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Question 143: I lent an ear to a friend, how do I get it back?

sad basset hound

This image perfectly combines ears and sadness.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I want to be a good friend and a good listener, I really do. I have a lovely, kind friend who I have known for a long time. She has some mental health issues. She is going through a very rough time and I totally want to be there for her. The career has been a nonstarter for many years; she has not worked consistently since she graduated college. Her family is not that helpful. Now her relationship is falling apart, too, and she is financially dependent on her partner. 

I have listened for hours on end. So have several other mutual friends. Listening is becoming very hard: 


A) There is a lot of blaming going on. She does not take full responsibility for her situation. She spends hours complaining about her boyfriend, talking about his every perceived flaw and how he is wronging her in every way.  The career does not work because her field changed, because of where she lives, because it’s sexist, etc. She does not own her decisions. She talks little about how she may be able to change her own behavior in the future.

B) She sometimes takes little jabs at me, saying that my relationship could turn out like hers. It happens rarely, but I sometimes feel she is trying to instigate negative things in my relationship. 

C) She does not take her friends’ advice. The most important advice has been: Become financially stable and independent. She has turned down a job that seemed really good (and in her field) because it was not perfect and not all the tasks were to her liking.

D) The stories repeat each time we talk. The same facts are given again and again. Maybe she forgets she already told me X, Y, and Z?

I like this friend very much. She is fun, creative, and soulful. When she is not in this state, we enjoy each other’s company. I feel badly for her and don’t want to drop her when she’s at her lowest point. But last time I spoke to her, I felt at the end of my rope. I can no longer listen for hours like I used to because it seems quite unproductive and I don’t have much to say anymore.

What do I do when she gets in this mode and wants to vent for hours? I need strategies or lines to use here! Please help!

Signed, 
I Lent an Ear and I Want it Back

Dear Generous Ear,

This person sounds exhausting, and her relentless negativity is going to destroy her friendships if left unchecked. You can be a cool person who is going through a shitty time and who is not handling it so well. You can be super, super sad.  You can ask your friends to listen and help take care of you.  But you cannot endlessly use them as a source of free therapy, or expect them to stick around if you act like a toxic jerk.

What I can offer is 1) a script for a frank talk, 2) some strategies for setting boundaries with her, and 3) permission to give yourself a big old break. Throughout this, it’s important to remember that you can’t control her reactions or her emotions, but you DO need her to find some other resources for comforting herself and taking care of herself, so focus on that. Welcome to Captain Awkward’s Benign Selfishness Boot Camp.

1) Frank Talk-Talking Points:

  • Friend, I know times are very hard for you, and I am very worried about you. I think it is time for you to talk to a mental health professional (or get a change-up, if she’s already seeing someone) and get some real help in navigating your way out of this crisis.
  • “I feel like we’ve talked these problems over at length, and you already know everything I’m going to say. I am becoming exhausted, and your situation is not getting better. You should talk to someone with some training to help you.”
  • Do some research on places your friend could call – a referral from your doctor, local clinic, sometimes calling The United Way (for people in the US) can yield a suggestion. Try to have two possible resources on hand before you talk to her.
  • Offer to help her out by calling and setting up initial appointments or driving her there if you are willing and she thinks that might be hard for her.

Here are some old posts on therapy-for-the-reluctant and how to locate low-cost care that might also help you.

I don’t know how she’ll react to this suggestion. I’m pessimistic given what you’ve described, and I don’t want you to get sucked into a self-pity cycle where she’s all “I see. You’re trying to get rid of me because I suck so much,” and you have to defend yourself or reassure her that it’s not that bad. It is that bad.  Keep delivering a consistent message of “I care about you, your problems are big and real, in fact they are so big and so real that it’s time to call in the cavalry, there is no shame in asking for help, and it’s so important to me that you do that that I found these phone numbers for you.”

You cannot make her go to therapy.  You cannot make her react well to a recommendation of therapy. So you may need to cut the frank talk (and future talks) short. Which leads me to:

2) Boundaries!!!!!!!!

First, let’s take some steps to reduce the chances that you’ll have an hours-long conversation about her problems by making it difficult to have an hours-long conversation about anything.

  • This friend is not invited to your house right now.  Why?  Because you need to only meet her in places that you can leave.  Consider the friendly lunch.  Lunch is inexpensive and has a pretty defined window. Movies are nice distractions and you don’t talk during them, and then afterwards you can talk about the movie.  Schedule stuff that is fun, out of the house, has a well-defined structure and a definite end-time.
  • On IM/gchat or whatever?  She is blocked for the time being.  Or you are “invisible” so you can choose when and if to chat her.
  • Your phone calls now have a 20 minute time limit.  Find a graceful way to get off the phone with her (having to pee is pretty irrefutable) when she calls.  Periodically call her to check in, and limit it to 20 minutes so that you feel more proactive and in control and it doesn’t feel like you’re dodging her.
  • If your friend group carries the “Friends do everything together!” Geek Social Fallacy, cure it. You can have brunch sometimes without inviting Debbie Downer.

Second, let’s talk about some conversational redirects.

  • If she says crappy things to you about your relationship, shut her down.  “Wow.” “Could you explain that?” “That’s really out of line.”  Being sad doesn’t give you a jerk license, and you don’t need to defend your relationship or pussyfoot around calling out truly toxic behavior.
  • When she’s bitching about her partner, ask her directly:  “Have you told (partner) what you’ve told me? Do you think (partner) would stop if you just asked?”   Everyone needs to vent sometimes, but if the partner is not abusive, constantly denigrating them to people outside the relationship is hugely disrespectful and not productive.
  • If she starts rehashing something from the beginning, cut her off. “Sorry to cut you off, but you told me this story 3 days ago – what’s really on your mind?”  If she gets a little huffy and says “Never mind, you probably don’t want to hear it anyway,” as a ploy to get you to settle in while she tells you the story again because now you feel guilty, do not be sucked in.  “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but yeah, I don’t have the patience to hear the whole thing from the beginning again. Could we talk about something else?
  • Activate the three-sentence rule. This is a golden communication technique that I learned from an ex, that helps people deal with each other’s long rambly stories that have no immediate point. We had a rule that you could cut the other person off and say “I’m sorry, I’m getting lost here – can you sum that up for me in 3 sentences?” (Note: Extremely useful with panicked students).  Suggest the rule and that you guys can both use it with each other so it’s not just a way to police her.
  • When she complains, and it’s your turn to talk (eventually), redirect her toward solutions by asking questions.  “So what are you going to do?”  “What do you want to do now?”  “Do you want my advice, or are you just venting?” “How are you going to handle that?” “Do you have a plan?
  • Bluntly tell her what’s up: “You’ve told me this story 3 times and I’ve told you what I think.  I want to be supportive, but this sounds like one for the therapist.”
  • Bluntly tell her what’s up (again): “I want to hang out with you, but I feel like we’re in a pattern where all we do is talk about (problems). Can we take a break from that today and just enjoy ourselves?
  • Change the subject, often.  If the subject won’t stay changed, cut the day short.
the most pathetic puppy

The most pathetic puppy, by Matt Armstrong on Flickr

I realize that all of this sounds really cold.  She’s your friend, not some problem to be managed!  But she’s in a very bad cycle where she can’t set good boundaries for herself.  I can’t imagine she likes herself too much right now.  Complaining is a self-perpetuating habit.  Mental illnesses like depression can result in cycling thoughts that you can’t always control, and it’s possible that she has difficulty stopping herself once she gets going, even though somewhere inside her last shred of self-awareness is going “No, shut up, SHUT UP!” Some people use complaining as a way to bond.  Your friend may feel like her problems are all she has, and talking about them is her only way to get comfort and attention and feel close to you.

By setting boundaries for how much you can handle and want to hear about, you placing a virtual Cone of Shame on your friend for everyone’s protection. You are removing that attention jolt she gets by complaining.  By scheduling your time with her to do fun stuff out of the house you’re redirecting that attention and closeness into more positive channels. By recommending that she gets the help she needs to really deal with things, you are being caring and supportive in a way that is likely to produce results. If you don’t set boundaries, your friendship will end in tears and disaster when you can’t take it anymore and cut her off.  If you do speak up and set some ground rules, you may have a chance at saving this thing.

Which leads me to 3) Give yourself a break. You are not a bad friend for getting sick of the complaining. You are not a bad friend for wanting a break from the negativity.  You would not be a bad friend if you let the anger you have out in an honest way. That frank talk could be “I love you, but the constant complaining is killing our friendship, and I’ve run out of patience to be your sounding board. Please get some help NOW, because I cannot hear about this even one more time,” and you would not be a bad friend.

One final note – you say that your mutual friends all feel the same way. You may be tempted to circle the wagons and back up your difficult conversations with with stuff like “We all talked about it, and we all feel this way, I’m not the only one!”  I understand the temptation to appeal to the authority of the group, but trust me – if you do that, you’re going to make your friend feel attacked and defensive, and the issue will quickly be “You all talk about me behind my back and secretly hate me?” rather than her urgent need for help.  Be a mensch, have courage, and rely on your own opinions and experiences with her as you begin your frank talks. “I’ve noticed…I’m worried….I need….,” etc. Own it.

Edited to Add:  Give it a little time and more than one try before you expect magic results. You may have to set and enforce the boundaries more than once before it sinks in. You’re changing the ground rules for the relationship in the middle of relationship, so let her off the hook for the past and stay focused on the present – It doesn’t matter that you were sick of this story 6 months ago, could you change the subject right now?  Expect her to not quite get it or take umbrage at first.  If you’re consistent and kind, she’ll either get it or escalate things to African Violet-levels.

 

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26 comments
  1. This question is relevant to my interests. For multiple people.

    I did once end up saying, “When you [ask me for an opinion a thousand times], do you not believe me, or are you not listening?” I knew the friend was stuck in an anxiety loop, but at the same time, I just did not feel it was fair to have to routinely repeat my answers 5-10 times in a single conversation. I’ve had to repeat that statement (more gently) since then, but it makes her aware of the loop.

    I’ve also found that, like you mentioned, a sympathetic “What do you think you’re going to do?” both avoids giving unsolicited advice (when all they really want to do is vent) but also implies that there needs to be some kind of forward motion, instead of helpless wheel-spinning. And, I mean, I’m guilty of it too. “What do you think you’re going to do?” reminds me that I do, in fact, need to do something about my own problems.

    • JenniferP said:

      You don’t have to go on your friends’ anxiety loops with them in real time.

    • Lauren O. said:

      I like the “what do you think you’re going to do?” line if questioning.
      and I firmly agree that no one wants or appreciates (or follows) unsolicited advice…

  2. Virginia said:

    1. I have been that friend. And I am deeply grateful that my friends encouraged me to see a professional person who could help me Talk Through Things, because I was freaking miserable, and I knew I sounded like a broken record, and no advice my friends ever gave me sounded achievable, and they weren’t going to push the issue because they love me, and, and, and … my therapist had none of that baggage.

    2. I have been where you are and tried to stick it out and be “good” and hang in there and repeat my advice and gotten frustrated when I heard the same things over and over. Sadly, this was in the days before Captain Awkward, and I was not yet self-smart enough to see how badly my boundaries were eroded, until the day came that I reached The Utter End and was unbelievably rude. More than one friendship busted up that day. (I only miss one of them. The rest of them needed busting up.)

    • JenniferP said:

      I’ve definitely gotten lost down the rabbit hole of my own misery and used my general charisma and persuasiveness to bring as many people along for the ride as possible.

      All lessons at Captain Awkward Dot Com Enterprises were learned the hard way.

  3. Ace said:

    How timely, I’ve got a couple of broken records at work and while I don’t want to be mean because I can’t escape them without changing jobs, I’m really sick of people complaining about the job but also refusing to do anything to help themselves. Your guidelines and scripts sound good and I’ll try them out.

    On a completely unrelated note, I love how your ‘graceful’ exit from a phone conversation is saying ‘I’ve gotta pee’. That really tickles me. :D

    • I actually use this excuse to cut short meetings with my boss. It works really well.

    • xenu01 said:

      I say, “it was really great to talk to you.” Usually the person gets the hint. But if they don’t, I say, “I’ve gotta run. Let’s talk soon!” Vague but firm, that’s my game. :)

    • miseryguts said:

      My mum told me when I really couldn’t get out of a phone conversation I should abruptly hang up in the middle of my own sentence. Nobody ever suspects you of deliberately cutting them off if YOU were the one speaking when the line went dead.

      I’ve never tried it myself (I think I’m usually the one being cut off) but I love the image of my sweet, endlessly polite mother hanging up on herself to escape a phone call.

      • JenniferP said:

        That’s even better than pee!

      • Chantelle said:

        I’ve done that plenty of times before. Usually it works but then people often phone back so switch off your cell phone or or take your landline off the hook. When you next run into them: sorry the battery died, or, sorry I had no dial tone for a few hours, not sure why.

        I hate doing this as I am usually a very honest person. I hate lying and pretending ANYTHING but eventually I realised that lying to save yourself is not necessarily a bad thing. Something brutal honesty is called for and sometimes it is not appropriate in that moment so you go for the more underhanded approach. Wow, I hate even typing that. I am more the brutal honest type (often to my detriment and that of my relationships) but when I have been stuck for a way out, then hanging up halfway through my own sentence has helped.

      • Ace said:

        That’s some ninja shit right there. Your mom’s phone-fu is strong. Don’t think I could pull it off myself, but i admire the thinking.

  4. xenu01 said:

    I think you should definitely have a conversation, and sooner rather than later. You may have some hurt feelings come out of this, but it is better to be straight up with her than not. My friend’s therapist once said “There is a difference between being nice, and being kind.” That person was absolutely right!

    Just think of the ludicrous situation in which someone’s fly is down and everyone pretends not to notice. That’s nice of them, sure, but you know what? It is much kinder to pull them aside and say, “Hey, just so you know, your fly is down.” When that has happened to me, I blushed and maybe even got irritated at that person, but was ultimately grateful because hey, I could have exposed myself all day long if it weren’t for them!

    Stop being nice to your friend. Her wallowing in all the bad things that are happening is like someone probing a sore tooth over and over again. She doesn’t need you to help her probe her bad tooth, she needs a root canal, and the only person who can do that for her right now is a trained dentist. Be kind. Tell her to go to the dentist, and then stop listening to her complaints until she does so.

  5. Zazou said:

    This letter is a bit similar to a situation I am in that I thought about writing to the Captain about.

    This is my first semester in a graduate program and one of the other students (who is in my general department, but not my specific program) seems to have a lot of problems (bad circumstances & depression) at the moment. And she is very open about them and other bad things that have happened in her past (for example: abuse, medical issues). Now, I feel very bad for her. But I do not know her at all well, and to be frank I am finding it difficult enough to keep myself upbeat without taking on another person’s problems as well. Something about the interactions we have had gives me the strong feeling that she is recruiting the ‘support’ system that the letter writer’s friend has. I.e. people to complain to and to get pity from. So I have decided to not give her an inch cause I don’t want her to take a mile. I need to protect myself.
    BUT! She mentioned looking up ways to kill herself when we had a chat after she was absent for a few weeks! And then she was absent for weeks again! She needs help! I need to help her because she has no-one else!
    In other words, I feel guilty. I guess I’m just looking for some affirmation that a person I have had less than 10 actual conversations with is not my responsibility? (she has worked as a counselor by the way – I think I can assume she knows where to go to get help) I don’t need to frank talk for now or set boundaries cause I’ve kind of set them already I think. It’s just, even though we aren’t even friends in any way, I still feel guilty about not giving her what she’s asking for – and for not investing energy in giving her what she needs (someone to get her to a therapist, etc.) Does anyone have tips to get her what she needs with minimal loss of energy on my part?

    Sorry for the hijack… Feel free to ignore it, just typing it up helped to make me feel less guilty!

    • JenniferP said:

      I take all discussions of suicide very seriously and at face value. Either it is a real threat or it is someone trying to manipulate me – either way, my reaction is the same. “Really? Okay, let’s DEAL with that.”

      You don’t have to be her super-close friend to say “Hey! When you talk about looking up ways to kill yourself in front of me and then disappear for weeks at a time, that’s a sign for me to tell you bluntly to call some kind of medical professional. Have you called one? Can we call one right now?” And if she starts pouring out her troubles to you, you then say “I am sorry you are going through that. I’m not the right audience for this, though, since I’m just your colleague. I think you should visit counseling services and really spill this on someone who can fully listen and invest. I’m going that way right now – do you want me to walk you over?”

      That is a rejection, but it is honest and kindly meant, and if she takes it as a sign that she should take her troubles elsewhere, count it as a win. Since she is a counselor, you have the trump card – “I know that as a counselor you would tell me to do the same.”

      I have had to “mute” people (on LJ or other social media) who I consider friends because they are lost in their anxiety/depression loop and I can’t deal with it – either I’m lost in my own, or I just climbed out of one, or I’m starting to get pissed that they can’t see that they are in one and all up in there with unsolicited advice (that I then resent them for not taking), and it’s better for me to tap out for a while and find other channels (phone, email, inviting them to do stuff) to interact.

      • Zazou said:

        Thank you so much for your reply, that is a good script for trying to get her the help she needs without making me the one responsible for it! I will use it this week, thanks again!

        • JenniferP said:

          Two questions for the price of one…the price of “free internet stranger.”

  6. First, let’s take some steps to reduce the chances that you’ll have an hours-long conversation about her problems by making it difficult to have an hours-long conversation about anything.

    Yeah, I had to do this big-time with my parents over the last few years, and *finally* their hours-long pity-fests have extinguished, because they never got any reinforcement from me. Here are some strategies that worked for me:

    (1) *Never* answer your phone when they call. Only talk to them when you call them, even if you wait just a few minutes after they call to return their call. Over time, they will call much less frequently.

    (2) When you call them, first thing you tell them is that you have another call, meeting, appointment, etc, at X time, and you can only talk until then. This sets expectations ahead of time, and makes it much easier to terminate the call when the amount of time you have decided to devote has elapsed.

    (3) Do not be afraid to be silent. It is human nature to affirm and acknowledge what other people are telling you, but this just encourages the ranting.

    (4) My parents would attempt to draw me in to their dramatic narratives by posing their statements as questions, like “What would *you* do if blah, blah, blah?” or “Do *you* think that bleh, bleh, bleh?” or “What could so-and-so have intended other than bluh, bluh, bluh?” The only correct answers to these sorts of question is either “I don’t know” or “I would have no way of knowing”. The advanced ranter response is then, “Well, just give me your opinion”, in response to which you say, “I haven’t formulated any opinion about that”. If they continue on with, “Really? You have no opinion?”, your answer is, “No. I don’t.” And you may have to keep repeating these non-answer answers.

    (5) Whenever possible, limit in-person contact to neutral sites, neither your own territory nor their territory. This prevents them from cornering you in their space, and it prevents you from having to literally throw them out of your space to disengage.

    (6) Whenever possible, have third-parties along when in-person contact occurs. And make sure that the third-party(s) understand that they are not to express any interest or engagement if the ranter raises the obsessive issue.

    If you are truly diligent and inexorable about applying these methods, the ranting will eventually extinguish, because the ranter is getting no reinforcement whatsoever from you. They finally figure out that there is *zero* chance of discussing the obsessive issue with you, and if they want to have a conversation with you they will have to find something else to talk about.

    • JenniferP said:

      Brilliant advanced strategies. Thank you for sharing! I hope the people who wrote me recently about “Cousin Annette” see your post.

  7. Letter Writer said:

    Letter writer here. Thank you for the really excellent and thorough advice. The comments are great too. Very, very appreciated.

    Yay for the Captain and her army of Awkward!

    Luckily I had figured out number 1, but my application of number 2 and number 3 need a lot of work. I will be more direct and honest next time, and I want to memorize those conversational redirects. Why don’t they teach this stuff in school?

    Thanks to you all, I won’t have to spend another night running it all through my head, trying to figure out what to do.

  8. Nomie said:

    LW, I’m glad you saw this. I’ve been on both sides of this and it’s not easy. But some frank talking points from friends got me to therapy in the first place, and boundary-setting and being kind to myself have helped me inestimably since then.

    And pulling out one of the Captain’s suggestions that has been SUPER helpful in my own life: ”Do you want my advice, or are you just venting?” I find it a lot easier to listen if we’ve established that this is a rant session and I can make soothing noises without feeling like I’m letting them down by not helping more.

    Good luck with your friend, and make sure you’re taking care of yourself in the meantime.

  9. wondering said:

    Arg! I have a bad habit of being The Friend Who Will Move Mountains To Make Everything Better, and sister, that is a heavy weight to bear. It is also not healthy for TFWWMM, nor is it healthy to the person who comes to rely on you. I am also the Family Member Who Will Fix Everything which can carry even more baggage.

    Things I have learned over the years, some of which are already covered by the Captain: (Many of these things will not apply to LW’s situation, but I imagine there are other TFWWMM or FMWWFE around these parts.)

    – Do NOT live with the people who need your help. Do not move in with them, do not let them stay in your spare room until they get things sorted out (unless you are dealing with a minor and you are really, really willing to become a parent). This situation is more possible than you think for needy friends/family who have trouble keeping jobs and whose relationships are becoming rocky. But if you let this happen, it will SUCK OUT YOUR SOUL. And it will make things even worse if you have to evict your friend or if you have to move without leaving a forwarding address. (Hell, in the case of old friends and family members, I don’t live in the same CITY as them, even though that means I spend over $1,000 every time I am forced to fly back home to sort out family issues. Which is about once a year.)

    – Do NOT lend them money. If you can afford it, you can make it a gift (if they will accept it). But don’t do it more than once and only in a real emergency.

    – Maintain boundaries. If they can’t learn to respect boundaries, it is totally African Violet time. If they frequently make you cry/are emotionally manipulative/excessively clingy. that’s as bad as living with them.

    – Encourage them to try new sports or activities, that get them moving around and meeting new people. You can make it The Thing You Do Together, if that helps. Sports, dancing, cycling, hiking, going to the gym – activity endorphins, change of scenery, positive interactions with more people will make them feel better about themselves. Plus, less talking, more doing means you don’t have to play therapist all the time.

    – Use outside resources. Don’t be their only crutch.

  10. meerkat said:

    Well, I’m confused. I just read the entry on what not to say to people who tell you something sad (which was really great, by the way), but now I’ve read this one and I don’t understand: apparently they’re only allowed to be sad on occasion, because if they have chronic problems, then it’s bad. Why are we concluding that Depressing Friend is so horrible for not taking responsibility for her career problems which are obviously entirely her fault, even though she has told us all these other things about why her career sucks? These are obviously excuses and it is all her fault and she just needs to take responsibility for not fixing everything? If she was just less chronically depressed this would qualify under “being the sole expert on her own experience” but in this case she is just in denial, plus it’s not like things that would be easy for “normal” people would be hard for someone who is suffering from depression?

    Another thing that bothers me. Therapy would be great, of course, but what if it isn’t possible? I probably really need a ton of therapy myself but I have no time or money for it (and it’s not like you can just take any old therapist, you have to shop around for one that actually gets you, omg resource-intensive), and I have become aware that if potential employers find out I suffer from depression I will absolutely not be able to get a job in the field I have studied for (which frankly I have stopped caring about, long story, wish I had a therapist to tell it to). So i relate a lot more to the annoying friend here, although I don’t think I complain as much as she does (friends just get annoyed and then I hate myself even more for being annoying).

    I don’t think you’re obligated to listen to your friend’s complaining, although it’s certainly a nice thing to do when you have the time and energy. In this instance the amount of complaining has exceeded the letter writer’s available listening and I agree about setting boundaries and all. But I don’t think there’s necessarily a good solution and I feel like we could have more sympathy for the friend who is obviously suffering, rather than talk about how it’s all her fault and call her “Debbie Downer.” I am kind of allergic to the word “negativity” because it is used to dismiss real problems that need to be addressed as stuff people made up just to cause trouble, and to dismiss my personal less-concrete problems as attention-getting nonsense because how could I possibly have any real problems? I don’t intend to tell you never to use that word but I may be reacting more strongly because of associations i have with that word.

    Anyway, this is my favorite advice blog ever, but unfortunately I don’t feel the need to speak up until I disagree/don’t get something and feel defensive (I get a lot of messages that everything wrong in my life is my fault which seems like the same attitude taken toward Depressing Friend in one part of the letter). So please don’t come away thinking I hate your blog as a whole, there are just a couple sentences here that I can’t interpret in a way that doesn’t incite a strong reaction in me so maybe I have interpreted something wrong or am just coming at it from too different an angle.

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t see the two entries as mutually exclusive.

      1. Don’t derail your sad friends by making them dance for you and “prove” they have a problem. Listen and ask questions. Actually, “What do you think you’ll do?” solves two problems: a) It validates the agency of the sad person instead of giving them advice b) It avoids “forced teaming” where you make other people’s problems your problems.

      2. Set limits for yourself – you can be supportive and helpful, you can listen, but that doesn’t mean you ALWAYS have to listen, or that you have to listen to everything over and over again and never say anything. It’s not a derail the 10th time you’ve heard the story! Friends are not free therapy! You can say “I’m sorry you are sad, but can we change the subject for awhile?” You can say “You’ve told me that story 10 times before, did you realize?”

      3. You can in fact get pissed off and annoyed with people who are sad and stuck forever in a loop of complaining, and you can encourage them toward getting some help. This is the blog of you can break up with anyone any time for any reason, even if the reasons aren’t their fault, and you should only give what you can give freely.

      4. I called the friend Debbie Downer. Looking back at the entry, I agree, that’s pretty harsh, and maybe I’d go a different way now. But did you miss the part where she attacks her listening friend and tries to mess up her relationship? I’m not trying to use “negativity” as an umbrella “sad lady complaining” term, I’m saying “Yo, that shit is NEGATIVE” right there. That doesn’t mean I called you Debbie Downer. The sad friend didn’t write to me, the friend who is completely sick of her and about to drop her did, so I’m validating the Letter Writer’s experience (of annoyance and exhaustion, which we can feel even about people we love). Not every letter will validate everyone’s experience.

      Here are some resources for low-cost therapy. Here’s a post about clawing your way out of a depressive episode.

      I’m currently broke and in the middle of a depressive episode, so am very grateful for the shoulders of my friends, and also very careful to not dump too much on them and find other outlets when I am in Debbie Downer mode, which sometimes I certainly am. In the past I can think of times that I have been downright toxic and addicted to complaining and spreading my own crappy point of view around me (and because I rolled high on charisma, I can take a lot of people down with me), and friends would have been right to say “I love you, but Jesus, STFU for a second.” That doesn’t mean I was unworthy of love or of help, just, set limits already. In fact, depressed people have a hard time setting limits in general, so it helps to have other people give you a structure sometimes.

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