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Very dear friend becoming harder to help - wwyd....?

(27 Posts)
babysaurus Sun 23-Sep-12 21:12:23

I will try and keep this brief.
A very good friend of mine, who I care for dearly, has had some (undiagnosed) stress / mental health issues and also has very low self esteem.

She was offered counselling with the stress etc but has not taken it up as she is worried it will 'open a can of worms' and, tbh, I am not sure I can help much with that side of things anyway (well, I can but not like a professional can, if that makes sense.) However, she also talks a lot about how she has no social life and also needs to lose weight so I am trying to help with both those things and will invite her over a lot (when we have friends over too, or when we don't) for dinner or drinks but also to, on a more healthy note, for long walks (we live in the country and she is 9 miles away.)

Without exception, every time she has cried off (often at the last minute and often with a flimsy excuse) as I think she finds the idea of mixing with people daunting (fair enough, but it's also often just me) and I am running out of ideas of ways to help her. I cannot relate to the anxiety stuff, but I do passionately think that going for long walks, for example, would help her clear her head (instead she stays at home and drinks a bottle of wine a night) and the subsequent health / weight loss benefits would hopefully make a big difference to her self esteem too.

She also, and this is very tricky, seems to cling onto her DS (who is nearly 12) and either uses him as an excuse not to do things (he is too tired / he is upset - I am yet to see evidence of this child's apparently emotional side) or that she can't do various things as he 'needs her instead.' While it is exasperating to watch - won't go into vast detail as can go on for ages, but basically he is VERY pandered and babied to the point where he does NOTHING for himself, including run his own baths or wash himself - I would not criticise the way she brings her child up as it's none of my business, but do think that she is using him as a crutch. As he is now at secondary school I think he will soon start to want to be more independant and not want to spend so much time with his mother, which will put my friend into even more of a decline.

I want to help her but am running out of ideas, and also obviously cannot criticise or even comment on her crutch like relationship with her son - is there anything that I can do or say to help...?!

ToothbrushThief Sun 23-Sep-12 21:17:34

With friends like this I've taken two paths:
1) Walk away (sorry) but usually after a frustrating time trying to help and realising that person wants to stay as they are but I find it difficult to watch their behaviour if it's harmful to themself or another

2) Don't expect miracles but give little constant constructive ideas and hope they have some affect

I've never taken the 'brutal honesty' path because I've always felt it was my opinion and not necessarily therefore correct

babysaurus Sun 23-Sep-12 21:22:31

toothbrush thanks for replying. I agree that the 'brutal honesty' path can be counterproductive, and this is why I am baffled as to what I can do, if anything. I guess if I was reading this post I would think of your first answer as the only realistic option, but I don;t want to give up on her. I do want to shake her by the shoulders and shout, mind, but I don't want to give up...! confused

babysaurus Sun 23-Sep-12 21:25:04

ps back to point 1 you made, she is often complaining about her life in general though, which is one of the reasons I therefore want to try and get her out and about (socially or not) but every time I try and get her out she comes up with an excuse at the last minute. DH, who also is very good friends with her now, has suggested simply stopping to see if she actually notices but I don't want to (possibly in case she doesn't!)

frostyfingers Mon 24-Sep-12 09:49:39

I have a lifelong friend in an "inappropriate" relationship - she knows it, I know it but she is incapable of removing herself from it. Every week she rings me or I ring her and we go round and round in circles with me trying to get her to see that she can not continue like this.

This has been going on for almost two years and I loathe what she is doing, but I can not just walk away from her. She's been a great friend to me over some very hard times and I have now reached the point that I keep saying my bit, keep telling her to get out of the relationship and keep hearing her giving reasons as to why she can not. She knows I disapprove but still wants my advice, so I give it to her with no expectation that it will be taken.

There are times I think when you just have to grit your teeth and accept the way things are. Unless of course you are strong enough to risk losing the friendship by pointing out some home truths - I haven't been, and don't feel that either of us would benefit by losing the friendship.

I would just try and keep going with the invitations and offers of help, it feels like banging your head against a brick wall I know, and stick at it if you can.

thefifthheffalump Mon 24-Sep-12 10:18:47

I have a very similar situation with a friend, babysaurus. Although my friend has genuine problems with depression and low self esteem, there's also a strong thread of self indulgence and learned helplessness. Like my friend, it sounds as if yours lacks personal courage or confidence to confront her fears and anxieties. I understand toothbrush's doubts about brutal honesty, but I have applied some of this at times (leavened with compassion!) usually when I sense an element of 'fishing' for sympathy as a way of relieving herself of personal responsibility. Try using gentle but ruthless logic to pick apart her resistance to suggestions. Perhaps rather than commenting outright on her over-dependent relationship on her son, approach it from a questioning perspective to help her think it through for herself.

Obviously these suggestions do depend on the level of mutual trust in your relationship. toothbrush's suggestions about constant small constructive suggestions plays well too. Eventually small shifts may happen (I've seen progress with my friend, but it needs constant reinforcement!)

I've been tempted to walk away, but my conscience always stops me, as my friend is fundamentally a good person and I love her dearly. I do understand the strain it puts on you though and you are clearly a wonderful friend and deeply caring - everyone should have a friend like you! smile

As you obviously care very dearly for her, may I ask what you are getting out of the relationship? There must be positives for you to feel this way, perhaps focus on these for clues about how you can help your friend get more out of life.

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 24-Sep-12 10:30:22

She's what I'd call a 'creaking gate'. Happy to complain but not prepared to do anything to help herself. Such people don't actually want solutions or fixes and they don't want to hear the truth. They reject medical or psychological treatment because they fear the words 'there's nothing wrong with you'. They simply want others to listen to their woes and be sympathetic. It's a form of attention-seeking. If you're happy to play this role of Wailing Wall then carry on as you are. If not, stop trying to help and let her find someone else to complain to.

thefifthheffalump Mon 24-Sep-12 10:51:35

Cogito, you are probably right in your assessment of the causes of the behaviour - but I'm not sure the solution for friends struggling with it, like the OP, is always such a black and white choice. You rightly use the words 'fear' and 'attention seeking' and these are powerful and understandable reasons sometimes for this sort of behaviour. My friend is lonely and lacking courage to confront head on the things that bring her down; even though sometimes I get really exasperated, I recognise that it brings her great pain and isn't easy to fix. Some people just don't have that personal strength. That's why I asked the OP to describe why she cares so deeply for her friend, as it seems she doesn't see her as just a user (which would be a very good reason to walk away, as you describe). So presumably there is value in the friendship.

EldritchCleavage Mon 24-Sep-12 11:22:00

If she is able to offload onto you frequently that might be helping your friend to stay stuck. It's emotional dumping that means she never truly faces her problems and the stress doesn't build up to the point that she decides to do something about them.

I don't say cut her off necessarily, but being her friend does not mean you have to listen to or engage with emotional dumping or a self-serving litany of problems. You can say 'Well, we've discussed this, you know what I think' and change the subject; you can say 'What do YOU think you should do' or 'It's up to you' and put it gently back on her.

No one gets better from depression (which is what it sounds like) or loses weight without a lot of work and commitment. Ultimately, people who don't want to do that kind of work can't be helped, and can become an awful drain on the people around them.

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 24-Sep-12 11:44:05

I'm not suggesting walking away, I said 'stop trying to help'. Big difference. The OP can still be friends with this person and hang out with them as normal but should stop trying to fix the problem... stop suggesting the long walks and the repeated invitations for dinner etc.

thefifthheffalump Mon 24-Sep-12 12:02:32

It's pretty hard to stop trying to help without actually walking away; if the friend has become dependent the message could be seen as 'I don't care about your problems any more', which while it might be true, could be seen as a betrayal I guess. So the friendship may struggle to survive and it sounds if the OP would regret that.

One thing that does occur to me though, on rereading the OP, is that the OP doesn't actually say outright that her friend is actively asking for the OP's intervention or solutions. Perhaps there isn't any expectation of this and her friend is only expecting what you suggest, Cogito? Could it be, OP, that you're trying to solve a problem for your friend unasked, because of your understandable compassion for her?

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 24-Sep-12 12:14:01

Yes, it's unasked. I'm a 'fixer' by nature and I suspect the OP is as well. The OP is suggesting long walks to fix weight loss concerns, dinner parties to fix loneliness. Best intentions, obviously, but could be coming across as rather bossy and interfering. The 'creaking gate' friend may want none of these things, feel they are being put under pressure to exercise or be gregarious when they are not, and simply want a listening ear. So stopping helping may make the relationship a lot more relaxed.

babysaurus Mon 24-Sep-12 12:51:33

Hi all, thanks for the replies. I am sorting the baby out at the moment but will reply properly when I can - some good food for thought here, thanks!

babysaurus Mon 24-Sep-12 13:14:18

Right, the baby is nappy (and hopefully won't wake up for five mins!) so will start to reply.

What do I get out of the friendship? We have been very good friends (she is godmother to my DS, she was my maid of honour at my wedding) for nearly 20 years. She is funny, she is good fun, we have a shared history, we have lots to talk about or are comfortable not talking, she is generous (very much so) and kind, and, until recently-ish, very dependable. My DH thinks she is getting worse and I agree, but think that she is the only one who can sort it. She also, and this has started to drive me mad, seems to constantly think she has various illnesses (ie bleeding gums meant she was off to the GP thinking she 'had mouth cancer', she decided she had asthma after using a shampoo for nits which said it should not be used by asthmatics - but only decided it had given her asthma a week later confused that kind of thing) which, I am sorry to say, I don't have a great deal of patience with.

Cognito It may sound as if I could be coming across as bossy and interferring by my OP but I am pretty sure I am not. Though maybe I am getting a bit much with the weekly or fortnightly invites.... ?

I have wanted to be a bit short with her about her various ailments or fact she doesn't seem to be helping herself, but I am also concerned about simply upsetting her and then us getting nowhere. (I'd love to be super blunt, but that's a lot easier said than done!) I was once blunt with her a while back (I had various issues during my pregnancy which she was dismissively 'oh, I'm sure it will be fine' - based on no knowledge at all - which pissed me off no end as I had had a scan the previous week to check the baby was alive, and she was flapping aobut the ficitious asthma) and this really really upset her and didn't really seem to help much in any other way.

Dear me, I am making her sound an utter arse aren't I? She's not, promise!

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 24-Sep-12 13:23:47

As said earlier, I'm a fixer as well. My friend is a fixer that makes me look quite wimpish by comparison. Last week I made the mistake of complaining about feeling a bit bored with my job - just in an offloading kind of sense - and was avalanched with repeated suggestions from her of fantastic careers I could do that were of no interest to me whatsoever! Stopped short of setting me up with an interview. I felt a little brow-beaten by the end of the experience but I know she meant well....

It is very easy to come across as bossy and interfering when someone isn't looking for solutions.

babysaurus Mon 24-Sep-12 13:34:24

Am now in the midst of an email conversation with her - it was about her no show over the weekend. She apologised for not showing up and said she sent messages and I said that I knew she a) wouldn't come and b) why. This has opened things up.
First time we have actually discussed this properly (even if it is now via email.)

babysaurus Mon 24-Sep-12 14:10:13

she says its not that she doesn't want to help herself but she has no time to herself due to her son.
this is very hard to respond to without criticising weird relationship dependency with son.

HotBurrito1 Mon 24-Sep-12 14:57:22

You could ask her how she thinks she could make more time for herself?

babysaurus Mon 24-Sep-12 15:17:03

Good tactic, HotBurrito, thank you. I know I may be asking dumb questions but I feel so wrapped up and frustrated with it that I am not thinking of the obvious.
I have a suspicion she'll say that she 'needs' to take her son to places / wash him / get his school books etc as if he is far too young to do it himself, but it's worth a try (to put this in perspective, she still seems to do his laces up for him and me and DH have a sneaky suspicion she was, at least until VERY recently, still helping him wipe his arse.)

HotBurrito1 Mon 24-Sep-12 15:57:41

If this way of being is entrenched, there is little you can do. You can only meet her where she is on her terms. Or choose not to.

I have a friend a bit like this and have completely stopped suggesting things as I know she doesn't want solutions. I came to the conclusion that it was much easier not to, because as you say it's frustrating. You can still be friends though.

EldritchCleavage Tue 25-Sep-12 13:23:23

Things don't sound good for her DS, though. At 12, unless there are SN, he should have been washing himself and tying laces for a good while now.

CogitoErgoSometimes Tue 25-Sep-12 13:29:35

"she has no time to herself due to her son. "

My DM was still using that excuse when DB was in his early twenties - even though he was hardly there. When he left home the excuse got replaced by something else. smile Some people are negative by nature. They spend so much energy justifying why they can't do things that opportunities to have fun or make life better just pass them by. Don't think you can cure it.

babysaurus Tue 25-Sep-12 21:15:40

Well, I was right - she has no time for herself as she is apparently too busy looking after her son. I have stopped the conversation as it was via email and text and that would be even harder to discuss it over, and far easier for things to be taken the wrong way.

Eldritch her DS does not have special needs, he is actually very bright. He just does NOTHING for himself, at least at home, as he doesnt need to, she does it for him. If he is having his dinner and announces he is thirsty, she leaps up and gets him a drink. If he is cold, she runs upstairs and gets him a jumper. Before she got so anxious, me and DH found it odd anyway as he was deemed 'a little boy' and incapable of things (he was about 9 / 10 at the time) but now she has got anxious she has got worse, if that makes sense. He is now the excuse she can't do things, she can't do them as she appears to find looking after a 12 year old boy a full time job rather like it is with a 2 month old, if that makes sense. Before, it was like she wanted him to be a baby all the time, and mollycoddled him so he was, at least in her company, pretty useless but now she also seems to be clinging onto the fact that he 'needs' her.

Shite, I feel awful writing that and I really shouldn't but it really grates on my nerves (and that's not the half of it either - He manipulates it something chronic!)

babysaurus Tue 25-Sep-12 21:18:41

sorry for the overuse of 'if that makes sense' - must proof read before posting!

EldritchCleavage Wed 26-Sep-12 11:43:38

Well, she obviously very much needs to be needed by him, emotionally. I wonder if he is also her smokescreen or excuse not to have to or be able to face the things she is afraid of, and make changes. Very sad all round.

I would leave it now unless she raises it. I suppose you could say gently it was time for him to start learning how to do stuff for himself, but she is unlikely to take any notice.

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