Friday Counseling Issues: My Friend is Driving me Crazy!

enmesh

verb en·mesh \in-ˈmesh, en-\

: to wrap or tangle (someone or something) in a net

At one time or the other during our lives, most of us find ourselves involved in a friendship that seems wonderful at first. There are lots of common interests,  and spending time with this new friend is lots of fun. But after just a few weeks, or maybe months, we realize that the new friend has attached herself in a way that reminds us of barnacles, or sucker fish, or some other life form that grabs hold and will not let go. 

You can’t do anything with other friends.  If your new friend is not included, she will call you, text you, leave you long emotional messages while you’re out without her.

You find that you have become responsible for  your new friend’s happiness and peace of mind. She tells you, “No one has ever understood me like you do,” or “I just don’t know what I’d ever do without you. Promise me you’ll never leave me!”

If you’re married,  your new friend is critical of your husband; or perhaps she praises him to the skies until it’s really pretty embarrassing. She manages to insinuate herself into your family, becoming friendly with your children in a way that makes you more than a little uneasy.

She may start dressing like you do, or fixing her hair like yours. She may ask you to help her pick out some new clothes for her because you have such marvelous taste.  She wants to know what shampoo you use, what perfume–you always smell so nice!–and what you’re making for dinner that night.

At first, all this devotion may seem sweet, even make you feel very special. It isn’t long, however, before you realize you’ve become entangled with an emotionally unhealthy person, and you desperately want to get out of the friendship. Trouble is, you’re a really kind person and you don’t want to hurt her feelings.

Or maybe there’s a person in your life who loves to call you every day, keeping you on the phone for hours at a time to talk about HER problems–never yours.  You make suggestion, but nothing ever changes.  How do you stop the calls?

*********************************

Okay, I’ve set the scene.  I’m going to try something different this week and ask you: “What would you do?  How would you extricate yourself?”  Let’s talk about this, see if we can come up with some ways that will really work.

And please be kind.  This is not a place for name-calling or foul language. Let’s just get a good conversation going!

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25 thoughts on “Friday Counseling Issues: My Friend is Driving me Crazy!

  1. As I face tough issues while working too hard in what ought to have been retirement, I have cut off all my graceless pilot fish. I would have real friends — or none. There’s danger in doing that because one might like the aloneness too much, and the sense of peace/lack of foreboding is only equal to the guilt I feel for my abdication as their peon/queen. When I ask myself, “WWJD?” about these things, I know He would choose differently; He always did. But it resolves nothing for me.

    1. I understand your dilemma. We’re told to love our neighbors as we love ourselves; we’re told to be all things to all men, to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Takes a lot of time and energy, if we’re not careful, and leaves us empty. I hope others will chime in here and share some wisdom 🙂

  2. Anne

    How about that. Just a few minutes ago, the phone rang. It was HER. Noooooooo. Not today, Lord! I did not answer. But I laughed. For the first time in dealing with HER, I laughed. ONLY because reading the caller ID reminded me of this post. Reminding me that it’s…real.

    This is even harder when it’s an introvert dealing with an extrovert–choosing words and actions carefully and confidently is already hard enough. You wouldn’t think an introvert wouldn’t have this sort of enmeshing thing happen unless we’re easier to take advantage of…

    Not that I’ve been completely successful in every case, but my usual method is polite, not-so-obvious incremental distancing. I’m always wondering if I’ve misread the situation and that gives me time to reevaluate my intent and their actions. Don’t answer the phone–communicate by e-mail so you can have control over when and how much time is spent communicating with them. Begin saying “no” more and more–especially to the situations that are the most awkward or annoying–to see if you can find a balance that still meets their needs well enough but doesn’t take advantage of yours. But when they’ve begun to talk to your kids or your spouse criticizing your leadership or person or putting their own opinion on higher ground than yours to your family…or when they share more private information with other friends they are also enmeshed with or trying to please…and you know the grapevine must go back to them…speed up the process a bit. Their enmeshing has proven to be jealousy or envy rather than simple glowing friendship or selfishness or loneliness.

    As I type that I think of how wearying the incremental distancing can be and wonder if some scriptural principles might apply that could make it simpler in the long run. Would the best way, as a Christian, be to lovingly, humbly, honestly talk of the biggest concerns in the friendship with this friend? In some cases, you might be the only one who has ever been honest with them, and it might salvage an otherwise strong friendship…and be a way to make sure of their intent and justify any future actions you take. I guess I have a hard time doing that because either a) I’m a coward or b) I’m worried I’m turning a simple “personality” thing into an unnecessary “confrontation”–I don’t want to come off looking petty or picky or later realize I was doing so to their hurt. And what if I just don’t want to be friends with them ANYway. Maybe if I slowly go away, they will too 😀 There are plenty of others for them to get enmeshed with that might like the honor.

    Either way, be prepared. If they don’t have another friend that they think is more exciting or useful than you or if they don’t take your open words kindly…they will likely begin gossiping, sharing what they know of you with someone else, and do a total switch on how they were–that everything about you is not to be imitated or praised, but poked at or ridiculed. It’s no fun. The situation I’m dealing with likes to share things now with the pastor’s wife in the form of “prayer requests”.

    I guess it doesn’t hurt to pray them away, either. Oh, ha, I see SHE just e-mailed me since I didn’t answer the phone. Hysterical. Anyway, sounds like a good time to seek some of that wonderful, peaceful “aloneness” that “Relax” mentioned–but I, unlike “Relax”, admittedly feel no guilt over it 😀

    1. Yikes. You’re kinder than I would be, I think. I’ve learned to spot these folks pretty quickly, and just don’t get involved. Used to think I had a sign on my forehead that said “Here She IS!” but no more. Just haven’t learned how to disconnect without causing pain.

      1. Anne

        “You’re kinder than I would be, I think.”
        Really? Very cool. 😀 I thought I had crossed your line of “being kind” and “not loving my neighbor” for sure. Relief!

        “I’ve learned to spot these folks pretty quickly, and just don’t get involved.”
        I generally can, too, and I have generally avoided involvement pretty well. Several years ago though, I found out people took my shyness for snobbery. In trying to resolve that misconception, I’ve gotten myself into a mess trying to rectify that and balance avoidance/involvement. I’m almost back to not caring if people think I’m a snob. As you said, the time and energy of THIS can leave you empty.

        “Just haven’t learned how to disconnect without causing pain.”
        Many of these people seem “narcissists” of sorts, maybe? I’m not sure they feel pain. Anything would be “our fault” to them anyway. If they truly cared, they would ask and try to make things right rather than the usual retaliation when we say “no” or “disconnect”.

        “You’re kinder than I would be”
        How about that. I may speed up my “incremental distancing”, then, most happily.

    2. Anne

      This sentence was a grammatical disaster: “You wouldn’t think an introvert wouldn’t have this sort of enmeshing thing happen unless we’re easier to take advantage of…”
      Try again: “You wouldn’t think an introvert would have this sort of enmeshing thing happen unless we’re easier to be taken advantage of…”
      And about doing their hair the same way. Yes. I’m hoping when I see HER again, my hair will be so much longer now that it will take her a while to catch up. Or, that she will be trying to copy someone else.

      “And please be kind.”

      Okay. Hushing.

  3. Always be wary of someone that needs a friend too much. I used to hate being alone, but I come from a big family and had a few fairly close friends so I did not have to experience loneliness for a very long time. I still have a few fairly casual friends now, a couple since Jr High school because we were all busy working and having a life. The ones that are still my friends were genuine friends. My kids are grown, my sister passed last year and sometimes I actually miss a couple of my closest friends that used to take almost every spare minute of my time, not exaggerating. Coming from a dysfunctional family I was thrilled to even have some friends so I would go along with things that I didn’t like and did everyone favors as well as served as a free counselor almost every single night of my life for over 30 years, working full time, over time and raising kids. That’s not the reason I’m divorced, I swear. After I hit menopause I grew more moody and irritable and developed a backbone after taking several assertiveness training classes. I used to be worried people wouldn’t like me when I was young. All of a sudden I just didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t just the fact that I realized that they somehow were not usually ever there for me the few times I needed them, but both of them decided to stop calling me because I dared to finally tell one of them what she really needed to do to straighten out her life and she flat out didn’t want to hear it. The other one I asked her to stop being so negative and stop saying bad things about co-workers and the like. I know they were offended, but I was offended plenty by folks and if I liked them, we worked things out. The fact that then minute I wasn’t a quiet little sounding board for either one, the would have no more of me, which let me know just how shallow and manipulative some can be. They both “needed” my friendship, but on their terms only. That’s actually what happened with my marriage as well. If you’re nice and easy going it attracts a certain kind of person. I never knew how freeing it was to finally just be honest instead of worrying so much about hurting someone’s feelings.

    1. Yes. Honesty can be very freeing. We are told, however, to speak the truth in love. That’s where I tend to miss it. Truth? Sure. Love? Maybe not so much 🙂

    2. Anne

      “They both “needed” my friendship, but on their terms only. That’s actually what happened with my marriage as well. If you’re nice and easy going it attracts a certain kind of person. I never knew how freeing it was to finally just be honest instead of worrying so much about hurting someone’s feelings.”

      And when that freeing honesty is not okay or lovingly desired within a marriage from the one you would hope to share and receive it from the most, it makes one hesitant beyond that relationship to correctly deal with other “people pleaser” situations. Feel like you are always misreading yourself and everyone else, too. Probably why I tend to not confront with truth (lest it not be truth on top of an effort to be kind)…so I slip away or avoid. Would rather live wondering if I should have said something rather than regretting that I did. If only I could handle things “head on” with people in general and forget about it before and after 🙂

      I’ve had one opportunity of complete honesty in a friendship (both desired, given, received, and reciprocated–all truth, all love–with as you said, both having the determined goal of working things out). Learning to trust and open up…after years of people pleasing where you cannot please. A journey and a gift. As you said, “how freeing.”

      Thanks for sharing. This “freeing” on a day to day level sounds really good. It’s all giving me a desire to just be me as soon as possible in these “enmeshing” situations. Maybe I only hurt myself AND maybe them by not being forthright sooner rather than later. People can take it, or leave it. Surely if we don’t want to be unkind, the Lord knows that and works it out.

      Mrs. Kreger, I hope you’ll give us YOUR wisdom from experience at some point. Don’t let us go astray 😉

      1. Anne, my friend Karyl, who writes her blog, the shepherdspresence, has offered some excellent thoughts. You’ll find them in the comments.

        And yes, you can bet I’ll be putting my own two-cent’s-worth on the topic 🙂

  4. Decide to associate with so many folks that no one has a chance to “leech” you. For instance, I always sit someplace different whether at church or out in group at the Senior Center. I try to be willing to give counsel when asked, but limit my time by saying, “I have a FEW minutes” indicating that I do have someplace to be in a few minutes, even if it is just on my way home! Most of all, I try not to “leech” onto anyone myself. I am even quite careful not to become to dependent on family for the same reason. Fortunately, I entertain myself quite well! Linda, this is an excellent topic.

    1. Anne

      “Decide to associate with so many folks that no one has a chance to “leech” you.”
      This sounds like a winner. “Keep moving along” sounds promising. Keep a good distance from the beginning. You have space to recognize danger signs. Far better than having to get unmeshed.

      “Fortunately, I entertain myself quite well!”
      Me, too. And I still feel no guilt as much as I’ve tried to feel with these two days 🙂

      1. Ah. I see you’ve already found Karyl’s comments 🙂 She’s good, isn’t she? You should look at her blog, if you haven’t already. Common sense wisdom based on God’s Word.

  5. This is Joe speaking.

    Being in both places, I think this is a person that needs love. The real kind of love. Give it to them, instead of depriving them. We don’t need to tolerate those ways. But instead, let us understand their nature first so that we may be the ones to help them change. 🙂

    1. Joe, I understand and agree with you to a certain point. Yes, these people need real love, and the love of God is the most important thing to offer them. The problems come when it’s never enough, no matter what; when they don’t want you to be friends with anyone else; when they can’t stop calling/texting/emailing at all hours of the day and night; and when the problems they seek help for NEVER get any better because all they really want is to talk, not DO. When this type of person monopolizes hours and hours of your day, it’s time to draw some strong boundaries that you can keep. It’s not unkind. It’s necessary for your own well-being, and your family, and for other friends.

      1. This is Joe speaking.

        In my end, I think it’s nice to end a friendship on a lighter note. So instead of completely abandoning him/her, make it a task or a purpose to help one’s self improve, and leave when you know in your heart that you’ve done your part.

        We are always being taught that God sent us here on Earth for a purpose, and for me I believe that this is a purpose made for us.

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