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Feeling guilty about a breakup

August 3, 2016 | By | 19 Replies Continue Reading
A woman is left feeling guilty after she ends a long-term friendship.

QUESTION

Hi Dr. Levine,

I feel so guilty. I broke up with my best friend of 21 years. I loved her but over the years her problems overwhelmed her and finally me, too. It was so hard to leave her but she was so into herself and her problems, wants and needs.

She was very intelligent but her personal life was a disaster. A couple of years ago, I had to start setting boundaries with her. I tried to always be nice about it but I had to learn to say no to her as her behavior began to interfere with my life. My family and husband began to resent her. They all felt she used me. I made excuses for her behavior so many times.

There is so much more to this, but basically my husband needed open heart surgery a few months ago. She came to be supportive of me but in the hospital room she broke down crying and started talking about very personal things that were going on with her life instead. I felt like she was using my husband and his friend as an audience to become the center of attention. I was dumbfounded. Plus, I was so stressed out about my husband’s upcoming surgery that I needed some support from her as a friend, not to have to comfort her about her problems.

I know this sounds cold but for 21 years I have always been there for her. I just can’t take anymore. I talked to her about needing my space right now and that I needed to be here for my husband. I told her I have tried to be there for her for years but that I wasn’t a therapist. That I loved her and prayed for her but that I needed some time for me. I told her maybe later we could rekindle our friendship but I just didn’t know when. She answered me back and was mean and very cruel.

I’m sorry I hurt her so badly but for my self-preservation I had to break away. But I still feel horribly guilty. Like the bad guy.

Signed, Jane

ANSWER

Hi Jane,

I hope I can assuage your guilt. It’s always painful to lose a long-term friendship, even if you were the one who decided to end it.

It sounds like you’ve been a kind friend to someone who consistently demanded more than you reasonably could be expected to give. Setting limits and boundaries didn’t seem to change the nature of the relationship or her dependency upon you for emotional support.

During the crisis of your husband’s impending surgery, your friend had the opportunity to rise to the occasion and be there for you (and him). Instead, it sounds like she was still centered on her own problems.

The way you ended the friendship, or put it on hold, sounds perfect. I couldn’t think of a better way to express your sense of frustration and disappointment and get her to hear it.

Although the breakup wasn’t sudden from your perspective, your friend may have been totally shocked by your straightforward message—and thus, became very upset.

You didn’t act rashly. You weren’t cruel. In fact, it sounds like you were very patient over the years. Sometimes, it takes a crisis for us to finally see things in stark relief—and to do something about it.

Best, Irene

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Category: KEEPING FRIENDS

Comments (19)

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  1. Kathy says:

    I am trying to put the end of a 20+ year friendship into prospective right now as well. My friend moved in with me in Decemeber after walking out on her 7th marraige that only last for around 45 days.I have always know she had control issues, but never realized the full extent until she moved in with me and tried to control my life like she did with everyone in her life. She does not get along with even her family, she has few friends in real life. I am biter over the break up and the fact that she did so over a private message and did not have the nerve to even face me. I don’t want the friendship back because she is just a miserable controlling person and I don’t miss the drama at al.

    • Diane says:

      Yes my friend was like this too. My friend had alienated herself from all of her friends and family. Most of it was her own doing, with her family anyway. I was the friend who stayed for so many years. I saw it happen over and over but she never understood why she was all alone. You can’t give unsolicited advice, try to fix everyone, except yourself, be obnoxious, plus controlling and think about only yourself and expect people to like you. She never could see this. It was sad to watch. She just didn’t act appropriately in certain situations. Everything had to be about her. She had no clue. Plus I think she felt entitled to say however she felt with no reguard to how it would effect someone else or their feelings. She loved to argue a point and place blame on the other person. She would accuse and assume without knowing the truth. It was her truth. I also think she felt superior to others. For me I realized I just couldn’t deal with anymore of her drama, when my husband needed open heart surgery and she came to support me and started talking about all her personal problems. It was just too much. I had listened to her problems for years and now that I had my husband in the hospital, she was still thinking only about herself. It hurt me and i really was stunned that she would do this with my husband in the hospital bed and his friend there to visit him. That was not the time to be discussing her personal life and woes. I decided to end our relationship. I needed someone who could comfort me and support me.
      As far as breaking up by message, My friend had stopped calling me on the phone over a year ago. She only called me if she had a problem and wanted to talk about it. She used text message to talk to me. I think she didn’t want a two way conversation because it would take time out of her day to converse with me and she really didn’t want a two way conversation that she couldn’t control. I feel a lot less stress now that I’m not friends with her anymore, with all her neediness and control issues but I do feel guilt for ending it. I know I shouldn’t but my head tells me one thing and my heart and who I am as a person tells me another. Plus she made it clear to me when I ended it that I wasn’t loyal to her or a good Christian. She said some cruel things that hurt. Things that are hard to forget but it is getting a little easier as time has passed. Sounds like your friend was a really controlling person too. We both lost friends but I think we will be better off without all their issues and drama anymore.

  2. Shaz says:

    I know a couple of people like this. Always drama in their lives and you’re there for them, but when you have something like a bereavement, they don’t want to know or turn it back to being about them and how lucky you are! Incredible. I’ve cut one of these people off recently and I feel great! It can be so draining.

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for sharing. Yes, this is the way of it. I can’t imagine having more than one friend like this. It is draining and keeps your mind consumed trying to figure them out. I guess when you care for someone you try to overlook these things. I did for years out of caring, concern and being friends, but you get to the point, when even that isn’t enough to keep the friendship going, even if you dearly love the person for some of their better qualities. I guess after being friends with her for so many years and sharing the better part of our lives together it was hard to just cut it off. But I don’t want to go back there. I want to enjoy my life with the people who understand and me, who I can talk to if I need some support too, not someone who is so wrapped up in there own life and self that they don’t realize that other people are dealing with things in their life as well. Plus having to always try and explain why I couldn’t do things for her and being put on the spot. Then being made to feel like a bad person for not being able to help. It just got to be overwhelming especially when my husband had surgery. It came about suddenly in an emergency situation and it was risky. I didn’t know if he was going to live or die. At that point I just didn’t have the time to accommodate her neediness and didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I felt miserable for leaving her but I also felt that I just couldn’t deal with all her life’s problems anymore. I was done. I had my own life to deal with and I needed to focus on taking care of my husband, him getting better and our lives. You never know when your time is up here on this earth, and I want to enjoy life, not be drug down all the time by negitive thinking and about someone else’s daily problems.

  3. Diane says:

    Thank you everyone for your posts. It helps knowing I’m not alone with this and it helps me go on. Honestly it’s sort of like having ptsd in some ways. I lived with her weirdness so long and feelings of never thinking I gave or did enough, it was hard to see that I gave everything I could and it was twisted to what she thought I should be doing for her. I bought into all of it and now I see it was her illness or whatever she had that was the problem. She was a mess and being away from it I am realizing this now. The guilt I felt was because that is exactly how she wanted me to feel. It’s hard to think I was used in that way for so many years by someone.

  4. Maddie says:

    What a clod. You did the right thing.

    • Diane says:

      It was hard to end it after so many years, but you are right. She wasn’t good for me anymore. I am seeing the guilt I felt was due to the things she would say to keep me feeling like I wasn’t a good friend. I was though and the care and compassion I had was why I stayed so long.

  5. PeachPie says:

    Don’t know if this applies or not but I had strong guilt feelings about a friend I ended it with but one day it occurred to me that no, what I felt was not really guilt. It was just sadness that the friendship went sour. The important difference was that guilt would be based on wrong-doing on my part, which I knew was inappropriate because I really didn’t think I had done anything wrong. Whereas sadness did not include blaming myself. I think most people would be sad that a long friendship ended, but even sadder to remain in it if it’s become too one-way. Best wishes.

    • Diane says:

      Thank you so much for sharing. I have stressed over this since I ended the relationship. My friend and I have had a couple of bad arguments in our years of knowing each other. Once was her fault for betraying me and once was mine for getting fed up with her self centeredness and selfishness towards me and others, with no thought about how it affected anyone else. During these two periods I had to distance myself from her for a while. When we smoothed things over though, it left me feeling deflated and I always felt no matter how things turned out in the end I was made to feel, somehow, that I was always at fault. She told me if I ever left her again our friendship was over. She would never take me back. I have no other friends who act or think the way she does. Her way of thinking isn’t like anyone I have ever delt with before. She did have a way of making me feel like she cared or I wouldn’t have been in thr friendship for so many years but for every good thing there was usually so much other bad drama that it out weighed the good things Before and after our split I did some research on her type of behavior trying to understand why she acted the way she did. Toxic personality didn’t quite fit in some ways but then I ran across something called self entitlement personality and the puzzle started coming together. This sounded so much like her personality. I had never heard of it before but it fit. After the hospital incident I had to do a lot of soul searching before I finally ended it. I felt so selfish for leaving her but on the other hand I needed to focus on our own life now. All my life I have been compassionate so this goes against everything I ever believed in. It’s really hard. So having other people to talk to helps. I knew when I ended the relationship she would be hurt and angry. But I had no idea she would be so cruel about it. She wanted me to feel as much misery as possible and I did. Now I am living with her cruel words about me and how I was disloyal to her. She made me feel so horrible for ending it. So at lest sharing does help. Thanks for caring and listening.

  6. DCFem says:

    Jane, the only person you owe an apology to is your husband for having that miserable person in the room as he prepared for major surgery. Otherwise I cannot find a single thing you did wrong. You handled removing that barnacle from your life with great compassion and skill. As time goes on, you will breathe easier without her drama and find that you have more time for the things and people (like your recuperating husband) who really matter.

    It’s hard kicking people out of your life but your mental health has to take priority over the feelings of someone who sounds completely self absorbed and can’t even find it in herself to stop whining in front of a man who is about to have his heart opened and operated on. Stop feeling guilty and use that energy to nurture the meaninful friendships in your life.

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for your reply. For all the sadness I feel about the breakup, you made me smile about getting rid of a barnacle. I did tell my husband how I was sorry for the incident. He took it in stride but I didn’t. I didn’t make a scene over her behavior that day but I decided I needed to really rethink the friendship and focus on my life and my husband. It took courage to end the relationship but I felt it was time to say goodbye. I didn’t expect ending the relationship was going to be easy for me or for her but the hostility was so hurtful. Brutal actually. I was expecting anger or hurt feelings but the words were cutting, haunting and very painful. I am trying to move on and keep positive. Thank you for caring and responding. It helps to talk.

  7. Amy F says:

    You set boundaries in a compassionate, assertive manner. There’s no need for guilt for taking care of yourself. That’s healthy.

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for the reply. It took me years to understand how to set boundaries. I had never had to do this with any other of my friends. We all seemed to be on the same wavelength. So I had to read and learn what this ment. I had to learn how to say no without feeling bad or guilty and that is was ok to say no. There comes a time in your life when you just can’t be all things to all people. It was hard at first but I learned how to say no and to try to be compassionate but not be intemidated. It took courage and determination to stand up for myself, but I did learn how. Thank you so much for your response it helps knowing others are there to listen
      And give encouragement.

  8. Linda says:

    I agree with Irene’s advice, and I applaud you for finally standing up for yourself and honoring your own needs. Especially in a time of crisis with your family. It’s clear that you cared about this friend and put up with her self-absorption for many years, so remind yourself that you gave her more than a fair chance to be the friend that you’ve been to her.

    I’ve had to distance myself from friends like that — friend who’ve expected me to be a full-time therapist and cheerleader for them. I learned that they also tend to disappear when I need help and support.

    In particular, I once had a longtime friend who constantly complained about her struggles with a special needs child. Her life was difficult, yes, but she seemed to enjoy playing the role of victim, especially when it brought her attention and a lot of help from others. Her life was a pity party and I was always the first guest she invited. One time, when she broke her hand, she asked me to drive her around town and help her with meals. I did so, and brought dinner to her family for a week. For a while, I felt sorry for her and tried to ease her burden whenever I could. (She liked to remind how “lucky” I am because I didn’t have her problems.)

    But one day I woke up and realized that she never, ever, attempted to help me when I had struggles. In fact, whenever I mentioned my own troubles or needed help, I could see a look of panic on her face, and it was clear that she didn’t want to “be there” for me the way I’d been there for her. Finally I cut the rope and set her free, and filled my life with friends who are mutually supportive. I don’t miss her that much, sad to say.

    So, please don’t feel guilty. Focus on helping your husband and take good care of yourself too.

    • Diane says:

      Thank you for your reply. I can relate to everything you said. This was my relationship too. Exactly. This sounds just like my friend. She always had problems but never seemed to want to do anything to help her self move past them. I was her sounding block, even though most of the time she didn’t listened to my feedback. I did try to talk to her, I suggested over the years, that a therapist could really help her sort out all the issues in her life, I feel It could have really helped her but there was always a reason why she couldn’t go. She too played the victim. She said she never had anyone to help her, but her expectations of help could be anything. Plunging the toilet, mopping her floors, changing a light bulb, cleaning her house and these were just the easy things. Things most of us did on a regular basis. Then there was her personal life. She was so into her needs and wants that eventually no one wanted to be in her life. I tried to explain to her that other people had to live their lives too, that we all had problems at one time or another but that eventually there was hope and you move past them. That concept wasn’t oblivious to her, it just didn’t pertain to her so it wasn’t important in her world. Toward the end of our friendship she was going through a bad divorce. It became apparent that she wanted me to be enmeshed with every aspect of it. She asked things of me to help her which were completely unrealistic things I just couldn’t do. Then when I said I
      couldn’t she made me feel like I was a lousy friend. The sad thing about all of this is I did care about her, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have stayed in the relationship so long. There were times when it could be so trying. But we shared so many memories and there were many times that we did enjoy each other’s company. She could be fun and witty when she wasn’t being self absorbed. If she didn’t have some good qualities, at times, I don’t think my friendship with her would have endured for so long. The other thing, that is sad to me, is that I realize her life will always be the same for her. No amount of help someone could give her would ever be enough. I wasn’t enough nor will anyone else be enough. Whoever befriends her will never be able to give her what she needs. They won’t see it though until because they become like me. Full of compassion never knowing that it would never be enough.

  9. IBikeNYC says:

    “I know this sounds cold but for 21 years I have always been there for her. I just can’t take anymore.”

    It doesn’t, not to me, anyway, but I sure do know why you feel that way.

    I don’t know why it’s always okay for someone ELSE to need, need, need, and expect, expect, expect, but never for US to!

    OPEN-HEART SURGERY! NOT some little routine thing or broken bones or a cosmetic procedure.

    What would you say to your daughter or a different friend if they described this situation as having happened to them?

    • Diane says:

      Just to let everyone know, Diane was my sign in name but Dr. Levine called me Jane. i don’t know what happened when I signed in. So even though it says Jane i am actually Diane. Guess a little confusion is part of life right??

      I would tell them that their friend was inconsiderate and should have left her problems at home for the visit. Thats what shocked me at the hospital that day because I was totally not expecting what happened. I guess it was just the last straw for me. I needed to have all the strength I had, to be there for my husband. I didn’t know if he was going to live or die that day. After being there for my friend through so many things in her life, it would have been comforting for her to have been there for me instead of talking and thinking about herself. When I finally did end our relationship I told her about her behavior that day at the hospital and how I just wasn’t expecting It. Her response was, well I’m sorry if I talked on yout time I thought I was among friends. She was very put out. So I knew then and from other things she has said to me in the past it was time to let go. I guess Dr Levine was right it took a catalyst to finally take the step I needed to let go. You are right though, she took and took till till there was nothing left in me to give back.

      • IBikeNYC says:

        If you’re still interested in gaining some insight into her behaviour, it sure sounds to me like she’s got at least some Narcissistic tendencies / traits.

        • Diane says:

          Yes, you are right she does have some of these tendencies. It is helpful to try and understand the behavior. I’ve tried, for years, to understand it. She was not like any of the other friends I have. I was always so confused about her behavior. Sometimes I even wondered if she had a mental illness. It makes me leery to ever have a close friendship again. I am going to be very careful from now on who I let into my life. I don’t want to be used or hurt like that again. She always said how much she loved me, but at times her behavior towards me didn’t indicate that. I really do believe she loved me but it seemed like she loved me because I was always there for her, not because she loved me for myself. Her actions indicated that at times. Thanks for the Imput I read about it.

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