• Keeping Friends

Establishing boundaries with a disabled friend

April 21, 2014 | By | 3 Replies Continue Reading
A woman’s blind, disabled friend with Asperger’s keeps demanding more and more of her.

QUESTION

Hello Irene,

I am so happy you have this blog set up especially since I am totally blind and your fine book is not available in Braille.

My dilemma that I have a dear friend who is also totally blind and has Asperger’s syndrome. She is also *extremely dependent, largely because her mother enabled her helplessness and did nothing to curb it. As a result, she looks to me for everything, her companionship, her comfort, her advice giver and she also loves to watch TV and read books via the phone. (She resides in Florida and I in British Columbia, Canada.)

She is so fearful of being alone that she is literally trying to make me a clone of herself, insisting I like what she likes, talk about what concerns her. She lacks the ability to express empathy but expects it of others. She doesn’t understand that I want to do things alone and with others. She used to have sight and can’t understand why I dislike what she loves.

She cries so easily and is so fragile that you can break her extremely easily. Irene, I’m getting resentful, angry, embittered and I dislike who I’m becoming. I want her to get help, I want her to be well but I’m not her counselor, her mother or her sister, all of which she views me as. I told her I can’t live like this but she hears none of it. Thanks for any help you can give.

Signed, Amanda

ANSWER

Hi Amanda,

You sound like a very compassionate and understanding friend but if you are beginning to feel “resentful, angry and embittered,” it suggests you need to establish more realistic boundaries between you and your friend.

Given that she is blind and has Asperger’s, it’s easy to understand how her parents may have been over-protective, perhaps, not allowing her to become as independent as possible. You say she is fragile and lacks many of the skills necessary to maintain friendships.

Is there any advice you can offer her so she can develop a broader network of friends and supports beyond you? For example, are there any resources in the blind community that might help her? Does she have a therapist or caseworker you could suggest she speak to?

The bottom line: I think you need to be protective of yourself, too. You may need to limit the frequency of your communications with this friend or the amount of time you spend on the phone when you do talk. If you don’t, you will be repeating the same mistake that her family has made.  You also need to explain to her that you are doing this out of love and concern for her as well as to make sure you can maintain your friendship.

I understand how difficult this situation must be and you will need to be firm. Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

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Category: Creating and maintaining boundaries

Comments (3)

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  1. Jarod says:

    The disability issue aside, I think establishing boundaries is a BIG reason many people don’t want to make new friends as adults. Very often one person wants more out of a friendship than the other is willing to give: more time, more consideration, more loyalty. Instead of asserting a boundary level, people would rather not get involved to begin with.

    I even find myself thinking this way. For example, I want male friends/buddies if you will, but I much more often find that older women (old enough to be my mom or grandmother) are the most willing to make friends because I remind them of their sons. This means, I can help with chores or possibly certain affections they are lacking. I don’t want to deal with complications like that and always remain friendly but from a distance.

  2. Amy F says:

    Your friendship with this woman may have passed the point of no return. Your friend has come to rely on you to fulfill too many roles in her life and had become dependent on you as she is her mother. If there’s any hope for continuing a type of relationship, you’ll have to step back and have the strongest of boundaries, as Irene suggests, and she’s probably not going to like it. She may see your boundaries as a challenge go try harder and become more demanding and insistent. If you give in to these demands, reestablishing them will be doubly hard.
    You need to ask yourself, at this point, what if anything are you getting from the relationship. If you’re not getting anything or getting very little in return for your frustration, you’ll might ask yourself what is the benefit for keeping the friendship. Sometimes when we try to help needy friends, we can inadvertently enable then from seeking the professional help they need by playing pseudo-therapist.
    Your compassion and empathy may have allowed you to make excuses for your friend in the past, I’ve done that myself in relationships, not realizing while I intellectualize a the lapse in behavior, I still resented it.
    If you decide to walk away, you may have to be more direct with this friend because she has Aspergers and might not pick up on cues others would. Be as honest and specific as possible. If you’re inclined, you can research some links for her for Aspergers groups on Facebook of the internet, because I suspect her issues on the spectrum are more challenging than the blindness when it comes to relationship.
    Good luck and don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself.

  3. I feel for both people as a person with a disability. I also have someone I love who has Asperger’s, yet his parents are enabling him to live an independent life (though he is not blind.)

    I suggest either the friend find support groups, or the two friends (if desired) seek counseling together, or both go to a support group together.

    This is a difficult situation and I hope it can be worked out.

    Thank you, Irene, for having a place to be able to feel safe enough to write about such issues.

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