• Handling Breakups

When a friend with mental health problems makes you a scapegoat

Published: October 5, 2014 | By | 14 Replies Continue Reading
If you have become the scapegoat, you may need to back off from the friendship.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I have been friends with this girl for about five years. We’ve become rather close over the years and have never really fought until now.

Recently, she said some things that were very accusatory, and made on a public forum. When I commented on how that hurt me by not coming to me privately, she said I always “put her down” and told me to leave her alone.

She has a lot of mental health problems and while I’m very hurt, I can’t help but worry about how she’s shoving me away. Even though I’ve kept away she’s still putting very public barbs out for me to find and get upset about.

Should I continue to try and help her knowing that she’s in a bad place, or should I protect myself because she just keeps making me more and more upset as she wrongfully accuses me of everything under the sun?

I feel like she’s trying to make me into her scapegoat when I’ve been her loudest cheerleader over the years.

Signed, Stephanie

ANSWER

Hi,

If your friend has had a history of serious mental health problems and there has been no conflict between you, it sounds like her recent barbs and accusations may be associated with her state of mind.

I would suggest doing two things. If the public forum is a social media site, like Facebook, block her so you don’t have to be upset each time she maligns you or uses you as a scapegoat. If you have no social media contact and she doesn’t get a rise from you, I suspect this blaming will diminish or end.

If you are truly concerned about your friend’s mental state, call and speak to her, and try to reassure her that you aren’t her enemy and don’t want to be. If she sounds really off base and you are unable to speak rationally with her, you probably need to back off from this friendship for the time being. She has asked you to leave her alone and you need to respect that. Hopefully, someone closer to her, perhaps a relative, will encourage her to get treatment if she needs it.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene


Prior posts on The Friendship Blog about friendship and mental/emotional disorders

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Category: Signs a friendship is going sour

Comments (14)

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  1. A says:

    Strangely I am in the exact same situation. Friends will come and go, but it can be fairly hard to walk away from a friendship that you thought was strong and made you happy. My “friend” unfortunately shut me out after everything I had done for her, by being there for her no matter what day, time or place I’d be there, whether it was over text or a phone call. Now I regret it all. I regret ever giving someone so much care and attention for them to throw it all back in my face, like it never meant anything at all. I’m not upset by this broken down relationship, I’m massively disappointed. Disappointed that I gave someone 110% and I only got 30% in return. Now this issue isn’t about giving and receiving, but it’s what friends are all about, giving each other their undivided attention when they’re at the lowest of the low. I was shut out because I was basically replaced. Replaced by someone whom my friend, at one time, detested, and I was in the middle of that broken down relationship, but I was still there, I still helped, because I cared. If you feel like you have a friendship, where it is one sided or you feel like you’re being mistreated for no apparent reason, your most probably right to feel what you feel.

    – never allow anyone to mistreat you, when you have done nothing wrong
    – never allow anyone to make you feel worthless and unvalued
    – never stay in a friendship, no matter how long you have been friends for, if you feel like you are genuinely hated
    – Leave a friendship if you feel you are happier and less stressful without it.

    I’m now fading away from my “friendship”, with no warning or no reason, I feel that I do not have to justify myself to people who have made me feel this low about myself that I do not feel like a valued individual. I allowed my “friend” to treat me like sh*t because I was clinging on to the friendship because I didn’t want to lose a good friend that I had been through so many difficult times with, but selfish, unthoughtful and nasty people never change, that’s their personality and it will always be imbedded into their soul whether they had a mental disorders/ illness or not.

    • Sam says:

      are you projecting anger at your friend. They may have left you feeling betrayed. But it sounds spiteful how you are ending it. You are right you are deserving of respect and loyality, and so are they.. Which includes being a bit less clamping shut and more just honest, at least with yourself. You sound hurt. It is clear you habe compelling reasons. But you sound like you are using this experience as a reason to tell yourself never to open up again, which would be a mistake.

    • Cheryl says:

      I’m sorry that you have been left feeling like you aren’t valued, and I agree with you that you should never tolerate being mistreated, but in all honesty, don’t live with regrets when it comes to your friends, because it’s exactly what you wanted at the time. What sort of things has she done besides “shutting you out” (or ‘stonewalling’ as I like to call it)? Being ‘treated like s$%t’ bares a heavy meaning which is why I wanted to ask. I also went through something similar to you, but the only real similarity is that my best friend stopped hanging around me as often as we used to because she had made other friends. Rightfully so. She’s entitled to it, and truthfully, I was jealous, even though I didn’t want to admit it. But I addressed my concerns with her because I cared. I addressed my concerns before they became resentments. With resentment comes all sorts of negative feelings, and I didn’t want it to ever get to that. Communication is key here, and if she doesn’t want to communicate with you she might have her own reasons, that quite frankly she might not wish to tell you. We all deserve closure, but sometimes we won’t get it. I’ve learned that you can go throughout life, with the best of friends, but that doesn’t mean they will be your best friends forever. People grow, and change, and people also retract from other people for their own (possibly selfish?) reasons. Try not to let your disappointment get the best of you. You might say that you are disappointed, but indicating that “selfish, unthoughtful and nasty people never change” is a very loaded thing to say. Don’t let this make you turn sour. Be the good friend that you’ve always been, if not to her, then to someone else. Don’t let her turn you sour. I almost had that happen to me. I dealt with it before it ever got to that. Best of luck 🙂

      • Anon1 says:

        Sometimes people build up resentments as they were operating from a place of kindness towards a really negative human. At some point, enough is a enough, and you can no longer deny you have attached yourself to a horrible version of a human, which is followed by releasing them back into the wild…where they belong.

  2. Islandgirl says:

    I’ve been reading about smear campaigns because I’m a victim of them myself and the advice offered here in the comments below are right on. Unfortunately, I’ve read that there isn’t really any way to fight them and make it right. The best thing to do is to stay away from the smearers. They also say that the best revenge is living well, so just get on with your life and be glad you’re not like her. I know how much it hurts and how shocking it is.

  3. A says:

    I’m going through something similar with a friend or maybe I should say former friend. I have no idea where we stand now. She’s having a hard time dealing with a break up that is years in the past and in the process is turning on people who are trying to help.

    I struggle with depression myself so I understand how it feels to feel hopeless so I want to be there for her but the thing is the person has to acknowledge that they have a problem.

    Amy’s response is on point. You can be there for your friend and be supportive but you cannot fix her problems for her nor be her therapist. Setting boundaries is key.

  4. Jen says:

    Amy F., I thought your response was great!

    E., this happened to me once by a “friend” with mental illness whom I had been friends with for a long time and helping her after she had an accident (helping to feed her kids, clean her house, manage her meds, take her to the doctor, etc.) and she accused me of being an awful person on FB “in front” of everyone. It was horrible. I eventually did fade away quietly, because it was so toxic. I literally had not done anything, I am not gossiper, I tell the truth kindly, I am a loyal and supportive friend, etc. So something set her off and she started talking about me in an accusatory manner. At the same time, she started talking and gossiping unkindly about some mutual friends as well. So her mental/emotional illness must have been sparked in this manner for some reason. Anyway, it was humiliating on FB, so I blocked her last year and faded away. I don’t know what our mutual friends thought of me after that, I didn’t ask b/c I was so mortified. I did mention to a couple of them I thought our friend was experiencing mental/emotional health problems and what she said about me wasn’t true. What my friends really think of me, I’ll never know. Anyway, since I faded away, I have so much more peace now. I love being alone and with my family, but could use some balance having friendships. I am sorry for your trouble, E., and hope it gets better for you.

    • Amy F says:

      Of course you’d feel bad if someone trashed you online. When people rant about other people, even if they don’t use there names ( like: Some people can’t be trusted. You know who you are) I judge the person who took to FB and aired her grievances. I never look at the person who is blamed. When other people say mean things that’s a reflection on who they are, not you. If I had a friend who said unkind things about other people online, I’d pull back from the relationship because if she did it once, she has the potential to do it to me and I don’t want to be around that toxicity. Your real friends won’t judge you based on what other people say in social media.

      • Jen says:

        Comforting words, Amy F. Wish there were more people like you in the world. Or at least, that I knew them….

      • Sam says:

        Agreed. I feel this way too. hate it when people make veiled threats on facebook. If it’s a real issue, discuss it directly with person. If you are just emoting, fine but remove the oerson you are emoting about and then keep it totally general. You are allowed to have feelings shared with others, but not a backhanded bashing session.

  5. Amy F says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Sorry you’re having problems with your friend. If I were in your shoes I’d ask myself if her behavior is typical of how I’ve seen her treat others to figure out if this is a pattern.

    Next I’d look at when I noticed the issue and how long I had excused the behavior trying to be understanding of her personal problems. I have a habit of over-empathizing with people (“She was rude because she’s insecure, it’s ok.”) until I realize I’ve grown to resent the person. Yes, she was unkind, but since I never said anything the 50 other times she done this, I tacitly gave permission by not establishing boundaries, so up I played a part in thie situation.

    Then I consider if this is a relationship I want to salvage. What do I get from the friendship? Does it make my life more or less happy and fulfilled? Does being friends make me more or less stressed?

    Lastly I’d see if she was trying to help herself. For instance, if she’s bipolar and constantly going off her meds or depressed and refuses to get help, I would probably walk away. If she’s working he butt off in therapy and has ups and downs, I have an easier time being understanding.

    Having mentally ill friends can be challenging, though no one is perfect and everyone has issues. Try to remember:
    -You are not your friend’s therapist.. Fixing her is not your job or responsibility.
    -Don’t allow anyone to treat you badly. Some people will treat you as poorly as you allow them, mental illness or not.
    -Look at your own role. Even if a friend is mentally ill, issues in the relationship don’t usually fall on one person’s shoulders. Blaming the other person, especially when that person has an unstable history, can gloss over things you could have done better to deescalate the situation.
    -Has your communication with your friend been clear and direct? Unhealthy communication is the downfall of many relationships. Mentally ill people especially need definitive boundaries and straight forward questions and statements.

    I hope things work out in the best way for you, whether that’s salvaging the relationship or turning in a different direction.

    • Lauren says:

      I love your response, Amy. I am/was also one to put up with bad behavior from friends , and to continuously make excuses for them. I am working on that now by establishing boundaries in friendships, and learning not to put up with bad behavior. Yes, that’s so true, we are not that friend’s therapist And boundaries are important, so that we don’t continue to be the one who takes the brunt of the friend’s mental illness. Also so that we realize that sometimes we just have to walk away from a friendship. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and passing on your wisdom.
      Lauren

  6. E says:

    I have been in similar situations. My question is this: when they are making horrible comments/accusations in public, how are you meant to cope with mutual friends/acquaintances/colleagues taking the other person’s side and believing that you are some horrible unsupportive person, when you’ve done nothing but try your hardest to be the best friend that you can but they just keep pushing you away??? Does that make sense? :'(

    And I know one answer is “if they’re good people then they won’t take sides”, but what if they do anyway and they tell everyone in work/social circles that you’re a nasty ableist person who needs to be avoided?

    I have been getting stuck in toxic friendships with people with mental illness for years because I was too frightened of what they’d tell people if I left. (I have mental health problems too). Now I have left and I feel so lonely because I have no real friends. I try to be a good person but I think everyone else thinks otherwise. 🙁

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