My friend with anxiety won't help himself and I don't know what to do
May 28, 2013 7:10 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine refuses to address his anxiety issues. I don't want to lose him as a friend, but also don't know how much more I can take. Please help.

I have a friend who I've known since college. Let's call him Barry. Barry is an extremely anxious person. For example, he's deathly afraid of losing his job, so he's been signing 6 month leases on his apartment for the past few years. Barry's going to be 40 this year and recently broke up with a semi-long term girlfriend. He is freaking out about not being married or having kids yet. This has caused Barry to become even more anxious than he has been to date.

Barry began dating relatively late in life. Every relationship he's been in has caused him to become extremely paranoid about what the girl thinks of him and whether or not there are signs she will be leaving him soon. He would spend hours on the phone with me and other friends analyzing every little interaction he had with his girlfriend. In 2011, I learned that Barry had been dating a woman for eight months. Let's call her Barbara. He said he didn't want to tell any of us friends because he was superstitious. Barbara clearly told him that she wanted to be married and start a family. Barry also relentlessly dwelled on the negative aspects about Barbara. She wasn't physically active enough, didn't want to have sex often enough, didn't like to discuss politics with him, etc. When the relationship had gone on for a year, I told Barry he needed to figure out whether or not he was ready to commit to Barbara. Barbara wasn't going to hang around forever. Barry told me I didn't know anything about their relationship and that a year was far too soon to know. About six months after that Barbara dumped Barry because he was unwilling to commit.

Since the breakup, Barry won't stop going on about how he should have stayed with Barbara. He says that he's lost his one chance to be married and have a family. The moment they broke up, Barry realized that he always wanted to marry Barbara. Barry even tried to get Barbara to take him back, but was rebuffed.

During his past breakups, I listened to Barry and tried to be as sympathetic as possible. This time, I am trying a tough love approach. I am calling Barry on his BS and letting him know that his anxiety is what caused him to dwell on the negative and lose Barbara. He seems to take what I say to heart, but then says the same things like a broken record a few days later. I feel like I might as well just create some stock emails and texts at this point because our conversations follow such a predictable script. I have told Barry he needs to get into therapy because his anxiety is holding him back. Barry claims that he only has problems with dating and women, and that seeing a dating coach will cure all his problems. I thought I had convinced Barry to give therapy a try, but he texted me the next day and said he would try a few sessions but didn't want to be "psychoanalyzed for the next few years."

I want to be a good friend to Barry, but I don't know how to deal with him in his present state. I want to support him, but am frustrated by his unwillingness to do anything to solve the core issues he has. How can I be the best possible friend while still remaining sane?
posted by stedman15 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think you'll have to be very kind but firm about these subjects. Tell Barry that you will not discuss his fears endlessly while he does nothing about them. Tell him you're changing the subject, and if he keeps returning to it, you'll have to cut the conversation short. Stick to your guns about this, because he's going to try his best to wear you down.
posted by xingcat at 7:15 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Although therapy is the logical course of action, perhaps you can offer this as a middle ground (appealing to the idea that self-help would not entail a long term commitment to therapy, but knowing that you would steer him in that direction if he expressed any positive comments about what he read in the self-help guide). Just a thought.
posted by forthright at 7:41 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


i've found that some people want to talk & complain endlessly about their problems but that is it. they have no intention of actually doing anything to change. talking and complaining is a release for them. that is fine for them but not so fine for their friends who start feeling really drained. so, you have to cut them off at the pass and tell them you think they need more help than you can give them (i.e. go see a therapist) and refuse to keep discussing their problems or you can just keep changing the subject. or both if needed.
posted by wildflower at 7:48 PM on May 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


It sounds like you've done all you can do to try to get him to get help and now it's time to make sure you're taking care of yourself. My sister is like this and wildflower is right: it's incredibly draining. He's going to keep going around and around in his head, but you don't have to listen to it. And I doubt that it's very helpful to listen to it, anyway. It may look like he's analyzing or processing it, but it's only analysis if it gets somewhere--otherwise, it's just obsessing and it's not constructive. I would set limits with him and change the subject when he starts going over it again and again.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:45 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Barry doesn't need a therapist because he has you. You need to adjust your Tough Love stance to mean 'see a therapist' every single time this topic comes up and not try to rationalise this any further with him. I'm saying this because his anxiety is likely preventing him from seeking out professional help - he already has the excuse ready: he texted me the next day and said he would try a few sessions but didn't want to be "psychoanalyzed for the next few years.". That's the anxiety talking.

He needs professional help to allow him to build a proper framework to help him deal with these issues.

Stand firm. Make 'see a therapist' your go-to phrase. Otherwise start charging for your advice.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:15 PM on May 28, 2013


Yeah, agreeing with the others that you are providing him with a safe place to vent when what he really needs is to confront his discomfort with the help of a professional. Time for you to look after your own sanity, too, and stick to your line about seeing a therapist.
posted by rpfields at 12:02 AM on May 29, 2013


When friends need help that we cannot give it hurts. When they keep asking it hurts more. Yet if they were asking you to put a new roof on their house you wouldnt be hurt or feel guilt. So change your thinking such that his cries for help feel as ridiculous as they are and insist he seeks the specialist help he needs.
posted by BenPens at 4:23 AM on May 29, 2013


Ditto he should see a professional therapist. Tell him you can't help, he needs to talk to a therapist instead. Also tell him that you're not going to listen to his anxious rants --- and then follow through: when he starts, tell him you don't want to hear it, and walk away/hang up the phone/delete emails or texts unanswered.

The tough-love approach will be hard for you, especially at first; but hold to it, because only HE can truly help himself.
posted by easily confused at 4:37 AM on May 29, 2013


I forgot to mention that I am not the only person Barry talks to about these issues.

He has other friends who I am convinced are trolling him. One of them convinced Barry to buy a luxury car because he needs to show he's well off to attract women. Another one is telling him to get a mail order bride.

I fear that if I stop being a voice of reason, he will continue with quick fixes like the ones above.
posted by stedman15 at 5:05 AM on May 29, 2013


One of them convinced Barry to buy a luxury car

Maybe you could use this as an example to him of the reason he should be speaking to a third party, so to speak, who is not going to "troll" him and will give him purely professionally based advice in his best interest.
posted by Diag at 5:43 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


You need an intervention here. Gather Barry's friends (not the trolls) and have a come to Jesus meeting with him.

Use an Intervention script.

What you want is this, "Barry, we love you and care about you and seeing you destroy your life with untreated anxiety is unacceptable. We need you to meet with your Primary Care Physician to discuss a drug therapy and we need you to get into treatment with a licensed therapist. Unless and until you do this, we refuse to indulge you in your anxious fugues any more."

Volunteer to go with him to his appointments, just to make sure he gets there.

As a person with anxiety, being on medication has changed my life for the better in so many ways.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I fear that if I stop being a voice of reason, he will continue with quick fixes like the ones above.

Yes, he might do this; and no, it is not your responsibility to stop him. In fact, it may be more responsible to let him make his own mistakes--as excruciating as it is to look on--and get on with your own life. I do not say this lightly; some of my dearest friends are addicts of one sort or another, and it is not easy to "let" them make poor choices, but it's also not healthy for you (or me) to obsess over what decisions that person makes.

Imagine for a minute that there's a post from someone concerned about a friend who simply cannot let go of anxiety about another friend's troubles. What would you advise? I think the refrain of, "Please see a therapist," is a good one. I also think, with a great deal of respect, that you need to let go. If he self-destructs, that is tragic but not your fault.

This may sound heartless, but the fact is that people only change when they're ready. You sound like a loyal friend; keep being that (see upthread for ways to direct him toward therapy), but don't allow this to become your personal failure if you can't "save' him.

I agree he needs therapy, and maybe medication. What he does not need is one person trying to protect him from himself or the ill-advised advice of other friends (therapy would help him sort through those things on his own).
posted by whoiam at 6:36 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


What you want is this, "Barry, we love you and care about you and seeing you destroy your life with untreated anxiety is unacceptable. We need you to meet with your Primary Care Physician to discuss a drug therapy and we need you to get into treatment with a licensed therapist. Unless and until you do this, we refuse to indulge you in your anxious fugues any more."

I think this is a great idea, except change PCP to "this therapist" or "someone on this list of therapists" and drop the drugs part. It not that medication won't be possibly useful, but that adding it can be needlessly alienating. Some people are less open to it and bringing it up can give an excuse not to seek help. If the therapist wants to suggest medication, they will.
posted by dame at 7:20 AM on May 29, 2013


I think you should drop Barry as a friend if he is more inclined to listen to the types of people who tell him to buy luxury cars and mail order brides.

Seriously. He's selfish and self-absorbed, the "anxiety" is a beard for his poor character.

This man is 40. He still isn't mature enough to see others as real flesh and blood feeling individuals.

Cut bait. Find other projects. This one can't be saved by you. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 4:14 PM on May 29, 2013


He seems to take what I say to heart, but then says the same things like a broken record a few days later. I feel like I might as well just create some stock emails and texts at this point because our conversations follow such a predictable script.

Sounds like a plan.
posted by flabdablet at 9:40 PM on May 30, 2013


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