Ditching the friend isn't the answer to this question.
February 27, 2012 6:44 PM Subscribe
There is no way to ask this question that doesn't make the person whose behavior I'm trying to figure out sound like a horrifying human being, which is problematic because that's not really what I think. I'm going to try to keep this simple, but bear with me, because I bet it will get complicated really fast, mostly because I'm going to be compelled to use examples.
posted by anonymous to human relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For simplicity's sake the friend is Shirley. I'm Penelope. Our shared hobby/biz is going to be wood carving.
So, my friend Shirley and I run the wood-carving shop that is part of a venture between myself, her, and another person that has been going on for six years. We've been friends for about twice that amount of time. Tonight, we were holding a meeting, and while someone else was running part of the meeting, Shirley and I went into the shop to figure out whether some of our equipment was malfunctioning. There is another person in the group at this time who is also into this particular facet of our hobby/business, and I *asked her into the room* to chat and be friendly. We are both of us working on these tricky machines, and the other person offers to look at it with her.
Now, this is where things get fun. She can't stand anyone trying to help her (mostly except me), and the way she reacted to this third person's interest in helping was bordering on rude. This has been a running problem with her for years. In general, I am pretty inured to her and (yes, this sounds and probably is horrifying) I'm good at "managing" her behavior and working around the things that trigger her less-appealing behavior. I don't walk on eggshells - I want to be clear, she and I have had it out in the past and there are things I won't put up with. However. The second she feels that a 3rd party is "treating her like she's stupid" by offering to help with something, like collaborating on this mechanical problem, her defensiveness is always perceived as, well, being a bitch.
This is problematic. It drives people away from helping us on the regular and in some ways gives her and by extension US a very bad rap. Tonight, after the 3rd party left the room, I tried to bring up with her that I don't think this person was trying to act like she was stupid or usurp her place or be mean or condescending in any way. Her defense is, "I know but I hate it when people x." Well, okay, but it makes you look like a really, really despicable person. Every attempt at talking about her reactions being a little off-target results in a near-meltdown. I know that Shirley's parents spent a lot of time telling her she was over-reacting and treating her as if her feelings weren't valid. I don't want to feed into that, but in all honesty, the people who want to help us are really just trying to help, and Shirley's reaction actually IS totally off base in this situation.
Shirley is a really good friend. She would take a bullet for me, no question. But the people we interact with don't know that because she's so busy "protecting" her position. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get her to relax and not view every person who wants to help us as some kind of threat. At the core of it, I'm sure it's to do with feeling as if people don't treat her with respect, but the problem is, you have to earn respect, and her behavior does not engender that right now. It's self-defeating, and I not only want her to feel respected and STOP making people feel like she's a bitch, but I also want to stop having to manage the fall out (unavoidable due to our shared hobby).
She and I each have therapists. At this point, I'd go to therapy with her to talk about this, and I am not joking. I need her in this hobby/biz venture - she is indispensable - but she's also becoming a liability. There is no way to sever the one relationship without severing the other. Have you ever dealt with someone whose behavior mis-matched his or her actual personality to this degree? Is there any way I can approach this that might be productive? I'm all ears at this point.
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