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#443: Ending the reign of FEELINGSTERROR (slight edit)

Morning, Dear Captain:

I have a friend who I suspect is battling some pretty severe anxiety/depression problems. It makes her extremely defensive and difficult to be around, because literally anything you say can trigger FEELINGSBOMBS packed with rusty nails of self-pity that then require tedious removal and soothing via her preferred social media channels. She gets really upset if you criticize her in any way, even gently and constructively, and also if you don’t thank her effusively for doing things nobody is demanding she do. 

She has mentioned multiple times she doesn’t feel comfortable straight-out talking things over with friends or therapists, so instead she drops the aforementioned FEELINGSBOMBS at random times and expects everyone in our social circle to flock to the resulting explosion with armfuls of sympathy. I have made it clear she’s welcome to contact me whenever she’s feeling down, but so far she has refused, repeatedly choosing what seems like a very immature and manipulative way to handle her need for affirmation. It is really starting to grate on me and at least two other mutual friends, driving us away when she seems to need emotional support more than ever. 

She and her partner have done me some real favors and I appreciate them. We have interests in common and when she’s chill she’s fun to be around. It’s a friendship I would prefer to preserve if at all possible. How do I nudge her into getting the support and help she craves without carpetbombing our social circle?

–A shellshocked friend

Dear Shellshocked:

EDITED TO ADD: I posted this between classes yesterday and had to run off before I could fix links.

I think this old answer, “I lent an ear to a friend, how do I get it back?” covers the in-person interactions pretty well. You do NOT have to put up with her being mean to you just because she is sad, you do NOT have to endlessly listen and approve.

Below (the original answer from yesterday) is a plan for avoiding meltdowns on social media, by avoiding her on social media.

[/EDIT]

Here is your plan of defense, are you ready?

Reiterate what you said above, “Friend, I’m sorry you’re in a sad way. Please call me or email me if you’re feeling low and we’ll set up some time to get together, okay?

Decide that you will contact her periodically to catch up every once every week or two weeks. Make this interval whatever you actually WANT to do to maintain the friendship.

Then hide all of her social media feeds so that you don’t see them. You can mute her on Twitter, hide feeds on Facebook, etc. Also, Facebook has a setting where you can put someone in a filter category where you are nominally still “friends” but they can’t see anything you post.

The truth is, you don’t enjoy interacting with her on social media. It is possible to like someone without like-button liking them. So you are allowed to reshape your communications so that you avoid the ways you don’t enjoy interacting.

She will notice, for sure. By checking in with her pretty frequently you’re hopefully sending the message that you like her and want to communicate with her. But yeah, it might get lost in her desire for immediate public group feedback and sympathy. If she asks you directly: “Did you see where I posted x?” or “Why didn’t you comment when I posted x?” I recommend: “I’ve been taking a break from following social media so much, so I must have missed that. What’s up?

You don’t have to get into why if you don’t want to. The whole thing about social media is that it passes by very quickly, and you will almost certainly miss things.That shit’s ephemeral, yo. Which is why it is a bad place to have emotional discussions. That you will be missing from now on!

I suggest that you try this out for a few months and see if anything changes. I wouldn’t necessarily tell your mutual friends what you’re doing right away – the “I haven’t been following social media so closely, what’s up?” script works for everyone, and you don’t want to organize a mass shunning. You just want to try something different and see what happens.

You can’t control anyone else’s behavior, you can really only control your own and hope for the best. Asking her directly to handle things differently when she needs a sounding board is a pretty smart and respectful and adult way of behaving toward your friend, and your attempts to say, “I respect you and love you, friend, but this is not working for me, could we try something else to make sure you get what you need?” were not mean or over-critical and you didn’t do anything wrong. But it didn’t work, so now is where you try changing your own behavior and seeing if it changes the flavor of the interactions. Maybe she’ll figure out that social media isn’t the way to get your attention and try talking to you directly when she needs something, to the benefit of both of you. Maybe not – in which case, you’ll have some much-needed space.

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120 comments
  1. Not long after meeting my friend X, I bought her and our other friend, Y, both a pair of gloves. X got yellow and Y got green. Rather than tell me “Hey, I prefer green over yellow, but thanks anyway!” she went on Twitter and said “OMG, WHY DO PEOPLE ALWAYS ASSUME I LIKE YELLOW?! I MUCH PREFER GREEN!!”***

    Puzzled, I ignored it. I figured that if she didn’t say it to me, I didn’t hear it. She never did it again, and we have had a fine friendship since. When she did the same to Y, Y would text her/call her/go round/whatever to make sure she wasn’t still mad about the way the leftover pizza was split/being five minutes late/whatever.

    Every time X posted a passive aggressive Facebook status/tweet about something Y had done, Y would hurry to fix it.

    A year later, and Y is no longer friends with X because it was exhausting and demoralising. I still enjoy a (boundary’d-up) friendship with a person who is fun to be around but has undealt-with issues.

    TL;DR: boundaries, invisibility settings and selective social-media blindness are your friends if you want to keep being friends with this person.

    ***I swear I’m not exaggerating. It sounds like I’m exaggerating, even to me.

    • Carly said:

      Oh this reminds me so much of a good friend of mine who used to insist left and right that I bring my dog to her house when we hung out on weeknights because she knew how guilty I felt leaving Dog for long periods of time (after I had worked all day). She claimed to love Dog, encouraged me to let Dog on the couch when I would tell Dog to stay on the floor, etc. And then she posted a blog entry on her semi-popular blog – mostly popular among our shaed group of friends – complaining about how disgusting dogs are, how she hated them, how filthy they were etc. It was shocking, to say the least, and I couldn’t help but take it as the passive-aggressive message that it was. Needless to say our regular weeknight dinners came to an end – to her shock! And surprise! – and I learned that face value with her did not exist. Several boundaries and a lengthy break later we’re still friends, but I no longer read her blog. Any issues she has she has to bring up like a grownup or as far as I’m concerned they don’t.exist.

      • AMM said:

        I learned that face value with her did not exist.

        English language question: what does the phrase “face value” mean (in this context)?

        • Ž said:

          It means to take some one at their word. You can remember it by thinking about coins. There is the face side and the other side, and in some countries the face side has the value on it, says it’s worth €1. To take something at face value is to assume that it is worth what it says it is worth. If your friend tells you that you can bring your dog to her house, taking her at face value means assuming she means it and will not be angry with you if you say yes.

        • Jadis said:

          It reads to me like Carly cannot take things her friend said at face value, i.e. a direct interpretation of what was literally said. She cannot trust that what her friend says is what she actually means, there’s always some subtext or game being played.

        • AutistLiam said:

          “face value” means when someone’s words and actions match their thoughts and feelings so that what they appear to think and feel is what they actually think and feel.

          A good way of understanding it is to think of a box of cereal (or other food). You expect the box to contain the food it says it contains and would feel upset and confused if you opened it and found a different kind of food. You should be able to trust the box to tell you what kind of food is in it and not mislead you. You might decide not to buy that cereal again because you can’t trust that it is what it says it is.

          Similarly, this person has misrepresented her views about dogs by acting like she loves dogs when she actually hates them. Carly would not bring their dog if they knew their friend hated dogs and has asked the friend if it is okay to bring the dog. Because the friend said it is definitely okay to bring the dog when she is actually thinking “I hate dogs so much”, she is misrepresenting her thoughts and feelings and misleading Carly. When Carly finds out the friends true thoughts about dogs, they learn that this friend does not say what she thinks when she is asked and so Carly might decide not to trust this person to tell the truth about how she feels or what she thinks in future.

          Hope that helps you understand the phrase “face value”!

    • The skill set of setting clear boundaries early in a relationship with an emotionally difficult person is really important. It’s not something I’ve good at doing, and I’ve reached the point your friend did where I just had to ragequit a friendship that had become totally draining and toxic. I’d like to not have that happen anymore, and I’m working on it – I’m much better at least at knowing when my boundaries are being crossed, and not just telling myself it’s my problem and I should just *feel* differently (’cause not having boundaries would totes make me a better person, am I right?) – but I was somehow never inculcated with good boundary-setting skills growing up :(

      • Beth said:

        God, yes. So many relationships ruined when I was younger because after years of unhealthy dynamics woke up one morning and thought, “I just cannot face that person ANYMORE.” Then I started looking around at some of my friends who are friends with their exes, who manage these difficult friendships gracefully, and decided to deliberately set about learning those skills.

        It took a long time, but I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that being the most nice and accomodating person in the world does not make me a better person, having the emotional resiliency to engage appropriately in my relationships makes me a better person. And it’s emotional self-care and boundaries (YAY BOUNDARIES) that let me maintain that resiliency in the long term.

      • catyshark said:

        ” knowing when my boundaries are being crossed, and not just telling myself it’s my problem and I should just *feel* differently”

        This is my entire problem with relationships. Particularly of the me-and-a-difficult-man variety.

        Especially with a super-bonus layer of “but I realllllly want this person to like me so I need to control me and my responses”.

        Thing I am finally, FINALLY realising is: I can reallllly want a person to like me and they can still be stepping all over my boundaries and my responses are legitimate and actual and have real effects on the relationship. Which becomes inauthentic the moment I fail to allow my true response to just be.

      • YES! Kasey Weird, I feel you! I had had a series of unfortunate events, some of which were hijacked by my FeelingsBombers’ own unfortunate events (I say hijacked because she wasn’t talking about them at all until the focus turned off her and to me for a brief moment), and I had started to realize that our tight little friend group was actually two people who made me feel anxious about myself (clothes, hair, body, choices) and not at all people whom I could rely on and who actually were making my unfortunate events harder to deal with. They think that all people should always smile and say everything is fine and tell little white lies AND they were the kind of person who responds to “hey, um, you’re standing on my toes” with “WHYYYY DO YOU HAAAATE ME SO MUCH??” I was done.
        I had no African Violet strategy at the time, so I bailed in a fairly immature way, but I am so glad I did. I am annoyed that little things they once said haunt me still, but I know that’s my jerkbrain. The “worst” thing I did was stop following them on Tumblr because I couldn’t stand watching them hang out for breakfast supporting each other when I actually was needing real support.
        Now I bump into the less-egregious one of the two about 3-4 times a year and I can be outwardly pleasant and inwardly grateful that I am not around that toxic shit any more. JEDI HUGS to all.

        • Yeah, the morning I read this post, I had just woken up from an extremely vivid dream about the person I friend-ragequit, in which I was reliving the months preceding the ragequit and trying to make it turn out better by communicating clearly (this probably would not have worked, as she was prone to bouts of extreme and dangerous salf-flagellation at the slightest hint of criticism – do you see the toxic?). So, it haunts me as well, sometimes to point that can render me semi-functional for hours at at a time. And it’s nice to reminded that even if I didn’t handle it in the ideal way, ultimately, I’m no longer in that mess, and that is very important for my continued ability to be a functioning person in the world. :)

  2. I read an article a while back that talked about how Facebook/other social media was really popular with narcissists. I’m not saying your friend is a narcissist, but I do think that Facebook and Twitter enhance that aspect of pretty much everyone’s personality. Someone re tweets me and I’m all “Ooh a peice of candy” and then people like my Facebook post “Oooh a peice of candy.” Every little interaction is a nice little happy thing where you have computerized evidence that someone cares about you/ thinks you are funny.

    And the best way to get tons of candy from your supportive friend network is to be all “WOE IS ME.”

    So while your friend may have real problems all the supportive tweets and tumblr links are just rewarding her for not fully addressing them, or handling them in a superficial way on social media instead of addressing them in real life. You will actually helping her by following the captain’s advice and pulling back from social media and confining your social interaction to meat space. Perhaps other friends will begin to follow your example.

    In the real life there is no “Achievement Unlocked” for going to see your therapist, or having a real heart to heart with a friend you’ve had a miscommunication with. It makes doing the work involved in fixing your jerkbrain or your life feel much less fun.

    • James said:

      “In the real life there is no “Achievement Unlocked” for going to see your therapist, or having a real heart to heart with a friend you’ve had a miscommunication with. It makes doing the work involved in fixing your jerkbrain or your life feel much less fun.”

      Unfortunate, but kind of fixable in a way? I’ve been trying to be more social in general recently and one strategy I’ve taken is to come up with a scoring system in my head – initiate a conversation with a stranger, one point. Go somewhere you haven’t been before, one point.

      Then I track my high score and other various statistics because numbers, man, you gotta spreadsheet ‘em.

      Maybe a useful tack for gamery-people trying to defeat jerkbrains? Just have to be careful to avoid the impulse to game the system.

      • Wow that’s a good idea. I need to do that.

        • Kim said:

          I’m sure there’s an app for it too :)

          • Greenstorm said:

            Chore wars?

          • Heart Deco said:

            There’s an app called “Challenge Accepted” that gives you experience points for doing everyday tasks. Maybe useful in this situation?

            http://www.getyedone.com

          • randiradio said:

            There actually is an app for that, it’s called EpicWin. You assign levels of skill points to your to-do items (Quests!) and you level up your overall level and your skill levels (Strength, Stamina, Intellect, Social and Spirit) and collect gold and items. It’s been so great for me because now when I have to do something difficult or awkward or overall unpleasant I use my EpicWin progress as motivation. “Of course you can have that awkward but necessary FEELINGSTALK, look at your Social skill points!” “Quit avoiding the tedious tasks at work, look at your Stamina points, this should be easy now!” “Do you really want to skip the gym–look at how your Strength points are accumulating when you go every day!” I don’t create quests for things like awkward/sad talks, helping out friends, or anything emotionally charged because I think that’s in poor taste; I just use the points collected from harmless things as a reminder that I am strong and can keep getting stronger and can handle the rough patches.

          • Manatee said:

            Randiradio, just wanted to say I think this is awesome:
            ‘I don’t create quests for things like awkward/sad talks, helping out friends, or anything emotionally charged because I think that’s in poor taste’.

            I love the way you’ve harnessed game mechanics to help your social skills without actually turning people into games. That in itself is worthy of a couple of points, I’d say. :)

          • aaand now I’m adding Epic Win to my phone. Thank you, Captain Awkward hivemind.

          • Why do none of these apps exist for Android?

          • RP said:

            @shinobi42 – Because there’s a lot more documentation & support for iOS than there is for Android. That’s the trade off with Open Source. It’s free, you can technically use whatever language and IDE you want, but the support is never as good as with something you pay for.

            Also, the fragmentation with Android is a problem too.

          • Xenophile said:

            I love SuperBetter, and Mindbloom is useful too. SuperBetter is more health-oriented, but that includes mental health so there are power packs related to building healthy relationships. It was originally designed for people recovering from traumatic brain injury, but now includes a bunch of other goals, like coping with depression, quitting smoking, losing weight, or getting fit. It gives you points and badges based on developing resilience. I also really like the links to academic articles that justify everything the game tells you to do.

            No Android app, though. :(

          • Stephanie said:

            There is an Android app called Task Hammer that looks pretty cool. I haven’t tried it yet, but it’s got 4.5 stars.

      • FemmePrincess said:

        Coolest idea ever

      • griffykate said:

        “Then I track my high score and other various statistics because numbers, man, you gotta spreadsheet ‘em.”

        YES. ALL THE YES. #friendlyneighbourhoodaccountant

    • Wrote a comment on CA that people like? “Oo! A piece of candy!!” :)

      It’s sneaky.

  3. This sounds like the kind of unwanted attention-seeking behavior that persists because it is being reinforced by the sought-after attention. The Captain’s advice is spot on. Because it suggests engagement only when the unwanted behavior is not occurring and a refusal to reinforce it with attention, it has a good chance of resulting in extinction.

    • miss_chevious said:

      Your comment made me think of what I’m currently going through in crate training my dog–when he whimpers in the crate, it’s tempting to respond and soothe him, but if I do, I’m setting us both up for failure, because he will learn that to get attention (what he wants) he should make noise (which I don’t want). I have to only reward him when he’s quiet. It’s hard, but necessary.

      In other words, LW, you need to crate-train your friend.

        • miss_chevious said:

          But yours was scienc-y and articulate and mine was “put your friend in a crate.” Teamwork, FTW! ::high five::

  4. Sometimes we care so much for those near us that we try to step in and help them even before something’s made them feel bad. It’s not that strange; after all we know what triggers them and we want them to be happy. That’s a disservice. It’s reinforcing for us to ‘help’ and avoid conflict and it makes things more difficult for the helpee to handle things on their own. It’s scarily easy to sneak into these types of patterns and then you’re walking on eggshells, working on becoming psychic, trying to handle future things that you suspect will trigger your loved one. You don’t know when the hammer is going to fall, but you know it’s coming.

    Also, I’d ignore any future feelingsbombings. Nothing to see here. Treat it like when a little kid is doing the mom-mom-mom-mom!!!-thing. You don’t have to do things her way to be good friend.

  5. Huh. The way I read this, the FEELINGSBOMBS are face-to-face at least part of the time; only the mandatory soothing and stroking is via social media. Which is harder, because basically what the LW is saying is that the friend is being really passive aggressive in her demands for attention and support:

    She puts herself out there in a social space (which is great, and for a depressed/anxious person an achievement in itself). But then she sits there like one big raw nerve, and when someone (inevitably) fails to read her mind regarding WHY she is one big raw nerve and says something on the off-limit-topics scroll (which is eight feet long — but invisible), she lashes out and makes that person (and everyone else present) feel horrible for stirring up her pain — when the problem is that her pain is so close to the surface that the situation was doomed from the start.

    No matter how genuine and legitimate her pain, that is not an ok way to process it.

    Though the question is still what the LW can do protect himself/herself from this ghastly dynamic without being a cold, hurtful jerk to a depressed/anxious person. And for that, all I can think of is to reiterate the offer to make an appointment to Listen, but then try to reduce exposure in the kinds of settings where the FEELINGSBOMBS tend to occur. If you overllap anyway and there is a FEELINGSBOMB incident, say,”I’m sorry what I said was triggering for you. My offer to Listen stands, but in the meantime I’d appreciate it if you’d give me the benefit of the doubt that I would never hurt you on purpose, and not blow up at me for putting my foot wrong.” But then don’t get sucked into the need for further stroking and soothing, in person or via social media (follow the Captain’s advice for disengaging in the electronic realm).

    Honestly, it doesn’t sound like situation is likely to change until the friend gets Help, preferably from a pro but at minimum by opening up to a friend. And you can’t make someone do that.

    • Yeah, and I’d bet at least some of the feelings-stroking is because people want to avoid conflict. The lasher-out:er probably doesn’t care about the reasons behind the stroking though. As long as people act her way it’s all good.

    • Ethyl said:

      Yeah I totally missed the social media aspect at first and was SO confused reading Cap’n’s answer!

      I also think I don’t really understand exactly what is going on here. LW, you say:
      She gets really upset if you criticize her in any way, even gently and constructively…

      What are you criticizing her for? Why do you think this particular thing is in your wheelhouse to criticize? I can kind of see why someone who is feeling emotionally raw from a bout of anxiety and depression could react badly to someone “gently” criticizing them for whatever, especially if you’re not as gentle and constructive as you think.

      I also want to toss out there that I had a *kind of* similar situation, from the other side. Good friend came to me with some concerns about how I seemed to be “burning bridges” with some members of our former friend group, and asked whether I was ok. I was, in fact, ok. I had simply reached a point where I wasn’t about to listen stoically to one single more fucking rape joke from anyone I interacted with on a regular basis, and said so when I needed to. Unsurprisingly, bigoted assholes are assholes, and decided to drag things out all kinds of places they did not need to be. So from Friend’s perspective, it looked like I was having these huge dramas right and left, when the internal reality was pretty different.

      I don’t know if that helps, or adds a useful perspective, but it might be worth really examining these outbursts and seeing if there’s something at the root that can be addressed.

      • Your point about criticism is definitely valid — if you know your friend is incredibly fragile, maybe this isn’t the time to be “helpfully” criticizing, no matter how gently.

        On the other hand, I kind of assumed that the LW meant that he/she had tried to point out that the friend’s expectations of her social circle were maybe a smidge unreasonable insofar as they involved mind reading and avoidance of invisible pitfalls and maybe even that she was starting to alienate people. And that the friend had then accused LW of being a brute and not understanding what she’s going through. Which the LW doesn’t, because the friend is not ready/willing to talk about what’s bothering her. And around and around it goes.

        • Ethyl said:

          Yeah, I definitely feel like these kinds of situations get so personal and upsetting, that it seems totally understandable that both sides might have valid points to be making, but are too upset to listen to. Goodness knows I am certainly reading my own history into it — and I’ve certainly been on both sides :)

          • Ethyl said:

            Whoops — I hit post too soon!

            I think, too, your point about the cyclical nature of this is so important. Those kinds of merry-go-rounds can be really toxic to relationships of all kinds (not telling the commentariat here anything new, I know!). Shutting it down for a while might give both parties some space to think and process, regardless of who is feeling what.

      • Letter Writer said:

        The thing I was criticizing her for was being shockingly, un-self-consciously racist, which considering that half of our social circle are people of color was going to burn her a hell of a lot of bridges. I was hoping to help her salvage whatever scraps of respect and affection were left from the POC in our group. It backfired SPECTACULARLY.

        • Mostly Lurking said:

          Overall, I have a different take on the social media vs call-a-friend situation, which I’m explaining further downthread, but two things stood out for me:

          One, racism is a good reason to call someone out whatever the other circumstances because ‘being racist’ is not an emotion. (Loss can make you depressed. Danger can make you anxious. There’s nothing on the planet to which ‘being racist’ is an adequate reaction.)

          And Two, I can totally see why people would be somewhat wary in stepping forward and supporting her if she, in turn, insults them, implicitly or explicitly.

          • “There’s nothing on the planet to which ‘being racist’ is an adequate reaction.”

            THIS. Long-distance high five!

        • Ethyl said:

          Hmm, yeah, that’s a bit different! It sounds to me like the best option here is definitely to step back and just let her do what she wants. She’s going to do what she wants anyway, so re-write the terms of your relationship so you don’t end up shredded. Good luck, LW!

        • I do not know how you spoke with your friend. I do know that people who have done something racist tend to be extremely defensive about it, especially if they have the idea that they are not racist. After all, racists are bad, and they’re good people, so they can’t be racist; by calling them racist, you’re saying they’re terrible people.

          So I think you should not be surprised that your otherwise thin-skinned friend didn’t easily accept criticism of her shockingly racist bullshit.

          I’m not saying you should do any different, though. Because your friend said some shockingly racist shit, and you (and your other friends) get to decide how okay you are with that. You called her on it and she reacted badly, and you get to decide what to do about that too.

          • Letter Writer said:

            Maybe it could have been phrased better, I was Just. So. Flabbergasted. at these awful things she tossed out for everyone she knew to see.

            In the time that I’ve known her, she’s been very proactive about shutting down misogynistic and homophobic language and behavior, and helped create a very welcoming space for women in a geek pursuit that has historically skewed male. As a queer woman I have NEVER felt creeped on or marginalized at events she’s organized. It was great! I felt like this woman had my back!

            …and then she took a big, unrepentant shit on people I care about whose skin is darker than mine.
            :/ face x a million.

        • I know it’s been a while since this post was active, but for some reason it occurred to me today how doomed this conversation was. I think that no matter how delicately you phrase it, when the substance of what you’re saying to someone is, “You know that toxic stuff you think? I just wanted to recommend that you stop letting it out to play in public because if the people in our social circle fully comprehended the vileness that lurks in your brain, they would run screaming from you in droves!” the conversation is not destined to end well. Even if the person is not already depressed.

          Not that I’m laughing at you for trying — I totally understand not being able to listen to someone spout racist crap without calling them on it, and feeling like you’re doing them a favor letting them know that that shit is just not ok. And people doing that is part of how culture changes, which is all to the good. Just saying that it was always long odds that your friend would appreciate you trying to save her from the social consequences of her repugnant views.

      • H.Regalis said:

        I’m reading this as–and I could be totally wrong, not knowing the situation–similar to something I went through with a roommate, where you could not say anything negative to them, like, “Hey, last night you fell asleep and left the oven on. Please be more careful about that,” because they read everything through a filter of “OMG I HATE YOU YOU ARE THE WORST PERSON EVER DIE DIE DIE.”

        • H.Regalis said:

          And scrolling further down, I see that the LW explained the nature of the criticism. I need to read more of threads before commenting.

      • I think you’re interpreting “criticize” as “telling her she’s living her life wrong.” It certainly can mean that (and I agree that there are few if any circumstances in which it’s ok to do that), but I was interpreting it (and LW’s clarification seems to me to bear this out here) as “suggest anyrthing she’s doing is wrong or maladaptive.”

        Like, “you’re pooping in my living room” is a criticism, and it’s certainly someone you’re well within your rights to tell someone. But again, “you’re living your life wrong” really isn’t.

        • And now I see this has been more than amply addressed, and more eloquently. Read through, Hersh, read through.

        • Ethyl said:

          Yeah …. maybe? I think it’s extremely difficult to tell someone their coping skills are maladaptive in any way that the person will hear and not take as unwarranted criticism, and that maybe it’s not your job to do that more than once, anyway. I mean, this isn’t what we’re talking about anyway, and I think this topic is really well-covered in the linked column “I lent my friend an ear, how do I get it back?”

    • MamaCheshire said:

      Yeah. This happened repeatedly in the social circle I was part of before moving to where I live now, and even to this day I think I can only maintain being distantly-friends with most of that circle because Former City’s economy tanked so badly that most of us live somewhere else now and see much less of each other.

  6. rutilant said:

    Anxiety problems suck. They do. So does depression. What they DON’T do is give you an automatic excuse to act like an asshole. Your friend may be struggling, and believe me I appreciate how awful that must be for them, but it is not your problem, LW. The Captain’s script is amazing, and you shouldn’t feel the need to pander to possible mental health issues. Until this person brings up their anxiety/depression with you directly, ignore it. It doesn’t exist. (And keep in mind that you can’t actually diagnose their problems until they talk about them with you.)

    If they do bring it up in person (hopefully in a mature, respectful way, and not a FEELINGSBOMB way), then you have the go-ahead to be the supportive, concerned, fabulous friend I’m sure you are. If it does devolve into FEELINGSBOMB territory because your friend isn’t getting their fix from social media anymore, feel free to shut it down. “I don’t want to discuss this with you right now. Have you considered speaking to someone more qualified?”

    And, of course, if you’ve tried all of the Captain’s suggestions and the friendship still isn’t working, you are not obligated to be their friend just because they have done you favours in the past and they may be anxious/depressed. I have huge anxiety problems, and have gone through periods of depression, and I still manage to maintain fantastic and mutually respectful friendships with a bunch of people (some with their own mental health nasties!) because usually friendships are reciprocal, not one-sided soul-sucking emotional vortexes of doom.

  7. Kim said:

    Hey Cap, both those links go to the same post.

    • Thebigmeow said:

      Snap! lol

    • JenniferP said:

      Fixed now!

  8. Thebigmeow said:

    Just wanted to point out that the link for “I lent an ear to a friend” is the same as “but you ooooooooowwe me”

  9. Hiding people on social media really does give a lot of breathing room in relationships. There’s a couple people I like hanging out in person, and in small doses, but their facebook posts drive me up the wall. Once I unfollowed them, I was free to remember all the fun we have when we meet up rather than seethe at them on a regular basis. They’re still sometimes really frustrating in person, but it’s so much more manageable without the daily reminder, and it means I can continue those friendships without having an urge to African Violet them every second week.

  10. LW, you sound like a great friend who’s basically stuck between a rock and a hard place. I know you want to make things OK between you and your friend, but by the sounds of things, I would warn you that it may not be possible. Your friend sounds like they’re in a really bad place right now, and they may not end up being OK. They sound like they really need some help, and more help than you can provide.

    That said, I would advise you to keep telling them to look out for themselves, encouraging them to go to talk to a therapist or a doctor, but also to follow that advice yourself. Follow the Captain’s advice, but also make sure you keep your boundaries up and protect yourself from the pain that can come from spending a lot of time with a person in pain that isn’t handling that very well.

  11. accessdenied said:

    Oh, wow, this hit close to home. Recently I’ve been trying to undo a deeply ingrained attitude of People Who Need Support Are Weak And Pathetic/You’re the ~Strong One~ Therefore You Have No Problems that results in a paralyzing inability to admit I’m anything less than perfectly okay at all times. What IS an appropriate way to talk about sadfeels? I haven’t been posting passive-aggressive statuses to Facebook or anything, but I have made posts about this on Tumblr. Is that okay?

    (Feel free to ignore this if it’s too derail-y. :s)

    • Britt said:

      I think there’s a big difference between being honest about your feelings on Tumblr or LJ or whatever and dropping passive-aggressive FEELINGSBOMBS about how sad/angry/upset you are and how could your friends do this to you/why don’t they know how miserable you are/I AM SO WRONGED, which is more what it sounds like the LW’s friend is doing. For me, I want to know when my friends are sad, because I care about them and maybe there’s something, even a small thing, I can do to help! But I don’t want to be blindsided by someone being upset with me for inadvertently poking a sore spot that they never told me up front was THERE.

      • To make the difference more explicit, it’s largely about owning your feelings. A good way to do this is use “I-language”: “lately I’ve been feeling angry when X situation happens” as opposed to “lately this terrible situation X has been happening” and especially “lately person Y has been doing this terrible thing X a lot”. Yes, sometimes situations ARE terrible and people DO do terrible things. But before assuming that the reason you’re angry is that someone actually did something terrible, it’s best to think about whether maybe the person was behaving just fine and you had this reaction for another reason (depression, anxiety, bad day, incompatible personalities, …). The reaction is valid and should be recognized regardless, but then your post should be about the recognition of YOUR feelings, not about the problems with OTHERS’ behavior.

        Similarly with desires for sympathy and comfort. “It would make me happy if you could give me a [virtual] hug / give me some advice / listen to my rant, if you can” vs. “I want this emotional labor from you & if you don’t give it to me you’re a bad friend.” The desire is real and valid, but it doesn’t give you the right to other people’s time without regard for their lives.

        So I think it’s fine to talk about your feelings, as long as you acknowledge that they’re YOUR feelings, they are subjective rather than logical (i.e. “I am angry at you” doesn’t necessarily imply “you’re an asshole”), and they don’t entitle you to other people’s emotional or other labor.

        • mintylime said:

          The way I’ve found this backfiring is with gaslighting people … use I language and that’s their excuse to say that the problem is all in your head and clearly they aren’t actually doing anything wrong.

          GRRRR.

        • MamaCheshire said:

          Ugh. I hate I-statements. Not quite for the reason mintylime mentioned, but a variant: I’ve been gaslit with I-statements before, and it sucks. Because verbal abuse is apparently perfectly acceptable as long as it’s phrased “properly” and “politely” and then when the target gets legitimately upset it’s all about “well, YOU aren’t using I-statements, so I don’t have to listen, buh-bye!”

      • zweisatz said:

        I think the difference pretty much is that you cannot be genuinely sad at someone. Talking about your own feelings online because your life sucks? Sure, go ahead. Talking about your sucking life because your friend did that one thing that upsets you that they don’t know about in a place where friend or friend of friend can read it? Passive-aggressive.

      • minuteye said:

        We’re all works in progress, and especially when dealing with mood problems it’s really easy to react badly. But for me, a big part of the picture is how somebody reacts post-event. Do they act like blowing up or being extremely passive-aggressive in a public forum is a totally acceptable way to treat you? Or, once the jerk-brain cools down, do they apologize and talk about how it can be prevented from happening again? (Of course, even the sweetest apology is hollow if nothing ever changes.)

        • Britt said:

          Agreed that the reaction after the inadvertent flip-out is a huge indicator. Everybody gets caught in that perfect storm of a crappy day and not enough sleep and and the guy at the coffee place screwing up your order and your kid’s sick and and and, and then it only takes one otherwise insignificant thing for a meltdown to ensue. The Sneaky Hate Spiral is a vicious thing. But when it’s genuinely unintentional that way, like you said, there’s apologies and explanations and efforts to do better. When it’s someone lacking in emotional maturity or just bottom line passive-aggressively gaslighty, you’re probably just going to get justifications and more whining in response.

          I think another big red (maybe bright yellow?) flag with this stuff is if it’s a pattern of behavior. Does this happen only when someone is exceptionally stressed or sick or tired or for some reason having a really terrible day, or is this just the way they deal with things because they can’t/won’t process emotions in a less harmful and aggressive way? Nobody’s perfect, everyone goes through rough patches, but if this is just The Way Someone Deals With Things, that’s probably a sign to back away.

    • rinna2412 said:

      I think it depends on how–I mean, some of my friends will say that they’re having a hard day and could use some support, and I’ve done the same. I don’t think anyone judges them as having done something inappropriate by reaching out that way to get support. Other don’t explicitly ask for support, but just state that they’re feeling down, or their kids are sick, or they had a rough day at work, etc. I think doing either one of those things is fine because it’s basically just letting people know what’s going on with you.

      I had another friend who, until I blocked her from my newsfeed, would do the drama stuff–“Why don’t SOME PEOPLE realize XYZ” or “SOME PEOPLE feel it’s okay to treat me like crap!” It’s clear that those messages had an intended audience, and they just felt passive-aggressive and hostile.

      I mean, it’s hard for me to delineate the difference between a status that says “My coworker was awful today” and one that says “Some people are so mean to me!” but the difference is there. Maybe another, more articulate Awkardeer can elucidate what I mean.

      • I think it’s that the SOME PEOPLE status is vague enough that anyone who has interacted or failed to interact with the poster recently is expected to scramble to apologise/soothe and make it all better, whereas “my coworker” implies that the coworker in question is definitely not reading that status, and is simply a request for sympathy from those who know about the ongoing coworker situation. It’s about whether the groups “people receiving this angry message” and “people poster is angry at” overlap.

        • ReanaZ said:

          Agreed. It depends on who the “audience” is. “So frustrated with nameless-person-at-work” is a different statement when you have zero work people on facebook and need to let out some steam to unrelated folks than it is when all your coworkers are going to see it and you’re making a vague-but-pointed comment about one of them.

    • JenniferP said:

      Having an outlet to share your feelings is a great idea! I have an online journal and it is the best place to write down stuff that’s going on and know that it will be read by trusted friends who share their own ups and downs.

      I think posting stuff online is great for working out your thoughts and feelings and keeping people updated on what’s going on, but is not a substitute for asking for what you need. If you’re posting stuff online as a test of whether people like you or care about you, and get mad when they don’t immediately call/email/jump in to help, you’re setting yourself up to not get the support you need there. Post stuff online AND email or call friends and talk to them about what’s up with you.

    • If you’re on the sort of social media where people are around at the same time a lot, you could do something like posting that you’re feeling a bit down and would anyone mind talking for a bit? You could also specify what you want to talk about – whether it be the problems themselves, or just sadfeels, or something completely unrelated. “Tell me about your studying/work” or “let’s share pictures of kittens” or something can help if it’s something you don’t actually need to work through with another person right now. Or, as others have said, you can just work out your thoughts themselves and then post them or not as seems appropriate, and just don’t make assumptions about how people respond. A lot of people won’t respond because they hurt for you but don’t know what to say rather than because they don’t care.

    • I would add that (for me at least) Tumblr is a space where you are followed by people you don’t know who liked that Community gifset you posted. Or who ship Klaine as hard as you. Or who love the art made of string that you’re always reblogging. To a greater or lesser extent, they don’t really care about you because you are more of a content creator/collector than a person to them.

      This makes Tumblr the *perfect* place to be a bit emo. Because you don’t expect anything back (you’re not passively aggressively hoping for soothing) and you won’t hurt the feelings of anyone reading it… While still giving you the satisfied feeling of having posted it somewhere.

      • bluecandles said:

        I second the tumblr recommendation. While it’s possible but awkward to have a ‘conversation’ on tumblr, it is mainly built for blogging. And appropriate reactionary gifs. There are also some tumblrs centred around mental illness where people give each other ‘hearts’ or send messages to provide each other with support, without ever really knowing any identities.

    • Lydia said:

      I’d recommend using an anonymous or private outlet too. Emo-accounts are a great way of sharing your feelings with other online people who won’t get upset if you are somewhat passive-aggressive. Or, you know, an old-fashioned diary can be helpful too.

      • griffykate said:

        Emo-accounts! Oh lordy, I have had a few of those over the years. That’s a great name for them!

  12. Letter Writer said:

    Hey folks. Thank you for all the suggestions! I will be ending social media contact with My Friend as the Captain suggested, without actually defriending her.

    Because a few people were confused, most incidents go something like this…

    1. Face-to-face social interaction in which some miniscule thing goes wrong or someone is slightly (often unintentionally) rude to her.
    2. INVITATION TO SOCIAL MEDIA PITY PARTY
    3. No constructive attempt to address the error or slight is made.
    4. See step 1.

    I’m strongly considering sending Friend an email that goes something like this, and afterward no longer initiating contact outside of the group social events we both attend 1-2 a month:

    “I know you’re having a tough time right now with the serious illness in your family, and I wanted to share that a short stint in therapy really helped me cope with temporary yet awful situations like this in my own life. In the long term, it can also help break patterns of thinking that are making you miserable independent of what’s happening externally. Here are resources X, Y, and Z you can contact for help without having to bankrupt yourself. I’ve used Resource X with very positive results, and would be willing to answer any questions you have about my experiences there, no matter how personal, if it would make you feel more comfortable about starting therapy.”

    No matter how this goes over, I will be declining all future in invitations to her pity parties.

    • zweisatz said:

      I suspect they will be upset that you dare writing this, but I think it’s a good and helpful text.

      After sending this text, I think I wouldn’t bring up therapy again though because always offering help when someone didn’t specifically ask for it, can be obnoxious. I know that this is a really fine line to walk when you see your friend hurting so much, but if someone isn’t ready for solution x, the best thing you can do is limiting your exposure to problem y (y being here: strong outbursts of HURT).

      Even if your friend is hurting, it is totally okay to have boundaries in place where you don’t sooth them over and over again but treat them like all your other friends. That is, you apologize if there really is a reason to do it and otherwise, you just say you do not want to go further into this topic/absent yourself.

      • Letter Writer said:

        Yes, after this I won’t mention therapy again, I don’t want to be pushy. I’ve gotten the sense from her that she wouldn’t be offended if I gave her resources she can pursue at her own pace; it’s the financial roadblocks (she’s unemployed) that have made getting professional help seem so insurmountably difficult.

    • Simone Lovelace said:

      Another former FEELINGSTERRORIST in the house!

      A lot of my FEELINGS are of they “Nobody likes me everybody hates me eat worms” variety. So I find that reaching out for positive social contact in a very concrete way really helps. For example, instead of posting messages about how “I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS” on facebook, I’ll call a friend and ask if they want to grab coffee or a beer. Maybe venting will happen at the meet-up, and maybe not. But either way I get some friend-love, and collect some empirical evidence that in fact there are people who want me around.

      Another thing that helped me was accepting the fact that my friends can’t actually make my FEELINGS go away. Friends can be soothing and supportive and wonderful, but in the end it’s my job to manage my feelings and keep them from eating my life. It sounds a bit contradictory, but accepting that my friends couldn’t fix my FEELINGS made it much easier to accept and appreciate the comfort they did provide, and to cope with the times they couldn’t provide that comfort.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        My spouse (who used to be notoriously prone to this sort of thing) refers to the eat-worms thing as being “the piece of shit that the world revolves around”.

        Some of the FEELINGSTERRORIST thing for him, unfortunately, is that he was (I am not exaggerating) raised in a cult that he didn’t realize wasn’t a normal, slightly-conservative Christian church for many years after getting out of it. So sometimes his sense of how close a friendship should be at what pace and what all that means gets…mis-calibrated? And Everyone Hates Him because one person is legitimately slightly peeved about a specific thing he did, which means he is a Sinner Who Will Burn Forever.

        Therapy helps, and so do experiences where he has conflict with people and works through it and he doesn’t lose the friend and the world doesn’t end.

  13. octoberine said:

    Not to hijack, buuuuuuuuuuut ….

    Until I got to the part about FEELINGSTERRORIST friend’s partner, I was increasingly concerned that this was actually about me. Which, you know, is probably not so good. I’m not (I hope) as bad as the OP’s friend, but still. Do any of you have good ways to work on not being That Guy/Girl anymore? I started going to therapy maybe four months ago, and it’s definitely helping, plus working on saving the important Feelings Stuff for actual human conversation and not desperate attention-seeking FB/Tumblr/Twitter posts or whatever, but I still get low, and then I relapse pretty spectacularly from time to time. And then feel super grossed out and embarrassed later when I get called on it. Are any of you out there reformed FEELINGSTERRORISTS? How did you do it?

    • wonderbink said:

      Do you have a journal or notebook you can do your FEELINGSDUMPS

      • wonderbink said:

        Dammit, thing posted before I was finished. Anyway–if you have a private place to do your FEELINGSDUMPS you’re less likely to spew them all over your social media spaces and you may find solutions will come to the surface once you’ve scraped off the top layer of WOEFEELINGS. The page is an excellent listener who never gets bored or interrupts and keeps your secrets without question.

        • Ellex said:

          Oh, THIS. I used to have a couple of notebooks filled with the most godawful angsty poetry.

          A few years ago I went back through them and actually pulled a few decent poems out of them.

    • Ellex said:

      I have always found that it’s a great idea to turn the situation around in your mind. “How would I feel about the post I’m about to make if I read it on a friend’s Facebook/Twitter/other social media? Would I be annoyed that they’re pulling passive/aggressive crap on their friend circle? Would I be genuinely concerned for their well-being?”

      The “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” concept is really big in my family. It’s not about being paranoid that you’re a bad person, or that you’re annoying everyone around you, because that’s not helpful. It’s about thinking “I want to say this thing; how would I feel if someone said that to me?”

      Also, make a rule for yourself: don’t post anything on social media about how you feel that isn’t positive. This can help you get out of the habit of over-examining and re-re-re-hashing your negative feelings and focus on the positive feelings. And once you start actively looking for something positive to post about, you’ll start noticing more positive things in your life.

      Also, you can give yourself permission to say “hey everybody, I’m feeling a bit low right now. Please spam me with funny kitty gifs/adorable dog gifs/send me a joke to cheer me up.” If anyone tries to commiserate or ask you to expound on your low feelings, just tell them that you don’t feel like talking about that, you just want some happy thoughts to distract yourself.

      Also, you say you’re in therapy – ask your therapist for some constructive exercises for when you’re feeling low.

      • Alexis said:

        I’ve been using the “Please send me some awesome cheer-up Internet things” strategy recently (cribbed it from some smart friends :) and it seriously is a) effective in cheering me up, and b) a great way for people to know I’m having a bit of a hard time, without me getting into it too much. I’ve never been a feelingsterrorist but I did used to dump angsty stuff about my life on social media, and eventually I decided to quit that because it wasn’t leading me to do productive things with the angst, and it wasn’t giving the friends who could see it an accurate picture of what was going on anyway, so it was just all around unproductive.

    • Letter Writer said:

      Hahaha… I AM a reformed FEELINGSTERRORIST, actually, which is probably why my friend’s behavior is driving me so crazy. Here’s a plan that worked well for me:

      – Pop open a blog window or Facebook status window or whatever.
      – SCREAM into the keyboard. Don’t censor yourself, no matter how awful or violent or whiny or self-pitying the resulting text may be. Throw a tantrum like you’re three freaking years old.
      – Set the posting status to Private so nobody else can see it. Double check your privacy settings.
      – Clickety-click and post that sucker.
      – Return to what you’ve posted a couple days later and see if it’s something you still think your friends need to see.
      – The answer is almost invariably going to be ‘yuck, absolutely not’. Hello, delete button.
      – On the rare occasions you can read over what you wrote when you’re feeling more balanced and you STILL think it’s worth posting, change the privacy settings and set it loose into the world.

    • Aezy said:

      Well done on getting therapy and wanting to break negative behavioural patterns! These kinds of things do take time and I think the best thing to do is be up-front about the fact that you know FEELINGSTERRORISM is not healthy and you are actively working to change that. If you are sincere in your apologies once you get called on a relapse, really making an effort to modify your behaviour and understanding when your friends draw boundaries, such as CA recommended to the LW, then I think your friends will understand and be supportive. Acknowledgement/awareness that this type of behaviour is draining and negative is one major thing that LWs friend seems to be lacking.

      Also as far as strategies go, I always complain on tumblr but set those posts to private so that only I can see them… Or do a lot of complaining in a meatspace journal so that I can get the thoughts out of my head that instant rather than letting them fester and grow mould-y FB statuses.

    • mintylime said:

      You mention saving your Important Feelings Stuff for actual human conversations … this is one of my ways to deal with it. I have a couple Very Close Friends who know for sure that if I have a problem with them I will Use My Words, and understand the phrase “I need to vent for a while”. Then I can have my rage in a safe place and then, like others suggest, go be positive on social media … or so very context-free that people can just empathize without wondering “does she mean ME?”

      I may or may not have occasionally posted “Cranky, can’t talk about it, send baby octopi pix STAT.”

    • Hazel said:

      Feelingsbombs on social media are things you create for yourself, not for others. The act of writing out your feelings without self-censorship, loosens the valve a little and provides some relief. Unfortunately the resulting text tends to be passive-aggressive and reflecting of a distorted reality. What works best for me is writing out the whole rant that’s bubbling up without holding back or softening anything, and then just deleting without posting.

  14. Smilla said:

    I’ve observed that when some people have low self esteem or don’t feel cared for they can get stuck in this awful circuit of seeking comfort and attention in ways that are detrimental to the people around them, and once the comfort and soothing goes away they sink back down into feeling awful again, so they suddenly have another incident to drum up the troops. I don’t think they are actually aware of their behaviour pattern. It seems pretty miserable to me and I feel terribly for them, but i still follow the Captain’s advice and hide them on Facebook.

    • misspiggy said:

      I think this is most relevant. I think, in the short term, a recovering Feelingsterrorist might find mindfulness useful – i.e. stopping and asking ‘why do I want to have a go at X on Facebook because they got mud on my new carpet? What am I feeling right now? Why is the feeling so strong – did X’s offence really justify me feeling that way, or is there something else going on?’

      Not to try to stop feeling that way, but to feel the feeling and accept that you are allowed to feel it. And then to ask ‘is there any way I can help myself feel better that doesn’t involve attacking someone?’ For example, going for a long walk; calling up a friend and asking to be cheered up; or posting ‘boo I am down, all cheerings-up gratefully accepted’?

    • Mmm, self-care comes first; sometimes, you simply can’t take responsibility for somebody else’s sadfeels.

      When I’ve been in a situation like that, and I wanted to keep the friend, I found it easiest to be honest and gentle and set clear boundaries about what exactly I could do for the friend. I actually once had to say,

      “Friend, I am deeply sorry that your mother’s dog has died, but unfortunately I am not in a headspace where I can help you with that right now. I’ll be AWOL for a while; let me call you after I feel better and we can look at pictures of the dog and cry, or whatever it is you need. I will pencil in a session to Celebrate Dog’s Life after I have recovered from the tragic death of a family member, and I will not be available until then.”

      It actually worked very well. Not because I had a “problem” that trumped hers – there really isn’t much quantitative measurement of problems – but that I was clear about what help I could give and when, that I wasn’t at home to “YOU’RE NEVER THERE FOR MEEEEE,” nor would I be participating in online outpourings of prepackaged grief. For the same general reason, I’ve learned that I really can’t look at social justice blogs when I’m depressed or upset.

  15. GothicArch said:

    In my family we call these “Don’t die, dear Beast” gestures – From Beauty and the Beast : “Oh, don’t die, dear Beast, I love you!” There is much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over SADFEELINGS, prompting friends to pet and fuss and coddle, giving the ‘beast’ the attention they seek. Lather, rinse, repeat. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this is one of those situations where the only winning move is not to play. I’ve had friends decide I was horrible for not making the desired fuss and end the friendship, and I’ve had (and still have) friends who have recognized that I don’t respond well to teeth-gnashing, but if the ask for help or support or soup or a hug, I’ll be there. Not liking drama is not the same as not liking THEM.

  16. Mach said:

    This sounds just like my life at home. My housemates GF (Who is a friend of mine, I’ve known her for 4 or so years, and they met through me) doesn’t so much have FEELINGSBOMBS more like FEELINGSLANDMINES. So when I have a bad day, and I come home and she’s decided to invite herself over, I end up walking around on egg shells so to speak so I’m not unintentionally setting her off on an emotional explosion that I’ll either have to deal with or my housemate will.

    I’ve gotten to the point that it’s not my problem anymore, I don’t offend people, I’m careful about what I say and do around others, I will always lend an ear if people want to talk. But I’ve come to realise that until she wants to help herself, I can’t help her. So it’s not my problem, if I ‘miss step’ and there is a FEELINGS EXPLOSION then I let her have a hissy fit, and I let it go. It’s harsh, and I hate myself for it, but if I jump to: “OH! I’m sorry, how can I help you feel better” all the time, she won’t learn how to help herself.

  17. Mostly Lurking said:

    This post was triggery for me because I am on the other side of ‘reach out on social media rather than talk to any one friend in person’. The LW has since then – thank you! – made clear that the dynamic here is different, so I’m partly responding to comments.

    When you reach out to a friend, you’re dumping your problems on them, and from where I’m sitting, that very much feels like ‘congratulations, x. You have been chosen as the recipient of a COMPLAINTSDUMP. It is your job to listen and carry part of my burden.’ Which, when things come up in conversation, still happens – but to walk up to someone with the intention of dumping a lot of stuff on them – rather than having a normal friendly interaction and _listening_ to them and geeking about stuff and in the course of your meeting venting and being vented at. Singling someone out feels as if you’re going to burden them – and when you’re not just venting about small stuff but important life problems, that can get quite draining for the other party.
    Venting on social media, on the other hand, means that the people who are in a place *to* listen can make sympathetic noises (or reach out on their own accord and contact you, but then you know that they really *want* to listen and don’t just do it out of politeness. And very often people simply saying ‘that sucks, sorry you’re going through a bad time’ is enough.
    (In a similar vein, sometimes it’s difficult to face down people over seeminly trivial (or non-trivial but triggery issues), and a ‘Argh! I wish people would stop picking their noses in public (where hopefully the person who does this reads it and takes notice) seems like a better option than going up to them and saying ‘I notice that you pick your nose… will you please stop this?)

    On the social media side – for many people, myself included, that is part and parcel of social contact. If someone simply does not read what I say, that’s one thing (and I won’t know why), but if you unfriend/follow/whatever a RL friend without talking to them about it then it feels as if you’ve made an effort to step away from that friendship. (And maybe that’s what the LW wants.) This happened to me recently, and I can’t think of a good way to say ‘Hey X, we’ve known each other for more than ten years and I’ve considered you a friend, I notice you no longer want to talk to me… what’s up?’ But if you want to keep up the friendship, a note of ‘you’ll notice I’ve unfriended/followed you – I’m cutting back on social media, it’s nothing personal, will you be at xx meeting, we can catch up then?’ will go a fair way towards drama avoidance.
    (This is another place where I’d broadcast a general note on social media: If my friend had posted ‘I’m stepping back a bit and cutting the number of people I read’ or ‘I’m not in a great place, I’m retreating from things that are triggery to me’ then I’d have offered sympathy and the sentiment that I’d hope we’d meet up elsewhere. As it stands, a one-sided severing of ties with no further comments sends the message of ‘I’m not interested in keeping in contact with you.’ To which I can only reply. ‘Fine, then,’ and step back myself, because do I want to be friends with someone who doesn’t want to be friends with me? That’s not a friendship.)

    • On reaching out to a friend being burdening, yes it is. No, you don’t want to abuse the privilege. But if someone really is your friend, they would probably prefer a little judicious unburdening that helps them understand what’s going on with you, and maybe helps you, rather than you acting tense and hypersensitive but not telling them what the story is. I have a friend who only recently, after 30 years, disclosed what his Major Issue is (to me and some other people). And it makes me really sad that he had to live with what he has lived with all these years without the support of friends. But there’s no getting back those 30 years in which he suffered stoically in private.

      On it being some sort of mandatory corollary to Real Life friendship that someone follow you on social media, you’re entitled to define friendship any way you like, but let me offer another perspective. I like FB (to the extent I do like it) mainly as a way to feel connected with people who are not in my day-to-day life. Like, people I went to high school or college with, and still have fond feelings for, but who live far away and have busy lives like mine, that (coupled with the fact that I loathe talking on the telephone) would doom us to not knowing each other at all, in the absence of FB. I don’t see much reason to have FB relationships with people I actually SEE.

      Also, whether I see someone or not, I am not interested in the minutiae. I stopped following someone I quite liked for a while, because she was home with a toddler and I swear to you every time she wiped his widdle nose she posted about how adorable he was. I totally understood why she did that (isolation with a toddler!) but it drove me nuts. I have also hidden the feed of people I like just fine but who mostly use FB to brag about their kids’ accomplishments, or just from my perspective (which I don’t claim is objectively correct) generally over-share.

      I mostly like posts with content, like links to songs or video clips or interesting articles, or when people post about substantive things they’re thinking, or feeling joyful about, or feeling sad about, or the funny or exciting or upsetting thing that happened to them… but things of substance. I love people’s photos (including ones of their kids!) Although I’ve defriended a couple of people whose posts revealed what I found to be repugnant, reactionary views, mostly if I choose to have less to do with someone on facebook it’s less about how I feel about them as a human being, more about how I feel about their facebook style. I’m not going to tell them that, because I’m not the FB police to tell them they’re doing it wrong. And because it would probably hurt their feelings and our relationship, so that by the time the friend’s toddler was off to school and she started posting more substantive stuff, she would have defriended me and I couldn’t have tuned in again.

    • Letter Writer said:

      I have used online communication to get through tough times myself, so it was more the use the medium was being put than the medium itself. If the goal is for an individual who’s bothering you to stop a behavior or ask for help without direct confrontation, that’s probably positive. If the goal is to get people to feel sorry for you without trying to change anything or improve your coping ability, that’s probably negative.

      Everybody needs to do a COMPLAINTSDUMP now and then, so as long as you are conscientious about *handing somebody a basket of complaints* that they can refuse to take if they’re already holding too much, as opposed to dumping it on their heads, you can be pretty confident you’re being a respectful friend.

      • If the goal is to get people to feel sorry for you… that’s probably negative

        Or, if the goal is just to make people feel bad! Because there really are people for whom making their friends feel bad and guilty and inadequate is some kind of prize; it makes them feel powerful, or like the #1 victim, or I don’t-know-what. I just know it’s yucky.

    • (In a similar vein, sometimes it’s difficult to face down people over seemingly trivial (or non-trivial but triggery issues), and a ‘Argh! I wish people would stop picking their noses in public (where hopefully the person who does this reads it and takes notice) seems like a better option than going up to them and saying ‘I notice that you pick your nose… will you please stop this?)

      I respectfully disagree. This is passive aggression at its finest, and surely you can find a way to broach the issue of nose-picking to the picker him or herself — maybe in a roundabout or humorous way, but it can (and should) be done directly. I have a friend who has done this for years — first on LiveJournal, now on FaceBook — and I always roll my eyes at it. It comes off (to me) as emotionally immature. Just SAY IT, jeez. Besides, the picker is not going to recognize themselves, and you’ll just make some non-pickers paranoid.

      • JenniferP said:

        Oblivious people can’t take hints, that’s why they are oblivious. “This is really awkward, but can you not pick your nose where I can see it? Thanks.” The nose-picker will feel temporarily embarrassed and then not pick their nose anymore. Whereas hinting publicly can take years, potentially publicly embarrass the person, and maybe never ever sink in.

    • mintylime said:

      re: “you have been chosen for a COMPLAINTSDUMP”.

      Step one should always be “I’m having FEELINGSARG and need to vent for a while. Are you in a headspace where you can handle that?”

      If no, repeat step one with someone else.

      That might cut down on the “FRIEND, I choose YOU” feelings.

      • Mostly Lurking said:

        Thanks, that’s a really useful way of phrasing it. <makes notes>

      • Sarah B said:

        Heh, yes.

        The most delicate version of this ever was one of my friends; we went out for dinner in a big group, we chatted, as you do, and halfway through I was like ‘why does she keep asking me how I’m doing and if everything’s OK? Am I somehow managing to put out NotOK vibes?’

        It wasn’t until later, when I was giving her a lift home and talk turned to a Major Issue she was having that was taking a huge emotional toll on her, that I worked it out. She’s rabidly wary of burdening anyone, so she wanted to make absolutely sure my problematic mental health was completely rock solid before I so much got a whiff that there might be a wobble with hers.

        Bless.

    • Jenna said:

      Ah facebook.
      Usually it is a quick driveby of cat pics and inspirational posters, with (yeah I know) political stuff, and articles or videos I felt fascinating enough to share.
      But, I have (medical condition ) and I also use Facebook to update a few people who are keeping track. Usually, I have good progress, and sometimes I have a concrete need(too wobbly myself to change a lightbulb, who is free today and local?). The goal isn’t to make people feel bad, or get attention. The goal is actually to be less secretive about what is happening and what I need than someone in our circle who tried to not worry anyone, and left several people wishing they had known more of what he needed or resenting having to keep his secret from others. I try to keep the goal (let people help because they WANT to) firmly in mind. People want to make sandwiches, sometimes.
      So, sharing can be good, but, I really REALLY try not to “vaguebook”
      If I am complaining(honestly, I have a few things that aren’t happy)then, If I can think of a thing that will help, I try to list it, not hint. My friends are lovely, but, they are not psychic.

  18. nerdnik said:

    The more I read the comments, the more grateful I am for the relationships I have with my boyfriend and my best friend. Whenever any of us wants to feelingsdump (for me it’s venting about my job, for my boyfriend it’s talking through the pressures of FINDING a job, and for my BF it’s ranting about the plethora of ridiculous things one runs into while dating), we ask first – “Are you busy, or can I vent for a second?” Most of the time, the recipient is available for the oncoming emotional tidal wave, but sometimes they/I am busy. And sometimes they/I are “busy.” And that’s okay, because all of us understand that sometimes you just can’t deal with someone else’s BS on top of your own. This helps us contain the venting and keep it away from maudlin FB or LJ posts, which is a gift to everyone.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is a very nice dynamic, one I am also lucky to have with friends.

    • Nerdlinger said:

      I love this – I’ve been both a Vent-er and Vent-ee – and its way better to be straightforward with what is to be given (from both parties). No one wants to be able to 1) overburden friends but 2) not be able to help if they’re not in a space to listen.

      Recently had an experience with a friend who always depletes himself and says “yes” to all things – I had asked him if it was ok to talk something through with him (I needed another perspective not from inside my head) and in the midst of my explaining the situation, he let out a big sigh and said, “Well, if it makes you feel better, I’m stuck here doing xyz things for work” and proceeded to vent about his Many Things. It sucked because 1) he clearly wasn’t in a space to help / listen and 2) since I was trying to figure something out, I was blindsided and couldn’t really try and help him either.

      After he finished I said, “You know, it doesn’t make me feel better that you’re stressed out and feeling shitty too. We’re not in the Misery Olympics. I’m sorry you feel bad too, but I think we probably shouldn’t be talking right now.”

  19. Amanda said:

    I don’t know how relevant this is, but my long-term interactions with a number of FEELINGSBOMBERS (and my own difficulty drawing boundaries) caused me to come up with this chart a few months back:

    https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5mXm3O3VPaWY19UWE9yWVNPZDA/edit?usp=sharing

    I found it particularly helpful for my introverted/anxiety-ridden ass, because having to come up with Words! and Reasons! out of thin air tends to paralyze me, but having it done in writing, ahead of time, helps me immensely. (Kinda riffing off of the Captain’s advice to have a script, except this one comes with a visual aid. Lord, but I do well with visual aids. With colors!) And it reminds me that I am capable of a spectrum of helpy supporty options, which keeps me from getting locked into my old-time default binary of “HELP COMPLETELY or BE TOTAL FAILURE”…(which, when examined under the cold light of reason, doesn’t help anyone! But it totally makes sense in the dark and moldy corners of my brain. You all know how it is.)

    I posted it on Facebook for my friends to see, which has helped them to be able to check in with me more effectively, but I consider that something of a bonus…I think the main thing has been how it’s helped me check in with *myself* and communicate my needs. Things have improved. I have set person-specific boundaries with the FEELINGSHRAPNEL friends, and I no longer feel dread at the thought of interacting with them because I have made myself safe. Also, I have learned to accept their sandwiches in return, rather than trying to play the role of Our Lady of Perpetual Ham and Swiss all the damn time. And it seems that this this one healthy act has made it easier for me to set healthier boundaries in other areas of my life, even with those who know nothing of my dorky chart. It’s set sort of an upward spiral in motion, which is nice for a change.

    Anyway, I wanted to offer it up as a template to my fellow Awkwardeers, in case anyone else might find it helpful, too. It’s completely editable, so that a person could easily adapt the wording to reflect their own internal spectrum.

    • Love it.

    • JenniferP said:

      You’ve been taking awesome lessons and earned your certificate in awesome, I see.

    • Epiphyta said:

      I have just shared this with The Brom, and we’re totally pinching it. Thank you so much!

    • unlurking said:

      I love this dorky chart*.
      [...and probably could stand to make some charts of my own on various topics. I mean, I have notes for myself and stuff. But this chart has fancy colors and looks so official and full of authority! (I am not being facetious.) ]
      *And everyone in this bar.

    • griffykate said:

      That is just brilliant! I may very well have to create my own now. :D

    • THIS IS AMAZING. I’m going to print this out and put it on my wall! I wish there was some kind of Iron Man-like shirt I could rig so I could wear this chart and have the alert level go up or down depending on the person I was talking to. :]

  20. Irishzombie said:

    Best thing to do is when she is calm and is in the most control of her emotions have a heart to heart with her. Tell her the truth and ask her do you really care for how you are being during these times? But don’t say they didn’t do anything wrong because it don’t help soften the blow, it just hurts no matter what. Just tell her the truth and give her a different perspective and if she gets upset then give each other space but let her know that you will be her support as needed but it might be good for the two of you to be away from each other.
    Keep in mind that when someone is going through depression they are upset no matter what you do. They need to find their sense of being and support not just through friends and family but for themself as well and finding out that what they are doing is driving people they care for away might help put it into perspective but don’t expect her to accept it right away, expect her to feel betrayed and hurt first but if she wants a happier and sounder life she neededs to see it a different way and accept that people love her but she is pushing them away with what she is doing.

  21. karinacinerina said:

    PS I downloaded EpicWin just now and IT IS AWESOME. And not expensive. Not free, but not expensive. DOO EET.

    • Sarah in Tokyo said:

      I did it today, too! I’m already leveling up and getting all manner of stuff done. It’s awesome!

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