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Relating to a friend in crisis

August 23, 2010 | By | 1 Reply Continue Reading

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My friend and I are very close and she’s recently been under a lot of stress. A family member is dying and she is caring for this person. For about two months, she’s been unable to listen to anything I say. If I don’t agree with her completely, she angrily says I am not listening. No matter what I say, she says I‘m wrong.

 

I’ve been trying to be the best supportive friend I can be while her relative is dying. I, too, have cared for a dying relative; I know what it’s like. However, even my most caring letters are returned correcting whatever I’ve said.

 

It’s not that she’s normally an oasis of serenity – she isn’t. I usually am the person she can tell anything to, so I have heard all her complaints. Normally, this is okay as it is tempered with humor and two-way conversation. Now, even when I listen actively, reflecting back what she’s saying, she angrily corrects me. I realize her behavior is not about me and she’s under stress. However, I’m unwilling to be treated this way.

 

Because my friend’s in another country and our communications are by email, I want to write a supportive note that sets a boundary. No matter what I say, she’ll probably react with anger, but at least I can write something that is respectful of myself and of her.

 

She seems to have lost faith in me and does not presume any goodwill on my part. If that were true, why would she want me in her life? How can I communicate with her in a way so I’m not kicking her when she’s down?

Signed,
Wendy

 

ANSWER

Dear Wendy,

No two people experience death in the same way, and even though you’ve cared for a dying relative, you can’t completely understand—especially from afar—how your friend is feeling and what’s she’s dealing with. Cut your friend some slack; now isn’t the time to set boundaries.

 

Your friend seems quick to anger and sensitive to any perceived criticism. You know her peccadilloes and seem to have accepted them. Yet, as you’ve witnessed, a person’s worst tendencies can be exaggerated under stress.

 

Continue to offer your friend support by way of brief, regular emails but refrain from offering any unsolicited advice at this time or telling her that you know what she’s going through. This is likely to be a temporary blip in your relationship that will resolve itself. If it doesn’t, you can work it out later when she’s back on her feet.

Best,
Irene

 

Previously on The Friendship Blog:

A Final Friendship Disappointment 

 

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  1. Anonymous says:

    HI Wendy,

    I agree with Irene that now is not the time to set boundaries and that if you can hang in there, you and your friend can come out stronger on the other side of this.

    I’d like to share an experience where I recently lost a friend, and what I learned. I cant really blame either of us for the loss of friendship, as she was in crisis and I was in crisis trying to figure out the best way to support her during it. My friend was different from yours in that she has a mental illness. She has extreme mistrust of others, and our biggest conflicts were 1)No matter what I said it was wrong, getting in her business and not interpreted as good will (and I am an extremely gentle person and kept my mouth shut where most friends would not think it unusual to offer opinion, advice or bring something up uncritically and out of concern) 2)She became convinced I stole from her as she had every other close person in her life so my head was already on the chopping block.

    Because she had attempted suicide the previous year,which was part of a 3 month period of major relapse into her illness, I knew a perfect storm of crisis liek the previous year had arrived, I panicked and did too much to try to keep that from happening again. she misperceived my intentions, and ended the friendhsip. It was only by being able to come to know her over the past year that I could learn how to handle her crises, because I could only learn by going thru the experience because we are all unique, as Irene says. I read a great book I AM Not Sick I Do NOt Need Help-too late. Anyway, even if your friend doesn not have major issues there are conversational methods such as reflecting back without agreeing “So, let me seeif I have thisright, you think that….OR because I said or did this you feel…””” Then saying “If I were you I would feel the same way (because of the “If I were you you are not agreeeing taht you would perceive something such way but you understand why she would) Then you would be an interviewer asking questions, and basically keep the ball in the other persons court, if you do it well you help them see that their original perceptions are misconstrued. This is an important goal for people who believe people who love them are against them because that is a horrible way for them to feel.

    The above only if you cant avoid conversation about things she brings up. Otherwise I wish I had done what Irene had said and stuck with brief cards and notes. But then again I had the worst in mind and wasnt sure what to do. Hopethis helps.

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