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
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.
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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