudish" one of the bunch. (Does that even matter?). And I have reason to believe she is a compulsive liar.

After this, I started feeling really down about how my "closest friends", who were to be my bridesmaids, turned out to be toxic friends that I share little in common with. I was distraught to the point that I became physically ill with bad stomach aches. I actually struggled with the idea of kicking them out of the wedding party, but decided against it because I thought that would be too mean and drastic. It would have created too much drama, considering we all have many common friends. And it's not like I want to completely cut all ties with them, we do share a lot of history.

So I decided to go ahead with the wedding as planned, and after it was over, concentrate more on my own well-being, and on friendships that make me feel happy and good about myself. I do still spend some time with A and B, but nothing compared to how it was before. But the fact is that I keep feeling so guilty for distancing myself after the wedding. Another of my faults is that I have never talked to either one about my negative feelings, because it took me so much time to put my finger on what was bothering me. Now it seems like it's too "after-the-fact" to have a talk with them. I really feel like a bad friend and a bad person.

To complicate things further, my new brother-in-law (who lives with me and my husband!) is now seeing B. He actually asked me if I felt awkward about him dating her, and I explained to him how I feel about B, how she's hurt me, and how I was actually hoping to distance myself from her. But he's head-over-heels for her and maintains that she doesn't have a bad bone in her body. I feel so helpless! And I feel bad again because I am not being supportive of his new relationship, I do want him to be happy, but this is hard! B is a person that I really want to distance myself from, and she's now going to be part of family events!!

So the big questions are: Do I owe anything to my bridesmaids? Should I feel guilty for wanting to distance myself from them? And how should I handle the brother in-law situation? How can I be supportive of my brother-in-law when I have these negative feelings about B? Should I tell my friends how I feel, even if it's so after-the-fact by now? Again, ANY advice will be greatly appreciated! I've been struggling with this for too long!

Signed,
Emotionally Drained Newlywed

ANSWER:

Dear Emotionally Drained Newlywed:

It sounds like you have a great deal of insight. You made a wise decision to not "rock the boat" at the time of your wedding and to include A & B as bridesmaids. They were an important part of your past and helped you become the person you are today.

I doubt any good could come out of telling them that they are superficial and/or judgmental or such-either before the wedding or now. It's good that you recognize what feels toxic about your relationships with them because it has helped you establish some healthy distance.

With your marriage, you have embarked on a new life and it's not unusual that the nature of some of your female friendships might change or even go dormant. Having a change in heart about your feelings towards your friends doesn't make you a bad person! You need to get over that irrational thought. People change over time so it's natural for friendships to change as well. You are being true to yourself and your own feelings.

The real fly in the ointment, as I see it, is living with your brother-in-law. Is there any way that he can find another place to live? That would simplify your life greatly-probably in more ways than one.

Short of that, if he remains under your roof, things can go one of two ways: Either he will remain involved with B-or break up with her.

  • If B and your brother-in-law remain connected, you will probably want to maintain a friendly relationship with her, as the girlfriend of your brother-in-law (although it may be more distant than the one you had before.) Don't be surprised if he already leaked some of your feelings to his girlfriend. Many of us tolerate people because they are related by marriage.
  • If the brother-in-law and B break up, it may be a perfect opportunity to allow your relationship with B to fade away. At that point, B might feel the same way too.

Don't get too stressed out. You married your husband, not his brother. I think your instincts are good ones. Trust your gut!

Best wishes, Irene

 

 

Reader Q & A: Avoiding entanglements after a break up

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Dear Irene,

 

I have a long time friend who was a single mother just like me when we first met ten years ago. I knew she was a headstrong and opinionated early on and accepted that. However, I’ve always worried a bit about her. She had a traumatic childhood; she was adopted after her mother, a drug addict, who gave her up at the age of 5.

 

I kept the friendship almost out of pity because I knew she felt she could always turn to me. She loses friends easily due to her tendency to be mean and hurtful. I could write a book about all the hateful things she has said to me and it would take volumes to write all the negatives things she said about my child. I put this aside because she has a good heart in there somewhere. She is very smart, clever and used to be fun, and our friendship centered on getting together to let our kids play. Over the years, I become like an Aunt to her first son.

 

I went on to get married; she did too. She married for money, clearly stating to me and her family that her life plan was to marry someone with money, have a few more kids and never ever, ever have to work. This kind of stunned me but I sort of brushed it off. Now, she flaunts her husband's money, and often makes snide remarks about my husband's occupation. She is rude to me, her family, and especially to wait staff, baristas, anyone in the service industry, as if she is a queen. She calls her husband a “meal ticket” and continues to cheat on him, saying she’s not attracted to him. She recently moved away with her family but she hardly spent any time with me before she moved, and I have to say, I was relieved not to spend time with her.

 

Here is the problem. I had planned to call her after she settled in her new home to finally confront her and let her know we’ve grown apart and that I need to move on. Before I did, her mother called me very upset. When I told her mother, she didn’t even know that Claire had moved. Turns out her entire family is furious with her for becoming a snob, being rude to them all, and excluding them from her life. She had a fight with her mother several months before and they haven’t talked since. The sad thing is her mother has cancer, and because my friend is so self absorbed she doesn’t even know.

 

I want to pick up the phone and just unleash on this person I used to know! But, I have been asked not to divulge that I spoke to her mother. Yesterday, her brother called and said he wanted me to know that he hates his "ex-sister" and that if I do speak to her that the family is very angry with her. Now I am stuck and have no idea what to do. I am not outraged, more just disappointed and annoyed and ready to move on but I have this nagging feeling that I should confront her before her family members let on that they spoke to me. I just can't find the courage to do it! Please send your suggestions.

Signed,

Anonymous in Florida

____________________________

Dear Anonymous in Florida:

 

First, you should be congratulated on having such keen insight into your fractured friendship. You realize the factors that brought you and Claire together: sharing the experience of being single moms and your understanding and acceptance of someone who had a hard time in life. You also realize the downsides of the friendship that you initially overlooked but caused it to end.

 

After each of you married, the vast discrepancy between your values towards marriage/family and Claire’s become obvious. With her new involvements with both a husband and lover---as well as a geographical move---seems like your friendship just took a natural course and drifted apart, which was a fine resolution on both ends. (It’s common to feel like there hasn’t been closure when two people drift apart although it really is a type of closure.)

 

Then you somehow got involved in discussions with Claire’s family which has indirectly involved you with this toxic person again. I understand how this could easily happen but it was a mistake on your part. There is no need to confront Claire over her transgressions or lack of character or to report them to her family; they are well aware of her foibles. To the contrary, you need to extricate yourself from her family drama. Don’t call her relatives and if they call you again, you can honestly say that you are Claire have parted ways and you really aren’t in touch with her anymore. Her mom’s illness is a sad fact but there is nothing you can do about it.

 

This fractured friendship has really been over for some time. Unleashing isn't a sign of courage and won't repair what's broken. Now, it’s time for you to more forward and replace it with healthier relationships with people you respect. By the way: Don’t be surprised if you hear from Claire again around the time of her divorce. Hopefully, if that comes to pass, you will be prepared and you’ll be too busy and involved with others---who deserve a friend like you---to get sucked in again.

 

Hope this helps a little.

 

My best,

Irene

 

Psych 101: When a close friend is depressed

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It’s depressing to be with a friend who is truly depressed. You may even get weepy yourself. The black cloud of depression spreads over you too, making you feel like you want to escape and be with anyone else but her. But read this first!

I’ve blogged here repeatedly about the importance of female friendships to women’s emotional and physical well-being---and about the perils of toxic ones as well. I’ve talked about friends who are too needy, too self-centered, too angry, too demanding, or too unreliable and have pointed out that some friendships reach a tipping point when it’s time to call it quits. I still believe that relationships that are consistently draining should be ended or at least, placed on hold.

Then I received a post from a reader entitled, Toxic Friends May Be Crying Out for Help, which reminded me that there are exceptions to every rule---and that it is important to distinguish between a toxic friendship (which is pathological relationship) and depression (which is a mental disorder). Here's the post:

Dear Irene:

Thanks for pointing out that there are bad friends out there, However I want to play devil's advocate here and say that in 2006 when ALL and I do mean ALL 5 of my close friends bailed on me like a chain of dominoes I nearly died from the depression it caused. In the wake of that nightmare I found out I had a mental problem and needed HELP. Your call to DUMP Toxic Friendships would be better served by advocating INTERVENTION for people who may possibly be in serious trouble rather than leaving them behind like trash on the street corner.

Signed,

Anonymous

Yes, there are some cases when close friends need to cut a little slack. Could it be that your friendship feels burdensome and painful because your friend is depressed?

Recognizing depression

Clinical depression is extremely common, affecting nearly one out of ten people in a given year, and it’s is twice as prevalent in women as it is in men. It’s more than a case of the blues or a bad mood that passes. Depression profoundly affects a person’s ability to function. And as hard as someone tries to shake it, it recurs nearly every day, all day, for at least two weeks or longer.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms of depression may include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, waking up during the night, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Does this list of symptoms and signs make you think of one of your friends? Well, this is a reminder. As much as you might like to, you can’t talk a friend out of being depressed. Even a kick in the pants won’t help. Depression is a biological illness.

What you can do

  • If you are a good friend, there are some ways in which you can help and possibly make a difference:
  • You can listen carefully, provide support, and offer to spend some time doing things you enjoy together (taking a walk or bicycle ride, or going to a movie).
  • You can offer to help her with concrete tasks she can’t accomplish on her own because she feels so overwhelmed or has no energy.
  • Try to be patient---and never be pushy. Don’t dismiss her feelings. Show that you understand them but encourage her to realize that these feelings are only temporary and will eventually pass.
  • Don’t pussyfoot around the issue. Remind her that depression is a treatable illness and encourage your friend to seek treatment.
  • If she resists your initial suggestion, try again but don’t nag. Don’t make demands or set ultimatums. Many depressed people need time to find their way to treatment and some people just want to be left alone.
  • If you worry that your friend may be harboring suicidal thoughts, you have certain ethical obligations. Be direct and ask her if she feels suicidal. If she does, remind her that she is important to you and that she needs immediate professional help. Never allow the burden of having a depressed friend be yours alone. Be sure to inform someone else (e.g. her partner or closest relative.) If you’re her partner, tell her doctor.

Recognize that you can only be a friend, not a mental health professional. There is just so much that friends can do and so much that they can give. You may need to reluctantly cut loose and be there for her when she begins to recover.


Note: This post is about friendship and isn't intended as medical advice.

This post can also be read on The Huffington Post.

 

Needy Friends: A Friend Indeed?

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There are some friends who feel like an emotional ball and chain. They’re always in need of one thing or another: money, favors, help, coddling, praise---or simply more time than you have to give.

Like a wailing toddler, they can be so demanding that their friendship tires you and weighs you down. Who needs that kind of friend? Many women do.
  • People who like feeling needed---or once liked the feeling (even if they don’t anymore)
  • People who feel like they aren’t worthy of healthier, more balanced relationships
  • People who are stuck---either feeling angry or sorry for their needy friend---and feel unable to get out of it
But if you have begun to recognize that a female friendship is a drag, you’ve taken the first step in relieving yourself of the burden.

HOW-TO UNLOAD:
  • Change the nature of your friendship by learning to say “no” and setting boundaries (e.g. “Even though we are both single, I don’t want to spend every Friday night together.”)
  • Tell her that you have to tend to your own needs (or those of anyone else you can think of)
  • Slip away - Spend less time with her and add other less demanding friends to your inventory
  • Take a relationship sabbatical or hiatus from the friendship (you deserve it!)
  • If it's that bad, simply cut loose!
Remember, the term toxic friendships refers to relationships that are consistently negative and draining. It is the pattern, not the one-time or occasional lapses in the balance of needing that occurs between good friends. If your truly needy friend has been that way for some time, the real possibilities of changing the relationship verge on hopeless.

These are people whose needs can never be satiated. No matter what you give, what you do, how much, or how often, it will never be enough. Since character tends to endure, this person probably treats other people the same way she treats you. It’s likely that many of her friends have probably already dropped out of the picture and that’s why she is so dependent on you.
 

2008 – 8 Female Friendship Resolutions for the New Year

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It’s so easy to make resolutions and so hard to keep them. Every year, women resolve to lose weight, reduce stress, work smarter, and improve their relationships with family and friends.

I thought a little more specificity might help clarify my Friendship Resolutions (and yours) and make them more concrete and achievable. Here goes:

1) Get real

Don’t expect all of your friendships to last forever

2) Don’t settle for one BFF

Surround yourself with a number of synergistic relationships

3) Get rid of toxic friendships

If a friendship consistently drains you, brings you down, makes you nervous, or makes you angry, it is not worth keeping.

4) Don’t be a toxic friend

Don’t be too needy. Listen as much as you talk. Don’t expect any one friend to fulfill all your needs.

5) Reach back

There is no substitute for shared history. With the internet and low-cost cell phone calls, there’s no reason to not reconnect with significant friends from your past.

6) Prepare for your future

Continually work at making new friends. As we grow and mature, we need to replenish our stock to keep our friendships fresh and vital.

7) Don’t be threatened by the internet

Virtual friendships on MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn don’t undermine friendships. Rather, they can enhance old friendships and create new ones.

8) Just do it

There is no substitute for setting aside time for your friendships and the payoff is worthwhile. Don’t just talk about getting together. Mark you calendar.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 
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