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Thread: Psychological Disorders as Contagious??

  1. Psychological Disorders as Contagious??

    I know that it may be outrageous to suggest that anxiety disorders or any disorder in fact is contagious, however I have a friend who suffers from many psychological problems. She has never been diagnosed, in fact she went to see a psychologist, and revealed to me that she was able to "convince" him that she was fine, although she knew that she had a problem and that is the reason she consulted a therapist.

    Initially, I had confided in her that I too had a few "fears" however this sparked her to become more open with me. Lately, I feel as though I have become more anxious about life and also depressed. We have been friends for more than a decade however I feel like sometimes I am unable to help her without also losing my own mind. Her problems allow me to feel like my own are minor and sometimes I feel like I have acquired her thinking processes. I'm not trying to "blame" her for my problems and I may have always had the capacity, however I can't help feeling that her anxiety (perhaps bipolar disorder) is affecting me. How can I be a helpful friend and yet still remain psychologically sound?

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  3. Psychological Disorders as Contagious??

    Hello, Mikki - welcome to the forum.

    I have to run to my office in a short while and I don't want to try to give you some fast, glib, easy answer so I'll reply later this evening or tomorrow monring when I can do justice to your question.

    Your question is an important one, and one faced by anyone who is close to another person suffering from depression, or one of the anxiety disorders, or many other disorders - how do you cope with, support, and help the other person without being overwhelmed? especially if that person won't seek or accept professional help...

    More to come...

  4. Coping with psychological problems in friends and family

    The question posed by Mikki is "how do you cope with, support, and help someone close to you who is suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., without being overwhelmed yourself, especially if that person won't seek or accept professional help?".

    This is one that is asked quite frequently, especially by family members. It's really a question of how to set boundaries:

    You want to be there to help your friend, to listen to her when she wants to talk, and to support her, but you're perhaps finding that she really doesn't want advice or help from you. Rather, she wants you to be there as an ear while she vents about her own anxieties. Is this correct?

    You need to determine what your own limits are with your friend and then gently and kindly, but firmly and consistently, remind her of what those limits are. Be honest with her - let her know that after a certain point, talking about her anxieties makes you feel more anxious yourself - tell her that you want to do what you can to be her friend but you can't be her therapist or counsellor, and that she needs to find someone who has the training and skills to help her deal with her issues. You obviously can't force her to get help if she doesn't want it, but you can let her know that it is stressful for you when she tries to put you into that role.

    In addition, it is important that friends and family members be careful not to become "enablers". For example, if the individual is feeling persecuted or showing signs of delusional thinking, the issue becomes even trickier - you want to remain supportive but you also have to do what you can to make sure you don't in any way give the impression you agree with or support the delusional thinking. In cases like this, you yourself may find it helpful to have a consultation with a therapist/counsellor who is experienced in the issues to give you specific advice in how to cope with the individual.

  5. Thank You

    Dr. Baxter, thank you for the thoughtful insight into my problem, and your prompt reply.

    I will need to keep firm on helping her as a supportive friend but also remain on advising her to seek counselling. In response to being an "enabler", I'm not sure if I have become that. I seem to have a greater perspective of her anxiety attacks as I have experienced a few as well and am able to understand what she goes through on a daily basis. Does my experience and understanding give her security that she may be "normal"?

    Anyhow, I know that this sight is not designed for one-on-one counselling, and you have helped by providing such rational words of wisdom, so I thank you for your time and advice.

  6. Re: Thank You

    Quote Originally Posted by Mikki
    In response to being an "enabler", I'm not sure if I have become that. I seem to have a greater perspective of her anxiety attacks as I have experienced a few as well and am able to understand what she goes through on a daily basis. Does my experience and understanding give her security that she may be "normal"?
    I didn't mean to imply that you were an "enabler", Mikki (actually, I must say that personally I dislike the term "enabler" or "codependent") - I meant that in a general sense, especially for people living with someone with bipolar disorder or a paranoid or delusional disorder.

    Rather, I think the fact that you have some experience with anxiety may give you greater credibility with your friend - i.e., she may be more likely to listen to you than to others and it may give her hope that she can be helped. However, that may also leave you open to being "leaned on" if you are not clear about your boundaries.

    Good luck, Mikki. If you don't mind, perhaps you can drop back in and let us know how it is working out.

  7. #6

    Giving support

    Hello David,

    In addition, it is important that friends and family members be careful not to become "enablers". For example, if the individual is feeling persecuted or showing signs of delusional thinking, the issue becomes even trickier - you want to remain supportive but you also have to do what you can to make sure you don't in any way give the impression you agree with or support the delusional thinking. In cases like this, you yourself may find it helpful to have a consultation with a therapist/counsellor who is experienced in the issues to give you specific advice in how to cope with the individual.
    I also have a friend who defines herself based on an abusive childhood. I find that when she is telling me her problems, I naturally validate her pain by telling her that she has a right to be angry and upset.

    At the same time, It seems to me that I am feeding into her anger by confirming that her pain is justified and that it's okay for her to continue defining herself by the experiences of her childhood.

    Could you offer some advise on a way that I could give her support without justifying her desire to remain an injured child (an enabler)?

    I've tried to convince her to seek psychological help, but she refuses.

    Thank you,

    Cara

  8. Re: Giving support

    Hi, Cara:

    Welcome to PsychLinks Online...

    Quote Originally Posted by Cara
    I also have a friend who defines herself based on an abusive childhood. I find that when she is telling me her problems, I naturally validate her pain by telling her that she has a right to be angry and upset.

    At the same time, it seems to me that I am feeding into her anger by confirming that her pain is justified and that it's okay for her to continue defining herself by the experiences of her childhood.
    There is nothing wrong with validating your friend's pain and anger, and in fact that may well be helpful. However, I sometimes will suggest to clients that holding on to such feelings may be more destructive than the original abuse. This is not to minimize or trivialize the abuse at all - rather, it is to point out that carrying around those negative feelings is an enormous burden. To me, it is not even about forgiveness - it's about finding some way to let go so you don't have to feel that awful that often.

    As a friend, you will probably have limits as to how much you can influence her but it may be helpful to suggest a few things to her: (1) that whatever has happened to her, it does not, as you so aptly put it, define her as a person - that she is much more than whatever another person did to her; (2) that whatever damage was done to her in the past, if she continues to allow herself to be consumed with these negative feelings, she is in effect permitting the abuse to continue; and (3) that many people do find counselling or therapy helpful in assiting them to let go of such feelings - she does not have to continue to feel this bad.

  9. #8

    Re: Psychological Disorders as Contagious?

    Thank you once again for this web site. It helps to read out psychological issues that plague everyday people, as I feel less alone when dealing with certain issues.

    In regards to an update with my friend, she has seen a doctor recently and is currently taking anxiety pills, I'm not sure of the name. However, this past week I was able to look at my problem with a new perspective and have seen that I feel like I have been a helpful influence on her anxiety because I am able to rationalize what she is feeling and how others, who have lack of experience with phobias, anxiety, etc., may have an ignorant outlook or unawareness of her problems. I am beginning to realize that my own anxieties have been apparent for awhile, I have just chosen to ignore it.

    Coincidentally, in response to Cara who wrote in about her friend. I would like to acknowledge that just being a friend to the woman who was abused is helpful in itself. I was also abused as a child and it took many years to overcome the self-induced shame that is brought on by someone else's actions. By having a trustworthy, attentive and supportive network of people I was able to reduce that shame and talk about my experience. Never underestimate what a listening ear can do. Having others not judge you is an important step in letting go of the burden of shame.

    Also, Dr. Baxter, I would like to address this topic by asking you if you feel that therapy is necessary to overcome sexual abuse. I have never undergone any, however have considered the option a few times. I really don't think I am still suffering from any serious repercussions but would like your perspective.

    Sorry to take up so much space in this thread, but I haven't been on here in awhile and needed to catch up. Thanks once again!!

  10. #9

    Re: Psychological Disorders as Contagious?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mikki
    Also, Dr. Baxter, I would like to address this topic by asking you if you feel that therapy is necessary to overcome sexual abuse. I have never undergone any, however have considered the option a few times. I really don't think I am still suffering from any serious repercussions but would like your perspective.
    I don't think I would say that therapy is "necessary to overcome sexual abuse". It can certainly help, though.

    Therapy is rarely an all-or-none thing, where you go for a few weeks and fix whatever has been bothering you or holding you back. One way of thinking about it is peeling off layers from an onion -- every layer removed exposes something new underneath. Alternatively, you might think about it as if you were exploring a large old house, with many corridors and closed doors -- you open one up and look inside -- perhaps you close that one again immediately because something in that room startles or worries you, but you go on to the next. You may even leave the house for a while and come back to it to explore it further in a week, a month, or several years.

    Ultimately, it's about growth and learning and self-discovery. We all do this, usually our whole lives. For part of that journey we may walk alone; for part of it, we may walk with someone else who helps us in various ways to continue the journey. Sometimes, that person is a therapist, especially when the feelings evoked by that part of the journey are very intense or confusing.

    It's also very much a matter of timing and readiness -- you may feel that you have resolved all you want to about the abuse for now but that may change in the future. If you feel you are ready to open some of those closed doors and to explore what's inside them, and you are unsure that you know how to do it on your own or whether you are strong enough to do it on your own, you might be ready for psychotherapy.

  11. Psychological Disorders as Contagious??

    In my practice, I see survivors of sexual abuse all the time. I said survivor on purpose because I dislike using the word victim. The valid question was asked:

    Also, Dr. Baxter, I would like to address this topic by asking you if you feel that therapy is necessary to overcome sexual abuse. I have never undergone any, however have considered the option a few times. I really don't think I am still suffering from any serious repercussions but would like your perspective
    Therapy may not be the answer but there is one thing that every survivor should attempt to do and that is confronting the abuser. Sad to say, many can't and these are people that need to get outside help but those who know their abuser need to be supported in confronting the abuser. This can be through the legal system in the form of charges or by a simple discussion. In essence what this does is it gives the act back to the abuser and now he or she must live out their life knowing they hurt you and you are not going to carry it any longer. I have seen dramatic turn a rounds in people's lives when they just do this one simple thing. When I say simple, I do not mean that it is easy to do... it very well may be the most difficult thing you have ever done but believe me, it works.

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