• Keeping Friends

Exhausted: When a friend needs more than a friend

Published: February 1, 2015 | By | 13 Replies Continue Reading
If a relationship leaves you feeling totally exhausted, you may need to bow out.



I want to end a friendship, and I’ve known I’ve wanted to end it for a long time. It’s been an unhealthy one for me, and the amount of energy I’ve put into it has cost me very dear in other areas of both my personal and professional life.

I’ve tried “ending it” before, and it’s never worked because the woman’s reaction scares me so much (e.g. texts and phone calls over and over again, saying she wishes she weren’t here at all…wouldn’t be if it weren’t for her children, the list goes on).

I don’t want to be responsible for this person’s mental breakdown. She truly was once a very dear friend, but I can’t take her crazy any more. I feel worn down and broken myself by the expectations she has for the friendship, and I simply can’t meet them anymore.


Signed, Margaret


Hi Margaret,

I can’t determine what’s wrong with your friend from afar but if you feel exhausted and drained by this friendship, and it’s having a negative impact on your personal and professional life, you need to make a change.

I fully understand that ending this friendship will be difficult because you’re a caring person and, also, because you have waffled in the past. This time, you need to be firm and consistent and tell your friend you need “time off” from the friendship to take care of yourself and that she needs to do the same. Explain that you won’t be able to respond to texts or phone calls.

If your friend is very fragile and has emotional problems, the best thing you can do is to suggest that she get professional help. You cannot hold yourself responsible for her actions or “keep her together.” If you truly worry that she may be harmful to herself, you can tell her that you need to let one of her family members know. This is too big a burden for any friend to bear on her own.

Hope this is helpful.

Best, Irene

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Category: Dealing with friends with health and/or emotional problems

Comments (13)

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  1. Tessa says:


    It’s been several months since you’ve written this, and I’d love to know how things are working out for you, as I’m dealing with the same situation–a friend who has borderline and dependent personality disorders. I’ve been doing the slow fade for several months now. I had myself in a position where I felt obligated to spend a day with her once a week to take her on errands (since she no longer drives and refuses to try the ample public transportation in our area). I’m now down to seeing her once every two to three weeks.The slow fade is difficult, because I don’t like to lie or hurt people, but I also think she might harm herself if I approached her directly, because I’ve seen her histrionics when others have rejected her. It’s also tough for me because my last child just moved out on her own, so she knows I no longer have many of the responsibilities that I used to. One can only have so many doctor/dentist appointments, or family obligations to use as excuses to get out of things. Fortunately, my eldest child is having a baby next month, and I’m going to have the very real excuse of helping to care for him while she and her husband are at work. Before anyone feels too sorry for my “friend”–the first thing she said to me when she found out my daughter was expecting was, “Please tell me you’re not going to stop our days together to watch the baby!”

    No matter what “victims” of the slow fade say, we all have the right to spend our one life the way we want to. It’s not very satisfying spending it as a caregiver for someone who expects more from you than they would ever do for anyone in return. Not to mention these people resent you for having the things they don’t (husband, children, etc.) and show very little regard for the time they take you away from the people in your life who really matter.

  2. LaTrice says:

    First off, you’re NOT responsible for your best friend’s actions, Margaret-especially when she wants to take her own life. I feel that the friendship is one-sided, which to me, isn’t healthy. You can’t continue to keep sacrificing your personal and professional for your best friend, so how much more DRAMA can you take?!

    It’s best to shift that responsibility of your best friend’s well-being on someone else’s shoulders, such as her family, or professionals. Although I haven’t experienced what it’s like to have friends who are “extreme,” it’s mind-boggling.

    Don’t feel guilty about not being able to bail out your best friend. You’ve given her enough support to last her lifetime. Now, it’s up to her to get the help that she needs.

  3. Adrianna says:

    Hi Margaret I have been this “truly dear friend” you speak of and there are certainly are two sides to everything and every relationship.
    What happened between the two of you?
    Did you dump her unexpectedly and on your terms?
    If yes, then you should know that the other person has feelings too. Feelings of hurt and anger. The other person might have put trust in you and you crossed the line and savored in watching her fall.
    Maybe you were manipulative?
    And you crushed her like a bulldozer?
    Margaret I have been this other person, this “truly dear friend” and all this truly dear friend wants is for you to own up for your side of the friendship fall. Its about two people not just about you.
    You hurt this person very badly.
    In my case I never called and called and called but yes there were many texts of why? How? and lots of hurt and anger that a person like you Margaret, unfortunately caused.
    I was in this unfortunate place only because I cared and I loved this person and she used me and abused me and then claims to be the victim and is afraid of the other persons mental state?
    Well the person that wanted to be my friend sounds a lot like you.
    The person that wanted to be my friend was my psychiatrist, my psychotherapist and she crossed the line unprofessionally to become friends with me. We became good friends and then she dropped me like a bomb because I exhausted her!?
    I don’t think so!
    She diagnosed me and then dropped me on the basis of her diagnosis!
    So Margaret I don’t buy your story because it takes two sides to make a pancake.
    Why would it interfer with your professional life? What is your profession?

  4. Sabrinna says:


    If you don’t want to be direct, you can go about this another way.

    Tell her you are experiencing some very personal and private difficulties that require 100% of your focus and thus you will not be available for some time and she will need to draw on other friends and family for support. You know you cannot burden her with your troubles and wouldn’t dream of expecting her to put her troubles aside when you know how great they are. Thank her for the friendship that has been and wish her well for the future.

    I know this is a sneaky way of going about it but sometimes it’s easier to end a friendship indirectly, especially if you’re afraid that the other party may hurt themselves if they feel rejected.

  5. Dunn says:

    You need to take care of yourself Margaret. If this friendship is putting a lot of stress on you, it is time to cut ties.

    I have been in your shoes. It is hard to cut the cord. It sounds like your friend is just going to continue to lean on you constantly.

    I have stuck it out for years with friendships similar to what you are describing and in the end those friends wound up dissolving anyways.

  6. GraceW says:

    It sounds like your friend is mentally ill. My mother is mentally ill, and frankly, at times when she was due for a breakdown, i.e., usually when she stopped taking her medication, it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do. I really had no control over her mental health, just as you don’t really have any control over your friend’s mental health. It sounds like your friendship with this woman has ended long ago for you and at this point, you’re just being held (emotionally) hostage by a crazy person.

    I’m usually a proponent of the slow fade out ending but it doesn’t always work with someone who is mentally ill. They can become truly fixated on someone if they perceive rejection, until their behavior seems more like the behavior of a stalker than a friend. If you have been clear with her that you do not want contact and she texts and calls over and over, it qualifies as “unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual toward another person” – and that is stalker behavior. But first you have to be clear that you don’t want contact.

    In your place, I would make my desire for no contact very clear (in writing), if only to have documentation of it in case I need it later. And as others have suggested, change your phone number and email if needed. Several years ago, I changed my contact information to avoid unwanted contact with someone, and while it seemed like a big hassle at the time, the long term improvement in my life has made it worthwhile. Really give it thought first, though, because if you’re going to be so guilt-ridden that you end up giving her (or her kids, as they may start to pester you on her behalf) your new phone number and email, you’ll defeat the whole purpose of changing your contact information.

  7. tanja says:

    I have “ended friendships” before and I have also been the one where the other person “ended” it with me. I can tell you from experience, that I would not tell your “friend” anything. I am a fan of the phasing out method. You just minimize the calls or you don’t answer (life gets busy, you know…) Eventually, she will stop calling and then when months go by or even years, you can pick up the phone and call her just to say hi or see how she is doing and the friendship may take off again, you never know. This has happened to me. I phased someone out and then years later contacted them and the friendship took off again and that person was in a better place and sometimes not. I have also been the one, where I tried to call a friend over and over and she phased me out, then months later, she called me and we resumed talking again, maybe never has close as before, but a lot more boundaries, but that is still cool with me, it works better that way at times. So, don’t confront your friend and say you need a “break”. Just do the PHASING out method. It works and if you feel you want to pick it up again the door is wide open.

  8. Maddie says:

    If she is playing manipulative games with you and threatens suicide, call the police. Don’t warn her. They will show up to her home and assess he for a 72 hour hold.

    If she truly needs it, she will get help.

    If she is playing a game with you, she will get a big jolt if reality that her behavior has crossed the line in a big way.

    We had a family member doing this stuff and after a police officer came knocking, that behavior ceased.

    Best of luck to you.

    Also if she bombards you, you can change your cell number and email. A hassle, I know. But worth the peace.

    • Laura says:

      I totally agree with you about notifying the police, Maddie. That’s what I was thinking as I read this.

    • hanna says:

      I had similar thoughts. It’s absolutely true – if she needs help she will get it, if she’s attention seeking, she’ll stop using that excuse.

      I have the same problem feeling sorry for people like this. I find that once I start letting go and stepping back, it starts to get easier. Their manipulativeness really stands out the more time goes by.

  9. Amy F says:

    You are not responsible for how this woman reacts when you set boundaries. The only thing you can do is set firm, boundaries and stick with them. If you set boundaries and then give in when she acts out and makes threats, then you teach her that the way to get your attention is to act out more.
    Since you’ve sent mixed messages before, you’re going to have to be stronger and more stringent this time. You might want to give her some hotline and therapy resources in your area which can be found in the blue pages of phone books in the USA.
    If I were in your situation, I would take responsibility and not blame her, when having the discussion. “I’ve wanted to end this ftiendship for a while, and in sorry if I haven’t been clear or if I’ve sent mixed messages. I’m sure that’s confusing. Although I care about you, I keep letting myself be pulled in by your issues. That’s about me, not you. I think if you saw a therapist to help with XYZ you can learn some healthier coping strategies which will make you happier and less stressed.
    I ask that you not contact me. If you do, I won’t read the email, or text (that way she knows you won’t see any histrionics. No audience, no reason to act out). I hope you reach out for professional help, but that’s your choice. I’m not going to let myself be pulled in, even though I font want anything to happen. If you threaten yourself, I’ll call 911 so you can get the help you need.”

  10. Pat says:

    Wow, tough spot for you, Margaret. It sounds as if you’ve been a wonderful supportive friend, but you cannot sacrifice your own personal and professional life for this person. Is it possible that she’s just a drama queen? Not that I’m suggesting you call her bluff. I would definitely shift the responsibility for this person’s well-being onto somebody else’s shoulders – either the professionals, or her family. I haven’t had any “friends” as extreme as your friend, but I’ve had a couple who go on and on about their own woes, and the woes of their children and so on, but the minute I would mention a problem in my own life, they became silent and, frankly, seem to resent that I would try to shift the focus from them!

    Best of luck to you! Whatever you do, do NOT feel guilty, or feel that you are bailing out on this friend! Nobody can give the kind of support that you’ve been doing for very long!


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