Is my friend using his personal problems as a weapon against us?
March 29, 2015 5:33 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is having some pretty severe personal issues, but refuses to get help and gets mad at anyone who says anything he even remotely doesn't like. Is it time to cut ties and/or call him out?

I have a friend who has a severely mentally ill wife who has threatened to hurt their children on more than one occasion. He has gotten into an abused spouses program, but wife still lives with the family and continues making everyone's life hell. It's been this way for 4 or 5 years now.

Here's the issue: ever since his wife went off the rails, he's been very high strung and prone to lash out at anyone and everyone who says something he doesn't remotely like.

For example, last year, a bunch of us guys got together for our fantasy football draft. Jokes and insults were flying amongst everyone like they always do. He comes in to the room, someone cracks a joke at his expense, and he immediately says, "HEY! I DO NOT COME HERE TO BE ABUSED!" It made things very awkward for the rest of us, and the group ended up quieting down considerably and walking on eggshells around this guy. He then called me up and said that we don't see each other very often and should have more positive interactions. I said I totally understood and that was not a problem. A couple of days later, we were texting and he starts making fun of me. I gave it back to him a little and he got super upset. Same thing happens a few more times over the next few weeks. Finally, I said to him, "I thought you were wanting us to have more positive interactions?" He says, "Oh yeah." He continued this pattern of behavior. Just because I don't really like dealing with him when he's being like this, we don't really talk very much anymore.

Yesterday, our friend group was having our fantasy baseball draft. We were again joking around and busting balls. He began getting super upset again. He started muttering in a very low voice and then said, "You all know the problems I'm having in my personal life! I do not come here to be abused!" Needless to say, things became super awkward and everyone felt like they had to walk on eggshells. He starts giving some of the other dudes crap and when they gave it back to him, he became super upset again.

I'm at my wit's end with this guy. I understand he's in a bad situation, but he doesn't appear to be doing much of anything about it. When our friend group hangs out together, his behavior always make it really awkward. It almost feels like he's using his personal issues as a weapon against anyone who says something he doesn't agree with.

Is it time for us to start planning things without him? We want to be supportive of his situation, but we also want to enjoy each other's company. I'm just very conflicted about all of this. Any help is much appreciated.
posted by stedman15 to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It actually spunds like he's in therapy and is letting the coping strategies he's using with his wife spill over into your outings.

Why don't you go out with him in smaller groups and let him vent a little before writing him off? Let the guy tell you what's up and discuss the problems it is causing.

Note a lot of time abusers will pretend verbal abuse is a ha ha joke when challenged.
posted by benzenedream at 6:06 PM on March 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

Maybe just don't "bust his balls" right now because, ya know, he's getting a lot of shit at home and his reserves to take ribbing in stride are non-existent. Unless your entire relationship rises and falls on good natured teasing, you don't have much to loose by giving it a rest. Maybe just tell him "Hey, when your dishing it out I assume you're okay to take it. Just let me know if you're not." By the by, being in an abused spouse group is pretty much the operating definition of "doing something" about his situation, even if it means he's still living with his wife.
posted by space_cookie at 6:12 PM on March 29, 2015 [49 favorites]

Yikes. Give the man a break. What space cookie said.
posted by eq21 at 6:58 PM on March 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Could you just not give him hassles right now? Or could you find a mellow time to ask him about this? "I've noticed...[xyz]... I don't think any of us want to abuse you. We want to include you in the joking around, especially when you're joking. Is there a way we can do some trash talking without crossing those lines for you?"
posted by salvia at 7:12 PM on March 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

Don't "bust his balls" and if he initiates, re-direct.
posted by kapers at 7:37 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's taking language that he's learning from his therapy and using it as a weapon to control his interaction with others. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he pulls the same kind of stuff with his wife, which is part of why the problems with her have been going on for 4+ years.

I'd point blank tell him that you're not going to walk on eggshells around him, especially if he is going to treat others in a way that he can't stand to be treated himself. If he can't handle it the friendship is no longer viable, which will be his fault, not yours.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:14 PM on March 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

Survivors of abuse still need to be reminded that they are responsible for their behaviors in a gentle, compassionate behavior. Yes, they can be at the brunt of abusive situations and learn some fucked up issues relating to a lack of control, but one of the pathways to recovery is to not absolutely mirror that behavior in any other social situation, and recognizing that it is not a good or healthy behavior.

However, it seems like you've been trying to do that for four years and he is not simply owning up to his side, and his own power dynamics and taking out hurt, which is influencing your group and making them not at ease. He is also repeatedly not respecting your boundaries, and keeps shuffling away from the consequences of that. I would discuss amongst the group what their feelings are and if they have any feelings or suggestions, and then you or you and a friend can sit down and discuss all the reasons why the boundaries are not being respected, and what will happen next time if he doesn't owe up to his part. You aren't responsible for his personal life, but you are responsible for your own health and wellbeing.
posted by yueliang at 8:18 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Plan things without him. Nobody likes a wet blanket. It's a shame about his wife, but everybody has problems.
posted by Rob Rockets at 8:40 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know. Could it be that what you are considering normal ball busting is actually over the line in some way? When you say he's "giving some guys crap" is it possible that there's some kind of content difference which is important to him but which your group doesn't note?

If he really is such a good friend, why don't you focus on one-on-one interaction with him for a while? Or maybe just not "gently" insult him in group settings. The examples you give only show him reacting if people are making fun of or insulting him-- isn't it possible to be fun without doing that? (Or are there examples you aren't showing where he overreacts in the absence of joshing.)
posted by frumiousb at 8:48 PM on March 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

My therapy has revolved around boundaries and yes, friends have had negative reactions when I begin asserting them. I don't care about 'joshing' because jokes are meant to be funny. You're obviously not been funny, just unpleasant to him, and he's well in his rights to say "I'm not here for this". He has to protect himself and you are not helping him, you're making it worse. Actually be and remain positive and it will help.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:42 PM on March 29, 2015 [11 favorites]

Sounds like he doesn't fit in with your group anymore. He doesn't seem to enjoy himself around you all very much. I can understand him not liking insult humor--I personally can't stand it unless it's really mild--but if that's how he feels, then why is he hanging out with people who are really into it? It's like a recovering alcoholic hanging out at the bar and getting pissed that there's alcohol everywhere.

It's disrespectful for him to try to make everyone else change just because he doesn't like the way they are. If other people in the group agreed that these jokes were inappropriate then that would be one thing, but they don't. They're all happy with themselves and enjoying the interaction. If he doesn't like you the way you are then why is he hanging out with you? Just to make you feel bad? Just to force you to be someone you're not? It's disrespectful.

It's different when things are one-on-one, because it's easier to be flexible and agree on the rules of your friendship in a more personalized way. He doesn't like that sort of humor? He wants things to be extra polite and respectful towards each other? Okay, if you're cool with that then it's fine. But he needs to follow his own rules. If he wants you to treat him with an extra level of care and politeness then he needs to give the same respect back to you.

If I were in your position I would have a one-on-one conversation with him about why he wants to hang out with ya'll when he doesn't seem to enjoy himself. I would also ask him if he thinks it's fair to make fun of you but not allow you to do it back. If he tries to blame it on his wife, then ask him what he's doing to address that situation. Yeah, I think you should call him out on his bullshit a little bit. He wants to be serious and confrontational? Give him serious and confrontational. It'll probably turn into a little bit of a fight, to be honest, but maybe that's what it'll take to get him to recognize that he's alienating everyone around him.
posted by sam_harms at 12:11 AM on March 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

It sounds like your friendship interactions in the group are based around teasing insults.
It also sounds like he is discovering how much he hates that kind of thing, but is still so enmeshed in the group dynamic that he sometimes automatically joins in. (The mixed message of insulting you, then getting upset at the rejoinder.)
It sounds like he is starting to stand up for himself, both to his wife and to you. And perhaps overshooting the mark.

Maybe theseare just growing pains or maybe he will always hate that kind of group dynamic. Either way, nice me would lay it out to him: Teasing is the way of the group and this is not likely to change. Though the group will make an effort to avoid teasing him, but if he does it himself first, that's not a reasonable demand. Maybe he needs different friends.
Not so nice me would just avoid inviting him to anything.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:48 AM on March 30, 2015 [11 favorites]

He's doing the right thing in stating a boundary, and it's on you to respect that boundary. I too can't stand insults from people I care about.

However, I also think that if he can't take it he shouldn't be dishing it out. Being under a lot of stress doesn't give you the right to treat other people badly, nor is it an excuse for doing so. Also, if the dynamic of your group is teasing and insults, and the rest of you are OK with that, then it's on him to decide whether or not he wants to be putting himself in that situation. He presumably has the right to walk away if he's not having a good time. It seems like he's doing all of the "attacking" here.

Hanging with friends is meant to be a fun thing. If it's not a fun thing, then stop doing it. That goes for him AND you. If he's dragging all of you down, then stop spending time with him. He's not having much fun with you all, it sounds like, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem for him. If you want to be really adult about it, have a sit down conversation with him where you explain what's going on, so he has a chance to sort his behaviour out. Constantly lashing out at people will push them away, and so will insulting them without giving them the chance to insult you back. Perhaps he needs to hear that.
posted by Solomon at 2:51 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

- Don't have him at big group outings. The dynamics of larger groups might be a bit too much for him.

- You get as much as you dish. Use that as a rule with him. Let him know that that's the rule. If he talks crap then whines, remind him.
posted by Neekee at 6:18 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just a guess:
a) When he is hanging out with his friends, he is in a space where he does not feel he has to fear abuse (unlike home). Sometimes the powerless will take any opportunity to feel powerful, even if it's meaningless and temporary. Opportunities like making fun of your friends, which can certainly be an expression of affection but don't *necessarily* sound that like that here.
b) Again because he is in a safe space, when challenged he is rapidly shifting gears out of either over-sensitivity or an attempt at controlling his emotional space by using language learned in therapy. I would not have said that without multiple people suggesting it was phrasing learned in therapy, by the way; to me it just sounds like "power word" speech meant to end or preclude discussion on a point he is emotionally unwilling to negotiate on.

So, you can either accept that your dude has to be given the space to verbally give what he's not willing to take (and if you or your group are oriented properly you may very well be able to do that for him) either temporarily or permanently, or you can have a conversation that goes very roughly like this:

"Great, great, you did not come here to be abused. Well neither did we buddy. Either what you're doing is abusive (since when we do it to you it appears to be), or what we're doing isn't (since, when you do it, it appears not to be abusive). Just pick one and tell us how it will be."

You mention that he attacks people who say things he "doesn't agree with", but your specific examples are in the "chiding/joking/razzing" interaction category. It would really help to know if all of this is centered around his outbursts in response to playful joking, or if he is also inclined to ruin the mood over things like the wrong case of beer, or movie opinions he doesn't agree with.
posted by Poppa Bear at 11:28 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's okay to tell him about behaviors you don't want to tolerate from him. For example, it may be fine for him to ask you all not to make fun of him -- but it's not okay to yell about it. You should tell him to keep his voice down.

When talking to him about whatever unfriendly stuff he's doing, resist the temptation to talk about a lot of things at once, or even about patterns. Avoid saying "you always" or even, "you have a tendency to...." Just speak about one instance -- the one that's happening right now, or the most recent one. Then next time, you can talk about one more thing if you need to.

Boundaries that you set are for you; they're not an occasion to tell him what to do. "If you're going to shout angrily, I'm going to take a break from talking to you."
posted by wryly at 3:06 PM on March 30, 2015

Man, I really empathize with your friend's reactions-- not everyone can handle public social undermining with the requisite cool, dudebro-ish aplomb. Especially when the barb suddenly hits too close to home, and he didn't see it coming, or the guy saying it had been over-the-top jerky to him in some capacity before and you didn't know it. The sad truth is this: your group is sooooo not a fit for this poor guy unless he changes his reactions yesterday. This crew is not going to be protective of his heart at all -- and he's already been labeled the shit-disturber already, whether any of them have said words to that effect to you yet or not. If that were me, and nobody in the group defended me or supported me privately after the fact against whatever shitty insult that guy said to him that made him respond: "HEY! I DO NOT COME HERE TO BE ABUSED!" (um, awesome. someone please put that on a bumpersticker) - I'd have dumped your group from my life long ago. And yet not shockingly the same force that possibly keeps the guy in his bad-fit marriage is also keeping him in this bad-fit group-- nevertheless, the guy is in desperate need of good, solid, supportive friends right now, and probably deep down senses how he is fucking this up, so I get his overreactions completely. He does not fully realize how he is pushing people away (because: your repeated, collective silent eggshell-walking.) Who is going to tell him this? Hmm..... How about you, OP?

"I'm just very conflicted about all of this." That's to be expected when you care about a friend in crisis and maybe have this notion that you should be there for him, but you increasingly just don't enjoy any of your interactions anymore. I'll note your word choice here: you are no longer looking at this situation from the 1:1 friend perspective with your friend anymore, rather you've framed this in terms of your group's collective "we" -- and have individually slow-faded him, you say: "because I don't really like dealing with him when he's being like this, we don't really talk very much anymore." Fair enough, but I think you should tell him how the group is reading his behaviors so that HE can decide if he wants to conform or leave... before the group goes ahead and decides that for him.

Know what you want, OP. To resolve the "conflict" you're feeling, you have got to figure out for yourself what you want the type of friendship or acquaintanceship, if any, to look like. You don't like your interactions with the guy. Good for you for pulling back then before you said or did something regrettable. You wish he would take the insults just like all the other boys do? Read the room a lot better? Basically, you'd like him to perform the role of "Guy in the fantasy draft groups" according to all of the correct, unstated social norms of your male groups -- first and foremost seems to be the ability to both dish it out and take it. Be brave enough to meet with him 1:1 and directly tell him this: "Hey man, I feel like you do not really value being in the fantasy groups anymore. Can we discuss this privately please?" And hear what he has to say. If the conversation goes there, spell it out for him. "No more outbursts. Don't escalate shit you can't finish. Don't get so emotional." Say what you want. Say what he needs to do to fit in better with this specific group, and help him out.

And DO bring up the fact that you already said some of this before: When I said "I thought you were wanting us to have more positive interactions?" HERE's what that looks and sounds like in the fantasy groups. And spell it out again. Because here's what I think is going on with you and him currently: He then called me up and said that we don't see each other very often and should have more positive interactions. I said I totally understood and that was not a problem. Translation: "Oh shit, stedman15, I thought we were closer friends. So why didn't you have my back when Jim said that shit to me, or at least check with me after the fact to see if I'm ok. I'd really like for us to be closer friends!" He hasn't asked you for what he wants. You didn't give the support he was looking for. So he's trying to fit in with the "ball busting" norms of your group, but the trouble is, that's not who he is, and so he is actively working out what his boundaries are and he's struggling to fit in. Probably he should quit, but he needs friends in his life because the abuse he is taking at home is isolating him. Know what I mean? I think you should take many deep breaths, give him some honest and caring feedback privately, and maintain warm relations with him.

When our friend group hangs out together, his behavior always make it really awkward.

Note the attribution there: you're not blaming the man/men who made the triggering comments that caused him to respond by enforcing a boundary twice, publicly. "Always" is an overstatement -- you have described exactly 2 interactions here. It takes more than twice to be an "always." Give that some thought, too, before you permanently assign the label of "Person Always In The Wrong." You are a good egg for writing this Ask. Carry on, and good luck!
posted by hush at 5:41 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

A couple of days later, we were texting and he starts making fun of me. I gave it back to him a little and he got super upset.
This is the point when I think you should meet or call him and talk about the difference between what he said to you and what you said to him. Why does he feel hurt when you tease him but is okay teasing you? There may be a real difference that he sees in the teasing that he can explain to you. You can tell him that you feel unsure about what to do when he jokes with you but doesn't seem to want you to joke with him. If you two are able to come to an understanding about that specific incident, then you could say that you feel like similar situations have played out in the past and discuss those as well.
posted by soelo at 1:26 PM on April 3, 2015

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