I was wondering if you could help me sort something out with my friend S. My life has gone through the wringer the past 2 years, in terms of friendship dynamics turning scary and unhealthy, being assaulted/ stalked, my emotionally abusive/ homophobic parents, and the basic drama of becoming an adult. My friends have been an incredible support for me, and balance the acts of being there for me and still just hanging out and having fun.
I’ve been in therapy for these issues, and am working really hard on my anxiety and depression. I am working hard to ensure that my stalker (who has a history of violence and threatens harm to himself and others) does not threaten my physical or mental safety. I am proud of how assured I am in how to do self-care and how I am able to doubt myself less. My biggest issue has been trust issues and worrying that the people closest to me don’t believe me.
S. has been there for me, even when we were in different countries this past couple months. Now that we are back in the same place things have gotten… weird. Her new attitude is “question everything”, because she wants to be a teacher and apply that philosophy everywhere. Yet to me, her questions don’t seem to be coming from a place of wanting to know or understand, but to get me to self reflect. She has also said it is important for her to question me so I can “have a better understanding of the larger situation”, especially because I tend to “overreact”. It may sound dramatic, but I feel like I’m being interrogated a lot of the time. I don’t want a life coach that inadvertently victim blames me (which is why I go to my super lovely therapist), I want nerd out with my friend.
I told S. that I love her ability to ask good questions, because it means we have really excellent dialogues, but that sometimes just jumping into questions about my personal issues without starting with validation or support is too much for me, and she responded with “I can’t change who I am.” She also brought up my previous request for verbal affirmation, and told me it was annoying to tell me she loves me all the time.
I love her to pieces. She has been an incredible friend. But this new shift in how she communicates/ treats me is bringing up major trust issues, yet I feel like I am asking for way too much. She has also been talking a lot to my friend G. about me (something she told me, not something I am “overreacting” to), and all of a sudden G. isn’t talking to me. My immediate move has been to step back and let them initiate contact, because managing this group dynamic feels really hard on top of taking care of myself.
I don’t want to change her, but I also want to feel safe hanging out with her. Is this my anxiety/ just my problem? Or do you have any suggestions for scripts that I should use? Are there any paths of action to get my relationships with S. and G. back to mutually healthy places? I really love them and our histories together, regardless of the tensions now.
– Questioning the Questioner
You are already handling this like a boss, taking excellent care of yourself, and your expectations are not the problem.
“I told S. that I love her ability to ask good questions, because it means we have really excellent dialogues, but that sometimes just jumping into questions about my personal issues without starting with validation or support is too much for me, and she responded with “I can’t change who I am.”
You: “Friend, can you please stop doing the thing that hurts my feelings?”
You: “I don’t want a life coach, that’s what I have a therapist for. I just want you to be my friend.”
Friend: “THAT’S JUST THE WAY I AM. BTW, I am going to go talk to our other friends about you and tell them your business so that they won’t hang out with you.’
Scripts you could use with S., maybe, if you ever feel like talking to her again:
- “Why do you think your role in my life is to question my perceptions and experiences?”
- “I’m not overreacting, I’m reacting.”
- “Why are you working so hard to be right about things that aren’t really about you?”
- “What gives you the impression that I don’t understand the larger situation and need your tutelage?”
- “Did you think I was asking for advice just now? I wasn’t.”
- “Does ‘question everything’ mean browbeating me about painful experiences? Because that’s what you are doing, and it sucks.”
- “Were you always this much of an asshole?”
I think there is room in friendships to say, when someone is obviously struggling, “You seem really unhappy and off, and you aren’t behaving like yourself, is everything okay?” but I don’t think you can be friends with someone if you don’t recognize that they are the boss and experts in their own lives. You don’t get to police other people’s emotions!
Here’s what I think happened:
- S. went away and believes that she grew up a whole bunch.
- You stayed home and grew up a WHOLE bunch.
- S. thinks she is the only one who grew, and she’s trying to maintain old roles where she was the leader/boss/authority, and doing the exact opposite of what you should do to comfort someone who has been a victim of stalking and abuse.
- S. is like one of the countless “drive-by detectives” or “post facto management consultants” who gets anxious and upset when they hear about something bad happening to someone else and put all of their bad feelings on the victim to solve by answering a bizarre series of questions. Inadvertent or not, it is victim-blaming and it perpetuates the abuse that victims have suffered, and it sucks, and S. needs to knock it off, forever.
You are not asking for anything unreasonable. I think your decision to disengage from S. and G. is a wise one. If S. stays in your life, it will most likely be as a “small doses” friend, not someone you can confide in or trust. You’ve come too far and dealt with too much this year to have time for crappy friends.That’s a shitty development on top of what sounds like a really hard year, but you are doing excellently at being nice to yourself and standing up for yourself.
I’ve spent the past year struggling with moderate depression and a
lack of motivation and productivity in my graduate program. This was
exacerbated by a difficult breakup and an (unrelated) change in my
living situation. Long story short, I sought help with my school’s
mental health resources, and after many months I decided to try
medication. Depression’s gone, side effects tolerable, I’m really
happy. However, I continued to have issues with procrastination,
particularly in grad school – for example, I’ll spend a full two weeks
not doing anything and feel horribly guilty, and when I do start a
task I distract myself constantly. I’m working on some strategies in
therapy but still struggling. After some followups with my
psychiatrist she diagnosed me with adult ADHD and prescribed another
medication. ADHD is definitely not something I had ever considered as
applying to me, but having done some reading, and thinking back to
childhood, I’ve probably always had it, but managed to get by fairly
well somehow until recently.
So my issue is: I was emailing a long time friend and former roommate,
who lives in another country. We email frequently, several times a
week, and she’s been great support throughout my depression. I told
her about the ADHD and she said she was skeptical. I explained that I
have most of the symptoms and included a link to a relevant article.
She responded that she thought that that article described basically
everyone who’s not “in love or doing their dream job”, that it’ll be
nice if the meds work for me, but she’s not convinced.
I’m really hurt and angry. I’ve been practically unable to get any
work done for the past year and this diagnosis gave me intense relief
from the self-hatred that came from just thinking I was lazy and
didn’t belong in grad school. I had even expressed this to my friend,
and that is how she responded. I’ve experienced similar auditing
behaviour from the other friends I’ve told, just not as blatant- a lot
of “wow that is not what I would have guessed”, “I wouldn’t have
thought that you would have ADHD”, etc. How do I handle this? I’m
inclined to think that it is a lack of understanding of ADHD. But I’m
really hurt by my friends’ attitude that they know better than my
psychiatrist, or myself, for that matter. Advice on how to respond
would be really appreciated, because I don’t want to get snappy and
defensive with people but that’s how I feel like behaving right now.
Mental illness, brain disorders, and neurological differences that affect the brain and emotions carry such stigma that even treating an issue successfully can call down a hot wet bullshit rain from people who claim to care about you. The story you are telling your friends is basically, “I was suffering a lot, so I went to the doctor who found the reason and treated me correctly.” Why does that story need to be defended?
The following part of the answer is not ADHD-specific, because the scripts work for all kinds of situations where one might disclose a diagnosis or previously invisible disability to people in their lives.
When disclosing to someone who is generally a positive force in my life, I personally have found it helpful to translate initial “But I wouldn’t have guessed that you have _________” or “You don’t seem like someone with _________” or “You are much too young/smart/pretty/good at things to be _____________” reactions as:
“I am trying to hard to reconcile my mostly positive impression of you with the highly negative, stigmatized (perhaps scary) perception I have of people with __________. Since I am trying to resolve this cognitive dissonance in your favor, I’m going with wishful thinking and denial.”
Yep, many people react as if denying the possibility that your brain could work differently from other people’s is a compliment to you. Because that’s how scary/negative/skewed/narrow/ableist their imagination is about people who have (whatever you have).
Then you get the people who are immediate experts on your condition because of a thing they read one time, the people who want to immediately fix everything, the people who wring their hands and want you to comfort them about the issue that you are having, the diet and healthy lifestyle police who want to figure out how getting this was all your fault for not doing everything “correctly,” the blowhard who wants everyone to be so tough they don’t need medication…a rogues’ gallery of helpiness.
Once I can parse/translate their reaction as being about them and not really being about me at all, it doesn’t feel better, but it reminds me that I’m not the one making it weird by seeking health care for a health thing.
Of course it feels horrible and makes you defensive to open up about something that you probably have your own lifetime of culturally-received stigmas and fears about, and the other person derails the whole thing and erases you and your experience in favor of their perception of you or their need to be an expert. A conversation that starts as “Hey friend, here’s what’s going on with me, I’d like you to know and possibly give me support and encouragement while I deal with this new and confusing thing” turns into an argument where you feel like you’re on trial for your very existence. Not only are your friends not supporting you in dealing with a hard thing, they are making medical facts that affect your daily existence debatable and forcing you to “prove” that this is happening at all. And if you, heaven forbid, “become emotional,” or have less than a perfect grasp of every single part of the science at your fingertips to be presented on demand, in their mind you both a) lose the argument b) start to display some of the negative qualities they associate with your diagnosis. It’s a fucking perfect and insidious double-bind, where, which is it, am I not really (diagnosis), or not logical enough for you because of my (non-existent) diagnosis?
We have got to stop doing this to each other. If someone tells you about a diagnosis they have, and it takes you by surprise, maybe be quiet for a minute and let your mouth catch up with your brain. Maybe a good initial script is “Wow, thanks for telling me. How are you feeling about that? Are you comfortable telling me more about what that’s like for you?” and then you can let them take the lead from there.
In the meantime, here are some scripts I’ve found helpful in pushing back against pressure from friends and family to just not be ____________, thanks.
- “I was surprised, too, but my doctor made a good case, and so far their suggestions are working.”
- “I was skeptical at first, too, but I trust my doctor, and the meds are really helping so far/I’m looking forward to feeling better when the meds are just right/kick in.”
- “It hadn’t occurred to me, either, but once my doctor and I examined the facts it made a lot of sense.”
- “I was in a bad way for a while when I didn’t understand what was going on, so it’s a relief to have a name for it. As for the rest, my doctor and I will figure out how to proceed together.”
- “I’m glad your cousin’s wife’s pet monkey was able to beat _______ with diet, exercise, and ritual poo-flinging, but my doctor and I have it under control for now, thanks.”
- “It’s pretty new information, so I’m not 100% sure how I feel about all of it yet.”
- “I have a doctor. What I need right now from my friends is just your company, not for you to try to fix it.”
- “Until my doctor and I have figured out what is going to work best, I need to just shut down outside recommendations – I literally can’t process them right now.”
- “If you’re interested in reading more about it, I can direct you to some resources, but it sounds like we should change the subject for now.”
- “There’s a lot of stigma around people with ___________, and that’s making it more difficult for both of us to process this. Can you put that aside for now, and just see me, your friend?”
- “I’m letting you know what’s going on with me, not asking for advice or inviting a debate.”
- “Fortunately I don’t need you to believe it or understand it in order for it to be true.”
- “I found out that my brain works a different way than I thought it did, or from how yours does. Why are we arguing?”
- “Do you realize that I just told you about a hard thing I’m dealing with, and then you came back at me not to ask questions but to spew opinions and judgement all over me? Not cool.”
- “I think you meant that as a compliment, but it doesn’t feel like one. Whether I fit your imagination of _________ or not, I still have ___________.”
- “It sounds like you have a lot of opinions and feelings about this. Let’s table this discussion for another time, I’m not really in a place where I can or want to absorb all of them.”
- “I’m confused. Say my doctor and I were totally wrong about this. What are the consequences to you, exactly? Like, honestly, why do you need to be right about something that’s not your health to the point that you are browbeating me like this about it?”
You do not have to engage them or explain things or justify yourself to their satisfaction. You can call them out for making you defend your life. You can bail on conversations you don’t have the energy for, and it doesn’t mean that you’ve lost the point. As much as you can, put the problem and the weird feelings back on them to handle. Mention your doctor a lot. A lot a lot a lot.
I hope the meds work great for you and that your friends stop acting like buttheads soon.
Moderation Note: Thanks for a lively and supportive discussion. I suggest that you continue it at the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com, which has a volunteer team of mods.