Tell Me About It: A casual friend has become too dependent on me
I don’t feel it’s fair that she treats me like her best friend or counsellor when I don’t feel that close to her
Q About 18 months ago a friend and former colleague moved here to pursue her dream life. We were never particularly close, but, as her new life has not worked out as she planned, she is now relying on me more and more. She has a history of depression and recently had to take time off work due to stress. She is on her final warning at work and is likely to be let go in the next few months. She feels she is being managed out the door, but, while I think there is an element of that, she is difficult to work with at times, has a problem with authority and doesn’t like to follow “silly” rules. Also, she doesn’t socialise well and has made few friends.
She contacts me at least twice a week to give me the latest update (the majority of her messages are negative), and sometimes I check my phone to find 13 or 14 new messages from her. It’s at the stage where I’m afraid to check my messages in case they are from her. I even took the step of blocking her for a few days while I was away on holiday as it was supposed to be a stress-free break. I think she put it down to phone trouble.
She’s not a bad person and has been supportive of me in the past, but I don’t feel like it’s fair that she treats me like her best friend or counsellor when I don’t feel that close to her.
As she is at such a low ebb I’m afraid to upset her further by telling her I need to take a step back. She is very sensitive but also incredibly stubborn. Any advice would be gratefully received.
A This is a problem that is common to many people, from teenagers upwards. It can happen that, as an open person who likes to help others, you have been designated the role of counsellor, supporter and activist on behalf of someone you are not particularly close to.
Suddenly you find you are overwhelmed and trapped in a position of becoming the “bad guy” if you speak the truth and tell the other person they are not the most important person in your life.
You sense that they are very vulnerable and do not want to further their sense of rejection and hurt, but this will happen if you do not take some action.
If this were somebody very close to you, you would have no hesitation in telling them that they need to address their attitude, behaviour and thinking, because you would know this would help them function better in the world. In other words, you would risk the conflict because you care about them and you know that they have the potential to overcome difficulties.
In this case, you might be fearful that this confrontation could encourage closer connection than you want or can cope with.
Professional help is required and perhaps family involvement, but it is not your role to instigate this.
Your friend is already in crisis but seems to be unable to address her issues. Subtle hints (turning your phone off for a time) have not resulted in any awareness on her part, so it seems that a more direct tack is called for. You might try the following route:
First, ask her to meet you as you need to talk to her seriously about an issue. Then tell her you are concerned that this conversation might end your friendship. If she is still willing to participate in the conversation, ask her what she thinks might be the issue between you and gently lead her to talk about the intensity and responsibility that is falling on you.
You might ask her to think of solutions or ways forward in the situation and suggest that you both go away and consider the options before meeting again to discuss. You must be very clear and truthful in your speech so that no misunderstanding can happen: you are offering a casual friendship and no more. In the second conversation, you must listen to her suggestions fully; do not leave this conversation until the boundaries of the friendship are clear and agreed (for instance, the amount of messages she sends).
It may be that this woman will add you to her list of persecutors or rejectors. In this situation, you may have to let the relationship go.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist. For advice, email email@example.com. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into