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"Is it the sea you hear in me, its dissatisfactions? Or the voice of nothing, that was your madness?"
May 4, 2012 2:58 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with my (very insecure and overly sensitive) friend's tendency to take things said in passing as deep, personal criticisms? I used to be able to take it in stride but his recent prescription steroid treatments have ramped this trait up to stratospheric levels.

In the last year my friend has been diagnosed with a physical medical condition that requires treatment with prescription steroids. While he's always been mildly depressed, the steroids have made him deeply depressed and intensified other emotional issues. He's being treated for the depression and has a good support system in place so at least that part is covered.

Another problem he's always had is really low self-esteem, which makes him very, very sensitive to things other people do or say...even if what's said or done isn't directly related to or about him. There are times when he takes innocent situations and conversations and interprets them as personal insults or slights. Like I said above, the steroids have made this tendency so much worse. Where he might've taken something too personally before, but brushed it off eventually, now he'll literally worry himself sick (to the point of vomiting).

I'm not going to DTMF because I love this friend dearly and I've known him forever. I want to be a good friend but having to watch everything I say because it might be taken the wrong way is not something I'm sure I can (or want) do, especially when he gets upset but never says anything to me. If I have no way to know when something I've said bothers him, there's nothing I can do to fix any problems that might be my fault. I'm willing to accept that I'm to blame some of the time, but everything can't be my fault.

Is there any way to get him to open up to me? How can I word it so that I don't hurt him but I can still let him know that he's sometimes making mountains out of molehills? Lastly, any ideas on how I can maintain my equilibrium when it feels like he's constantly freaking out about things that I had no idea were a problem (and might only be a problem in his head)?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
If he's only started taking these prescription steroids very recently (ie. 1-2 months) then it's possible that he will get used to them and mellow out as time goes on (the first few months of any hormonal treatment tend to be really wacky/mood swingy). If his underlying condition also affected his self-esteem, that may also be alleviated as his treatment proceeds. (For some reason, I am imagining that your friend is a trans man as this situation is fairly common within that subgroup. If so, I can assure you that it does get a hell of a lot better for a lot of cases... but it takes time.)

I'd encourage you to tell him this part:
I'm not going to DTMF because I love this friend dearly and I've known him forever. I want to be a good friend but having to watch everything I say because it might be taken the wrong way is not something I'm sure I can (or want) do, especially when he gets upset but never says anything to me. If I have no way to know when something I've said bothers him, there's nothing I can do to fix any problems that might be my fault. I'm willing to accept that I'm to blame some of the time, but everything can't be my fault.

But of course, I don't know how he will react to this. You'll have to use your own judgement and frame your statements as effectively as possible. Emphasize that you care for him, appreciate him as a friend, and have no plans to let that change but that you'd appreciate it if he'd be more open with communicating with you so that you know how to avoid these situations in the future. Ideally, this will lead to him owning up to his half of the argument. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen.
posted by buteo at 3:20 PM on May 4, 2012


This conversation should be about one example. This is a big thing you're bringing up, so be aware it'll take some patience.
posted by salvia at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2012


It's difficult to tell someone they've become paranoid, because paranoia. You might try approaching it as, "So how are you feeling on the new drugs?" and try to get to a place where you can safely tell him that you have noticed an alarming side effect he should discuss with his doctor.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:45 PM on May 4, 2012


Is there any way to get him to open up to me?

Not without causing more drama.

How can I word it so that I don't hurt him but I can still let him know that he's sometimes making mountains out of molehills?

You can accept your friend as they are, cut them some slack about their situation, or you move on. But it's not your job to fix your friend so that your friend is more who you want them to be.

Lastly, any ideas on how I can maintain my equilibrium when it feels like he's constantly freaking out about things that I had no idea were a problem (and might only be a problem in his head)?

Realise that it's not all about you. Your friend has other issues to deal with. You either suck it up, treat them respectfully given both their situation and their personality, or move on.

Respecting someone in this situation means that you understand that they take things personally and you be mindful of what you say - it doesn't mean you're always going to say the right thing and not hurt them, it just means being mindful of the things that you say and being understanding if they feel you have hurt them.
posted by mleigh at 3:56 PM on May 4, 2012


It's important to have this conversation in a moment of lucidity. You might say something like "It seems that the drugs are really rough on you in terms of intensifying some of your emotional issues - are you finding that?" and if he acknowledges it, you have an opening to offer to help in those moments, maybe with an agreed upon "safe word" or phrase that means "hey, you're doing that thing again and I know you don't want to be like this". While it's tricky to navigate, it can sometimes be a real gift for the person to have an external reality check to remind them that this is the drugs/illness talking, not how they really feel.
posted by judith at 3:58 PM on May 4, 2012


If I have no way to know when something I've said bothers him, there's nothing I can do to fix any problems that might be my fault. I'm willing to accept that I'm to blame some of the time, but everything can't be my fault.

I have some super-sensitive friends who I have told, "If I'm ever mad at you for something, I will tell you. I will not make you guess. I will say, 'Friend, I am mad because you did X.' We are friends because I like you, and I am not going to go back and forth with you on how terrible you are because you are my friend, and no one talks about my friend that way, and further it doesn't seem to make you feel better." They are allowed to ask me ONCE if I am mad/hurt/annoyed about something, and they have to take me at my word when I say, "No, I'm not mad at you. If I were, I would say so."

I felt really guilty about this initially, but now I will just say, "That sounds like an irrational depression thought, I do not believe it is true, and I am not going to indulge anything that makes you feel so bad." Then I change the subject. I get that they can't help it, but if I had a friend with a broken arm I wouldn't punch them in the cast, either, no matter how much they seemed to want me to.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2012 [12 favorites]


Gosh, you're in a tough situation. I can tell you from personal experience that steroids can make you totally batshit crazy. I am generally a pretty even-keeled person without any significant mood problems, but when I was on high-dose steroids for medical reasons, I was unable to sleep, unable to think straight, talking too fast, weeping at the drop of a hat - it was totally shocking, and that was only a few months of high-dose steroids. It's like medically-induced hypomania or full-blown mania. I was thinking in circles obsessively, and I am sure I drove people to distraction. (And I was mentally apologizing to anyone I had ever prescribed steroids to! Amazing drug, amazing side effects.)

With that anecdote out of the way, if your friend is someone who is prone to mood issues, naturally the steroids will make them even more so. So, at times, there really may truly be no reasoning with him, and it's not at all your fault, so try not to blame yourself if your friend blows up over something that is totally innocuous. This may just be one of those things you have to ride out as best as you can, of course setting clear boundaries for what kind of things you will and will not tolerate from your friend. Just because they have a reason to be acting strangely doesn't mean that they get a free pass for outrageous behavior. You could also consider taking nice(?) time-outs for yourself if your friend's behavior is getting to be too much for you.

We all go through these times when our behavior tests the people close to us, and as you've indicated that this friendship is important to you and you know this is just your friend's personality magnified to the extreme, that's all one can really do.
posted by vetala at 10:37 PM on May 4, 2012


I have some super-sensitive friends who I have told, "If I'm ever mad at you for something, I will tell you. I will not make you guess. I will say, 'Friend, I am mad because you did X.'

I agree with Snarl. The sometimes-difficult part of this, though, is that you have to follow through and be honest. I have a close friend with whom I sometimes say, "Wow, you saying that really hurts my feelings," or "To be perfectly frank, the plan you're proposing right now is a little crazypants; it's not something a normal person would do, and it seems to me you're just trying to avoid doing this unpleasant thing that is really the right thing to do."

My friend can trust me when I say, "I think that your feelings about this event are perfectly normal," or "One of your strengths is how gracefully you handle situations like this," because the friend knows that I don't try to flatter them, and I don't say reassuring things I don't truly believe to protect their feelings. If I wasn't sometimes honest about negative things, they wouldn't really believe the positive things.

Now, whether this will work for your friend in their situation, with their medication-complicated depression, or drive the friend away, I can't say. I'll just say I've pursued the same policy with my friend when the friend is feeling relatively stable, and during periods where my friend was kinda coming apart at the seams. I have never regretted being honest, because while sometimes my friend is angry or hurt about what I say—which is extremely painful, because I care about this friend very, very much and don't want to hurt them—they always come back when they've calmed down, and say that it was right for me to say what I did. I do regret some of the times when I've chosen not to be forthcoming with my honest opinion.

Good luck to you and your friend as you weather the storm!
posted by BrashTech at 4:29 AM on May 5, 2012


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