How do you "be there" for someone that pushes people away?
June 21, 2016 6:31 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is pushing people away that he doesn't see on a regular basis. How do i let him know i'm around and i care?

He usually goes 4 weeks to a month without talking, then starts talking again, process repeats itself. Last month he apologized and said his ex girlfriend left him in a bad mental spot and that while he enjoys our conversations he's not the same guy i knew before. He went on to say any friendships outside of the ones he plays card games with he has to force himself away whether he wants to or not.

I more or less told him that if he pushes himself away i'd understand and if he wants to continue talking we can and if not that's fine too. Lately though i'm kind of worried about him but i don't know if there's really anything i can do for him other than just be there when/if he does want to talk about anything.

How do you help someone that pushes themselves away like this once a month or more?
posted by earthquakeglue to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you can help him any more than he will let you. I think letting him know that you're around and you care is probably the most you can do. That alone can be a powerful thing for depressed people who think no one cares. You can try reaching out periodically, but you can't make him respond or open up to you.

I'm sorry.
posted by a strong female character at 6:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Be careful that you aren't actually encouraging this behaviour by giving him positive reinforcement (like unconditional friendship and submerging your own needs) when he has not acted like a friend to you. It is a fine line, but nobody is required to martyr themselves in the name of friendship because of someone else's choice of how to behave.

If this a is a pattern that has lasted for months, in your shoes I would suggest your friend seek professional help and not try to make the situation worse by not setting up healthy boundaries.

Rather than talking (which if you are not a professional can make depression worse through ruminating and getting "stuck") suggest you do something somewhat active together outside, preferably something with small, achievable goals he can feel good about accomplishing.
posted by saucysault at 7:04 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

A data point - I have friends I see only every few months, and I don't talk to them that regularly either. I'm busy and introverted and our schedules don't mesh. And indeed, as an introverted person, the thought of having someone view me as "pushing them away" because we didn't talk for a month seems....well, virtually all my friends except the ones I see for my hobby would think I was pushing them away.

What is so bad about talking to this guy once a month? If that's the level of contact he's up for, why not focus on enjoying the times you hang out? What do you expect from him as a friend that he is not providing?

For me personally, seeing my friends once a month feels fine - if I had a crisis, or if they had a crisis, we might see each other or talk more during that time (and indeed we have) but I don't think anyone in the friendship is feeling neglected.

Does he regret that he doesn't see you more? Or is it more that he regrets that you regret it?

What is he failing to do for you, and are your expectations realistic? If he is a person who cares about you and spends time with you regularly but infrequently, is this something you can live with?
posted by Frowner at 7:08 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

Sometimes i forget that he is an introvert just like i am because he tries not to be when he has to be around people. I don't even do that much, i just turn into a hermit more or less.

We actually haven't seen each other in over a year. We used to have game night at the store he works at and i'd go over every Tuesday but it's since fizzled out. He's been trying to bring it back though(don't know how well that's going) so we'll see i guess.

I guess i'm thinking of how i am with my best friend where we talk almost every day more or less. I really shouldn't assume every friendship will be the same with the same amount of contact, because i have friends i do go months without talking to. I think where we'll talk everyday for a few weeks then he quits is what made me wonder.
posted by earthquakeglue at 7:19 PM on June 21, 2016

This sort of thing: while he enjoys our conversations he's not the same guy i knew before is one of those things that is either some emo crap he'll eventually get over or there will be a restraining order situation, and is nothing you should either indulge or try to address.

If you want to reach out and make the effort to see him periodically even though he's not terribly reciprocal at this point in his life, and it doesn't hurt you to do so, that's fine.

I have depression and social anxiety issues and appreciate my friends (many of whom have similar issues) understanding I have better and worse times, and I do the same for them, but if any of them made a big deal about "pushing away" or "being there for me" I'd have to bail because I can't handle them centering themselves in my mental illness like that and it's embarrassing for both of us. Less is more, here. Your presence is enough of a big speech about not giving up and all that.

Obviously, if you think he is already or is going to hurt himself, you should say/do something regardless of its damage to the friendship due to embarrassment.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:20 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

An additional note: the behavior you describe is actually retreating, not pushing you away. Pushing you away would have to have something to do with you specifically, like being inappropriate or abusive to you. He has a right to retreat, and you have a right to decide it's not worth trying to draw him out or not tolerate it if he is being crappy to you.

If you want to help him, maybe see if you can help him get his game night going again. That can be a lot of effort for someone when they're at a low tide and pitching in can be a big help.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:24 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Does anyone ever come back around after retreating? I guess i don't feel like i should just go after him every time he stops talking. I don't know if i'd really consider it as crappy either if that's the way he deals with his feelings.
posted by earthquakeglue at 7:37 PM on June 21, 2016

you really don't understand "introversion"

"the way he deals with his feelings" is a very awkward way of framing what you're attempting to talk about.
posted by yesster at 9:13 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like he's trying to get out of it, with the game night - you could express interest in that and ask if you can do anything to help get it going, maybe? Work with him when he expresses the desire to do things, if you want to. I also don't think there's anything wrong with inviting him to things you think he'd like (a concert, ball game, etc, maybe not a party for now). Even if he doesn't go for it, knowing someone is thinking of him might be important (and useful) to him.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:16 PM on June 21, 2016

@yesster: Considering i am an introvert i'd hope i'd understand introversion at least to some degree. Maybe it's just been awhile for me as far as ex relationship feelings are concerned to remember how i dealt with them, and compare them to what he's doing which is what i should have done all along. He's doing what i would do if i had an ex that left me in a bad position mentally.
posted by earthquakeglue at 9:54 PM on June 21, 2016

I have a best best best friend who I chat with and email almost daily... and yet every once in awhile, all of her social media accounts disappear, and she disappears for a week, maybe two, maybe three (tops).

Retreating is NOT something that me or my family does. We talk our problems to death. We seek comfort and company. So when my girlfriend does this, for years, I would needlessly worry about trying to lance and draw out whatever emotional infection was making her sick.

But she didn't want that. She wanted space. But my *not* checking in with her would make her feel lost and neglected.

So... this is what I've come up with. I don't hear from her for a few days: no problem. Maybe send a text.
A week goes by: I send a text that tells her I'm thinking of her and missing her.
A week and a half goes by: I usually send a joke or gif
Two weeks go by: I may ask if she's doing well
(note: she may not reply to any of this.... this is normal)
Usually by three weeks, she's come around and will fill me in on whatever it was that caused the retreat. Or not. Sometimes it's just a mystery I have to respect.

What she doesn't want: me contacting other people to find her. me harassing her with phone calls, messages or texts, me guilting or making her feel bad for her self-care strategies, or judging how she wants to cope with emotional pain.

Each friendship is unique. Don't take it personally, because it's probably not. If you can pre-arrange a comfort plan or "I'm there for you" signal, it could go a long way.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:40 AM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh: I should add that my approach means that I risk losing my friend if she never comes around.

... but that's a risk I take, for the health of our friendship.

Sometimes I'll let her know when I'll be in touch: "I miss you - I'll text you in a week to see if you're up for [insert favorite activity here]"

As long as you're not worried about this person harming themselves... I say respect their idiosyncrasies and try not to take them personally. They are much more focused on their emotional needs than their social needs.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:46 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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