Lean on me: But enough is enough

Published: January 7, 2009 | Last Updated: January 10, 2009 By | Reply Continue Reading


Dear Irene,

I have a friend who was always interesting to talk to because we had interests in common. I always wondered how she could manage so many activities in addition to her work.

Unfortunately, some time ago, she developed a serious illness for which she is now being treated. She has been attempting to regain her formerly busy lifestyle. While helping her at her home, I got to know her better and see how her personality may have even contributed to her becoming ill. She puts herself under needless stress. Hers was a dysfunctional lifestyle that emphasized overachieving and helping everyone — even if they didn’t ask for it.

Maybe I should have backed off because I sensed that I was being leaned on out of proportion to the situation. To those family or relatives who could help, she barely delegates anything, and excuses others who say they are too busy. However, the people she is leaning on are not related to her and are just as busy with obligations, if not more.  

I stopped contacting her about two weeks ago and feel guilty because I know that coping with her health problem is not a picnic. It is somewhat flattering to be leaned on. However, I am happy having this "vacation" as I feel trapped when I think about contacting her again. I rarely have given her advice and rarely have stated my opinions about what she has been doing in her life. I am afraid that if I go back to contacting her, I may finally tell her my opinions and then I’ll be sorry. Thanks for any suggestions about how I can handle this situation.  



Dear Trapped,

Whenever a friend has a serious illness, it also takes a toll on her female friends. The people around her may feel a range of emotions including guilt, anger, sadness, and fear. You haven’t told me the nature of your friend’s illness but it sounds like your friend is a classic portrait of a “woman who does too much.” She liked to have friends lean on her and now expects the same from her friends. Not too unreasonable an expectation, I think, if she can have it her way.

You felt you desperately needed a vacation because your relationship with her had crossed the line and was toxic. You were complicit in allowing her to lean on you excessively, without letting her know when it was getting to be too much for you. Instead, you simply escaped.

If you want to have a more comfortable and mutually satisfying relationship with your friend, you need to be candid and set some realistic boundaries regarding where your helpfulness starts and stops, and what you are willing to do for her and what you are not. She may need and ask for more help now than before, so it can get a little tricky.

Whether, or how, her personality may have contributed to her illness is somewhat speculative and probably irrelevant because you aren’t going to change her. Realistically, you can only work on yourself by recognizing that relationships don’t have to be “all or none.” You don’t have to acquiesce to all her needs. If you decide to resume your relationship with your friend, you need to work at shaping it so that it is more reciprocal.

My best,



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply