Clutch Hitter

17 Jan

Letterbalm Grasping HandDear LetterBalm: I have a grasping friend, who’s constantly in crisis and asks me for help. She doesn’t know how to handle her mother who is controlling and critical. She has issues with a co-worker who has unfairly badmouthed her to her boss. She wants to move to a safer part of town. But it seems that she can’t or won’t do anything for herself. Over the years, I’ve gone on the Web and researched many of her problems or put together plans of action and made recommendations. But she picks apart my suggestions and won’t move forward. I don’t want to turn my back on her, but I need to pull away because her neediness and helplessness are majorly annoying and overwhelming me. What can I do? What do I tell her?

–Engulfed

The way Ms. L.B. sees it, you have two choices: You can cease the friendship altogether, or you can set boundaries, instructing your friend that the helpline stops immediately – no more problem discussions and problem-solving suggestions. It may well be that if you do stop enabling her  (because, as good a person as you are, that’s what you’ve been doing) you’ll find she doesn’t want to be your friend anyway. She’s probably so immersed in her tribulations that she can’t separate her identity from them and from her elaborate patterns. She draws comfort and predictability from the process. Try not to feel guilty, my dear; you’ve done more than your share to help your friend. Here’s what you might say:

Karen, you and I have been friends for almost 20 years, and in that time you’ve had crisis after crisis, problems and problems. I’ve offered help to you at least 100 times. I’ve given you suggestions, mapped out plans of action, and every single time you’ve thrown them back at me. You beg for help, but you never take it, and you criticize whatever is offered. Well, I’m here to tell you as a friend who cares about you that I’m done with all this, because I’m drained and tired. I’m not your therapist. I recommend you find a good one who can help you understand why you go from crisis to crisis and why you never attempt to get out from under them. If you continue to monopolize the conversation about your problems when we’re together, I will leave. I want us to relate as friends who talk about politics, art, social issues, beauty, humor – all the things good friends do. Can we try to put our friendship on a new footing?

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