Advice columnist Sarah Abell tackles this question in today's Telegraph. Reader "Vicky" writes in about her needy friend, awkwardly (for me) named Anna. Anna just went though a breakup with an asshole ("Pete"), and she won't shut up about it. Vicky writes,
She wants to meet up all the time, rings me incessantly and frequently turns up on my doorstep in tears. All she wants to talk about is Pete and how she plans to get him back. I keep telling her to forget him and to move on, but she never listens to anything I say. She sounds like a broken record. [...]
She absorbs far too much of my time and energy, and I hardly get to see my real friends anymore. I now dread seeing her name come up on my phone and am wary of answering the door, in case it is her. I'd appreciate any advice on how to deal with the situation.
Abell sizes up the friendship handily — "she takes and you give" — and suggests that Vicky establish firmer boundaries. Good advice, but a little cold — after all, aren't there times when all of us need more from our friends than they need from us? Maybe it's the name, but I found myself sympathizing with Anna in this situation. Dealing with toxic friends is one thing, but what about when you're the toxic friend?
I was surprised that Abell didn't mention the advice column standby of counseling right away (though she does recommend that Anna be evaluated for depression later in her response). One of the best reasons to get therapy in really shitty life situations is so that you don't overburden your friends and family. Sure, they're supposed to be there for you — but sometimes you feel so bad that you also make your loved ones feel bad, and one of the big perks of a therapist is that he/she (barring some serious transference issues) doesn't love you. You can be as horrible, negative, and yes, toxic with a shrink as you want, and he or she will still hang out with you once a week — as long as you pay up. Therein lies the rub, of course, and while group therapy and sliding scales can fill some of the gaps, mental health care of any kind still remains out of reach for some. Then of course there are those who just don't take to shrinks. If that's you, the best course is self-awareness.
It's a sad fact that as much as our friends may love us, they sometimes get sick of hearing about our problems. The trick is knowing when enough is enough, and stopping before you exhaust a friend's reserves of caring. Try spreading the sad out among several friends, rather than relying on one closest confidant for all your needs. And above all, don't let your own empathy centers shut down. It's hard to worry about other people when you're in crisis, but if you make an effort, it can actually be kind of a relief. Ask your friends how they are, really listen, offer your support. Hearing about their happiness could perk you up ; hearing about their problems can help you feel less alone. And if that fails, at least you've shown some concern — and your friends are less likely to write to advice columnists about you.
Image via ouh_desire/Shutterstock.com.
What Can I Do About My Toxic Friendship? [Telegraph]