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Thread: Question about dealing with friends who have problems

  1. Question about dealing with friends who have problems

    I have a problem concerning a friend that I don't really know how to characterise, so for simplicity's sake I'm putting it here. I hope this is ok?

    I'm part of a fairly sizable online community of like-minded people, many of whom have suffered from depression at some point in their lives. For the most part this is a happy, comfotable community, but just recently I've been having trouble with a close friend that I don't know how to cope with. The girl in question is 16 years old, and (all this is according to her, btw) suffers from OCD and possibly depression (I'm afraid I can't be more accurate than that about it). Over the course of a few months I have grown close to her, as we understand one another very well - at least that's how I understand it. Just recently, however, she has become a very demanding friend, needing constant reassurances of affection and friendship, and worrying overly should I, for any reason, not appear on AIM every evening. I've tried to carry on through this, because it reminds me very strongly of my adolesence, when I suffered what can only be called 'attention seeking' and the rejections that resulted pushed me deeper into other problems. I certainly don't wish the same on this girl. (Incidentally, I have tried to raise the subject with her and she insists that it's not an attention thing. But I, and others, have noted patterns that we recognise in her actions that draw us towards this conclusion, and I don't really expect that someone who was seeking attention in this manner would confirm it, or perhaps even know it.)

    In recent conversations with people who have known her longer, I have become aware that this is not the first time that such a pattern has been followed - at least one other person has been 'relied on' in this way by the girl. Unfortunately that relationship soured when the dependee found that the dependant was too much of a burden:

    X e-mailed me some time ago wanting to know if I hated her, to which I said of course not, I love her - we were on each other's friends lists; I was friendly with her; I had no idea where she'd gotten such an idea. I'd never breathed a negative word against her in the entire time I'd known her. I reassured her that she was my X-sweetie and I didn't hate her one bit. Yet from there, she began making what can only be called demands: she wanted my friendship, but she wanted it on her schedule, according to her needs. When I tried to explain that I wanted us to be good friends, but that I'm under so much pressure (...) I really can't operate on demand for someone, and I'm sorry if that was a disappointment to her; I'd love to offer my friendship, such as it is, but I can't offer what I'm not and can't lie about who I am, she became extremely upset with me and began insisting that I was holding back, that I didn't want to be a real friend, etc. The entire sequence occurred predominantly as a series of e-mails, some LJ postings, and frankly was so stressful that I dreaded whether she'd be online or not.
    So, after wittering on about all of that, my question is does anyone have any advice as to how I can/should proceed? We have been trying for the longest time to convince her that she needs offline, professional help, but as yet there is no evidence of this. I myself am not anywhere near 100%, and I fear the damage this relationship, either in perpetuating or in a 'nuclear' fallout, could do both to me and her.

    Any thoughts? *crosses fingers hopefully*[/quote]

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  3. Question about dealing with friends who have problems

    Frankly, your description of the behavior of your friend sounds remarkably like borderline personality disorder. One of the characteristics is categorical or black-and-white thinking when it comes to personal relationships - basically, you are either best-friend or enemy, angel or devil, with no "greys" in between. You are best-friend when you meet the individual's needs; you are enemy when you don't or try to draw the lines as to the extent you want to be used to meet those needs.

    Regardless of whether she meets the criteria for borderline personality disorder, however, this is a dilemma that, for you, can only be resolved by being very clear about your boundaries, first for yourself, and then for her. You can try to present this in a kind and compassionate way but basically you need to be clear that you can be a friend but not a therapist / parent / life partner / exclusive confidante or however else she wants to define you in her life. You should probably expect that when you do so she will react negatively but really the only other option is to give in to her demands, and that will ultimately overwhelm you. While I understand that your compassion and empathy/sympathy makes it difficult for you to do anything that may cause her distress, this is one of those cases where really not to be clear and firm isn't doing either of you any good.

  4. Question about dealing with friends who have problems

    Thanks, David. I've not heard any definition of borderline personality disorder before, but reading that list was like looking at a description of X's behavoir, so I suppose it's a pretty strong possibility. I take your point that the best thing I can do for the both of us is to set boundaries, so I suppose the next thing for me to do is work out for myself where my boundaries lie. Sticking to them will probably be pretty tough, but I suppose not sticking to them would just be destructive for the both of us.

  5. Question about dealing with friends who have problems

    You can find more information about borderline personality disorder here, here, and here.

    You might also look at information about attachment disorders, which are related.

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