How to have a compassionate distancing from a stressful friend?
December 11, 2016 8:28 PM   Subscribe

The friend in question is highly manipulative and struggles with BPD. In the wake of a mental health crisis of my own, I kinda don't want to maintain a friendship with someone who recently crossed a very big line with one of our mutual friends. Snowflakes inside.

This friend, let's call her Linda, had been part of a highly codependent group of friends which I was also a part of. We were each others only mental support during difficult times, and the stress from that year still weighs on me. There were multiple suicide attempts by her, she got angry and still hasn't forgiven me for institutionalizing her, and she lied multiple times about having attempted by overdose. She managed to talk her way out of an institutionalization after that last one - I have no idea how. I think its worth mentioning that my friends and I have very poor boundaries. I'm finally setting some of my own, but it's a fragile process.

This brings me to the line that she crossed. She had a long conversation with one of my friends from the codependent Hell Circle referenced above about how she had a gun, and ended it with "wow I can't believe you believed that, I've been institutionalized and can't get a gun in this state." Which I would believe except she's lied to us about this stuff before, and she skirted around the secret she was going to tell for a long time.

Quite honestly, I don't want to deal with this anymore. However, I'm of two minds. I think that everyone deserves empathy, and I want to give it to her, but I can't be dealing with things like this every two weeks while I'm trying to focus on my own recovery process. Any ideas how the conversation should go?
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is it necessary to have a conversation, particularly if you are pulling back from "codependent Hell Circle" as a whole?

You could just make it generally known that you've got a lot going on and don't have time to be as social as you used to be. These things happen, people pull away from circles from a variety of reasons - sometimes announced, sometimes not - and sometimes they come back and sometimes they don't and people generally get over it.

Perhaps everyone deserves empathy - but you do not always have to be the person who delivers it. And you can be empathetic from a healthy distance, too. Take care of yourself.
posted by bunderful at 8:43 PM on December 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

Mentally ill people of course deserve compassion, but that is trumped by the importance of staying well away from mentally ill people with guns, or lying about having guns. I think this is the perfect situation for the "slow fade". You do not want to have a difficult emotional friend break-up with someone who is mentally ill and may have a gun, or who is happy to gas-light people about guns.

Have her calls go to voice mail 99% of the time. When you do converse, you are in the middle of something really important and only have 5 minutes, but it was nice to catch up. You are too busy with other things to accept any invitations right now. Emails or texts go unanswered for longer and longer each time, until she stops expecting to hear back regularly. If she asks about any of this, you have "stuff going on, sorry for being flaky".
posted by lollusc at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

TBH the slow fade with someone with BPD will not limit drama. It's more likely to ramp up the bids for attention and mix them with bids for rejection. I would personally consider a short phone conversation in which you tell her that you are cutting off contact because interacting with her is interfering with your recovery. I would then say that this is not an option and that no matter what happens, you will not be in contact with her. Then I would block her from every medium of communication possible, and the next time you do hear from her, I would hang up immediately, archive the message, or whatever and absolutely not respond. If she threatens, do not respond, call 911.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:28 PM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's ok to say no to people with mental illness.

It sounds like you are getting better at recognizing what's good for you and what isn't. There used to be a saying in the 70's in 12 step recovery - "it's a selfish program". It fell out of use because it sounded so harsh. But it's true. Our recovery has to be first before we can be helpful to others in a healthy way. People who are deep into their acting out are not going to take it sitting down if one of their audience members tries to exit. It is ok to exit. It is ok to say, I can't take it anymore. I care about you but I cannot participate anymore. You will be blamed. You will get over it and they will find a new audience.

Take care. These things are difficult to get through.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:52 PM on December 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

The line she crossed was something she said in conversation with another person, and you are never going to be able to control Linda's conversations with others. I'm not sure why you need to be dealing with the ramifications of that conversation at all? It also sounds like you are both part of a closely knit group of friends, and it is hard to either slow fade or clean break in that situation. I guess my question is, what do you want this compassionate distancing to look like? To never speak to her or hear about her again? To be friendly with her, but not expected to engage with her negative behavior? I think the answer to that question will determine the best way to proceed.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:48 AM on December 12, 2016

Everyone deserves empathy, including you. Let it be known, not just to Linda but to the whole circle, that you just won't be available to deal with that kind of drama as you need to focus on your own stuff. Since it sounds like a lot of the drama is transmitted indirectly, tell them that you can't listen to tales about the others, including Linda. Make it about you and your needs, not anyone else's "wrong" behaviour.

And then find some new people to keep you busy! This will all feel more authentic if you really do have other things going on.
posted by rpfields at 5:08 AM on December 12, 2016

I think that everyone deserves empathy, and I want to give it to her

Sure, that is totally AOK as a conceptual thing. There's a reason AskMe often talks about "putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping others." Sometimes the things you need to do for yourself to stay baseline alive are things that may exclude other people. And this isn't because you're trying to be exclusionary or mean or any of that, it's because recovery is challenging and sometimes there are things about your interactions with other people that directly threaten that recovery.

So, I think you are doing the smart thing and getting some better boundaries around negative interactions that are adversely affecting your mental health. Even under the best of circumstances, relationships with people who have BPD are challenging. And I think the hardest part of some of this for you may be that you're going to have to make some unilateral decisions that aren't going to be popular with others, not just Lind.

So I agree with others, I'd say no conversation, just a slow fade and prepare yourself for dealing with some "extinction burst" of drama from Linda when she realizes she can't get a rise out of you. And tell your friends that you're not going to get stuck in the web of Linda drama anymore, that they are welcome to do what they want or need to do, but that you'll be supportive of their challenges with her but not be engaging with them about it. It's not about the gun and it's not about her anger with you about being institutionalized, it's about you and what you need for you. "This drama is bad for my recovery. I wish everyone the best but I have to take a step back from this" Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:45 AM on December 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Prepare for backlash from the "codependent circle of hell" if you break the ranks. You may suddenly find yourself the bad guy for refusing to put up with her. Your boundaries will feel threatening to your friends.
So shore up those relationships you have that make you feel good and strong. Hang out with those people more. Cut back contact with those people who give you grief and drama.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:48 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering if you are feeling that it's your fault that this relationship isn't working for you. No matter how great a friend you are it sounds like you are putting all of the responsibility on yourself to keep the relationship healthy, interesting and sustainable. There are many relationships not worth pursuing and it's not due to your lack of social skills or tolerance, whatever, but it's just not a good fit. The conversation can be very short and kind and repeated as needed. Something along the lines that you are overextended, wish her well because I believe you would really mean it.
posted by waving at 11:10 AM on December 12, 2016

I dealt with an analogous (though nowhere near so extreme) situation by cutting off the entire "codependent Hell Circle." There were people in the Circle who I liked, and wouldn't have minded continuing friendships with, but being friends with them meant either continued contact with my own personal Linda (bad for me) or the rest of the Circle somehow deciding to cut her out (not likely, and also not something I wanted). My life got instantly better after cutting ties (I ghosted, which I'm not proud of per se, but I don't regret). In the years since, some of the Circle have reached out via various social media and I'll friend/follow them back if I can verify from their public info that they don't interact with Linda anymore. A few have asked what happened and I tell them the truth: it wasn't them, it was me.

I think that everyone deserves empathy, and I want to give it to her, but I can't be dealing with things like this every two weeks while I'm trying to focus on my own recovery process.

Everyone does deserve empathy. But empathy is felt, not given. You obviously feel empathy for her because you aren't telling her to go to hell with her drama. But you need to take care of yourself. As much of a fan of ghosting as I am, you might want to consider just letting her know that you need a break. Don't tell her how long, or even why. Just leave it as "I need to take some time to figure myself out." If/when she persists, tell her once that you hope she'll respect your needs, and when she persists again, block her.

If she can't have the compassion for you to give you the space you require, then you certainly don't owe her anything either.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2016

Dealing with BPD is rough. gonna sound hella cold but I'm seconding possibly giving a heads up, and just cutting all contact. Drama will most likely ensuse. Hang tight, it will eventually pass.

Youve already done a lot for her, and shes still in a mess. You cant carry her problems for life, its not how it works. her issues are not yours to fix, youre not her therapist, doc or SO. Go go go and take care
posted by speakeasy at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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