OMG! Dramatic friends.
April 20, 2007 12:51 PM   Subscribe

What are the best ways of dealing with dramatic friends, to give them the love and support that they need without rewarding their dramatic strategies?

I like people that are unusual and/or artistic and so, at any given time, I have a few "dramatic" friends. These are people in their 20s or 30s who will abruptly stop emailing when they're feeling low, go to parties and sit in a corner glowering if they had a bad day, delete their LiveJournal or MySpace accounts when they perceived they've been slighted by other friends, etc.

In the past, when a friend suddenly stops emailing me, I get in touch right away and ask them how they are, give some listening and attention, and follow-up every few days with little notes and things so that their inbox isn't empty. It always results in my friend cheering up and communicating their feelings to me, so I feel like I've done a good thing. But at the same time, I feel like a sucker, because invariably the friend was just peevish or depressed in the way that strikes all people, and the drama wasn't necessary. So I feel like I'm being tested to see if I care about them, because it's on me to notice their mood or behavior and then come to them and ask how they are.

I like lots of the other attributes of these friends, so I don't want to ditch them entirely. Also, these snits or depressions never directly have to do with me (I've never caused the slight/hurt); I'm just the compassionate listener and advice-giver. So I'd like to continue to contribute to these friendships in a caring way, but I'm really tired of the tests and drama. How can I be a good friend without rewarding or playing into the dramatic tactics of these people?
posted by xo to Human Relations (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't speak for your friends, but I am "artistic" (and also have bipolar type two) and for me I "drop off the face of the earth" because I have trouble coping with people during certain parts of my illness. It has nothing to do with people altho sometimes something minor will trigger it. I do best if left alone till I feel better.

So, maybe some of your friends really do need to be left alone till they feel better?
posted by konolia at 1:07 PM on April 20, 2007 [7 favorites]


If they're real friends, you should always call them on their shit. Immediately. That's part of being a good friend.

Do not acknowledge any low-level efforts to get attention—just pretend everything is fine. Respond to more overt efforts by saying "Let me know when you feel like being a grownup." If a friend is testing your friendship, tell them flat out "Do not test my friendship. I promise I'll fail your test."

Of course, if they've got real problems, compassion trumps all that. But if they're threatening suicide because their stylist died their hair the wrong shade of black, they deserve a verbal bitchslap.
posted by adamrice at 1:09 PM on April 20, 2007


Come up with a drama-deflating way to call them on their shit. Like, print up stickers that say "CHEER THE FUCK UP" and stick them on their doors, bags, foreheads, etc. when necessary.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:11 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


You and my g/f should form a support group.

In the past, when a friend suddenly stops emailing me, I get in touch right away and ask them how they are, give some listening and attention, and follow-up every few days with little notes and things so that their inbox isn't empty.

Here's the simple answer- don't be so quick to send that email. Either your friend is (a) just dealing with a lot of crap and doesn't have the time/inclination to email, or (b) being passive-aggressive and opening the door for you to walk through.

Either way, it's you who is initiating this, and it's you who needs to stop. It's OK to check in with your friends, but it's not your responsibility to intercede at the slightest deviation from the norm. Next time it happens, wait until you actually have a practical reason to talk to them, or until you otherwise happen to see them, and then use it as an opportunity to "by the way", ask how they're doing.
posted by mkultra at 1:18 PM on April 20, 2007


So I feel like I'm being tested to see if I care about them, because it's on me to notice their mood or behavior and then come to them and ask how they are.

You feel this way because you're right. You are being played.

Drama = desire for attention. It's a performance. That's why it's called drama.

Do not provide them with the attention they're craving, because it only rewards and reinforces the behavior. If you still want to hang out with them, let them know you hate this aspect of their behavior. And if it continues anyway, they're showing you that they have no respect for you and are attempting to manipulate you. Do you really want to hang out with people like that?

You have bigger fish to fry in your life than dealing with the painfully artistic. Go hang out with the truly artistic.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:23 PM on April 20, 2007 [5 favorites]


nthing every word of Cool Papa Bell. Friends should not be such a burden...and should not need validation from others to see if you're paying attention or whatever. (Especially via myspace and LJ, which are pits of dramatic stew). Of course, if people are going through legitimate difficult periods (deaths, stress, work, relationships, what have you) then be sympathetic to them. If it feels like a test, looks like a test, smells like a test, though...

Dramatic people are interesting to have as friends. In the end, though, if you want friends, have them - dramaticus personae aren't always capable of having that, especially if the audience member demands an adult friendship.
posted by rmm at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Stop being friends with them. Do not buy into their weak-ass attempts to manipulate you into paying attention to them. People who believe this crap or exhibit sympathy or ask them what's wrong are just perpetuating the problem of these histrionic, self-obsessed douches.

Dump them. Friendship should be fun.

Also, I find that most of the histrionic types are generally far more into seeming creative and interesting than actually being it.

On preview, Cool Papa Bell has it pegged.
posted by mckenney at 1:35 PM on April 20, 2007


Yeah, these are all classic ploys for attention. Now, that doesn't mean that genuine pain can't be behind them. People can absolutely become addicted to misery and sympathy.

When it comes to resolving this, you'd do well to tread lightly. You'll not really have this solved until you and your friend sit down to talk like grown-ups. Since your friend is acting like a sullen teenager, this talk has disastrous potential. Speak clumsily, and there's a fair chance that you'll become the NEW source of drama, rather than the resolver-enabler. Some people need drama like they need food, and will seize every opportunity to blow up over something.

Take care to express all the ways you enjoy them. Make sure they know that you will always stand ready to aid them in true times of need, but these endless chases after them are wearing on you. Tell them that you enjoy the friendship, but the constant collapsing is complicating things.

As for day-to-day maintenance, I'd reckon you've come to recognize the signs of impending melancholy. In conversation, you can try to head this off some by shifting the topic towards things that interest and excite them. If you let them sink too deep into the doldrums before attempting this, it won't work. But if you can get in front of it and gently tug their focus back to what gives them joy, you might see some results.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2007


It is possible that you're being played. It is also possible that these people genuinely are feeling deeply hurt about what seems like a small slight. Just because Dramaqueen's reaction may be disproportionate doesn't mean that contempt or mockery or anger are appropriate responses.

I feel like the best shield against passive-aggressive pleas for attention is to stop reading anything into people's behavior, and treat people as if they were saner than they are. Don't take it personally. Don't assume you need to fix it. Assume that nothing is wrong until you get a clear, non-passive-aggressive message about it. Don't give any more attention to the latest crisis du jour than it deserves--don't berate the overreaction, just let it go. "Man, that sucks. So, want to catch a movie?"
posted by Jeanne at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


If they're real friends, you should always call them on their shit.

But you should be certain that it is shit. Turning off one's IM, e-mail and phone for a couple of weeks? I do it all the time. Big deal. I'm not reaching out or being dramatic -- I want quiet, silence and solitude. Or maybe I'm busy with other priorities and reponsibilities.

I disagree with the prevailing sentiment here. It's not always drama. Treating it as such might well lose you a friend.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Respond to more overt efforts by saying "Let me know when you feel like being a grownup."

This is condescending, and I expect my friends NOT to condescend to me. If I'm being a drama queen, then I'm behaving badly. But my bad behavior does not excuse their bad behavior.

It's totally fine -- if I'm being obnoxious -- to ignore me until I stop. It's totally fine to pointedly tell me to stop. But it's not totally fine to tell me to stop in a condescending way.

When in doubt, it's much better to talk about your own behavior than someone else's -- to talk about what you will put up with and what you won't. IF I have a friend who is begging for attention, and IF I feel like confronting him, I will try to say something like, "Sorry, but I can't tolerate that sort of stuff. I'm going to take a break." I'm not judging them; I'm not ordering them to stop. I'm just explaining how I intend to act in these circumstances.
posted by grumblebee at 2:42 PM on April 20, 2007


But you should be certain that it is shit.

Right. If someone is engaging in strangely "loud" behavior, there are (at least) three possible reasons:

1) something really devastating has happened to him, but you don't have all the facts. But if you were in his shoes (e.g. had Bi-polar Disorder, were abused as a child, etc.), you'd act the same way. In other words, his behavior is totally natural under the circumstances, but you're not aware of all the "inputs."

2) he's more sensitive to certain things than you are. A mundane example: I'm a "super taster." If something tastes "yucky" to me, I can't tolerate it in my mouth. It really makes me gag. This syndrome wasn't recognized or taken seriously until recently. Throughout my childhood, when I couldn't manage to swallow even a small bite of certain foods, I was repeated accused of being a drama queen. I wasn't being one. Eating mustard tastes to me the way eating excrement tastes to you. There are many ways in which person A can be more sensitive -- genuinely more sensitive -- to certain things than person B. (More sensitive does NOT mean better, more "soulful" or more artistic. It means certain stimuli hit person A's nervous system harder than they do person B's.)

3) he is feeling a small reaction on the inside, but he's playing it up for attention.

This last is the one most of us fine offensive. And most of us -- when faced with histrionic behavior -- assume that it's #3. It might or might not be. Yes, life is short and you can't evaluate everything. Which is why I suggested dealing with yourself and being honest about you can stand. As opposed to judging someone else or labeling them. You're almost definitely right about you. You may be wrong about him.
posted by grumblebee at 2:53 PM on April 20, 2007 [4 favorites]


Consider what these friends might be posting about you on some other board:
"OMG! All I want is a little peace and quiet for awhile but he/she won't leave me alone. The constant e-mailing...I swear he/she's addicted to e-mail. And they won't stop until I give them a little "sharing" so they feel like they've pulled me out. I wish he/she would just accept that this is what I need to do sometimes and stop trying to fix me."

Who's being the real drama queen here? Maybe these people don't define "friendship" as constantly having to satisfy your needs for attention. I agree with solid-one-love, some people just want, on occasion, a bit of quiet and solitude. That's how some people re-energize and it's not necessary a rejection of you or the creation of false drama.

How about stepping back a few yards and just letting them be who they are? Or, if they just can't or won't meet your expectations for friendship, get some other friends. I think if you go at these friends in the way that a few here have suggested, you're going to drive them away anyway.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:19 PM on April 20, 2007


Maybe your friend is dealing with depression. My view on it: I’m going through some serious depression right now that started about a month ago. At that time I stopped communicating with friends or family for a few reasons. 1. When I’m depressed, everything I talk about is depressing. I am a big ball of unhappiness that I don’t want to inflict on my friends. I know they’ll get tired of it real quick so I just choose to back off during this time. 2. When I’m depressed I have no drive to do *anything*. Everything is taxing, including talking to people. I’m not trying to be dramatic or command attention. I just really don’t want to talk to anyone when I’m not myself. I don’t know about your friend, but I thought I would give you my idea of it.
posted by koshka at 3:21 PM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Some people who are dramatic are doing it for the drama and attention. Some people who are dramatic stumbled into that strategy at a young age, and it worked for them, so it's not a conscious manipulation but rather what they consider normal.

I'll give you an idea of this: my 20-month-old daughter has decided to throw epic tantrums when I drop the kids at day care. Oh, how she howls! She didn't always do it, but after an extended illness when she was feeling lousy and crying about everything anyway, we delayed our departure from daycare until she stopped crying. Bing! We taught her that drama works, but at an age where it really isn't premeditated.

So today I drop her off, and her twin brother. She howls at the moon, and (for reasons unrelated and boring) I can't get out of there right away, so her brother decides to give it a go as well. Even works up real tears! Breaking my heart, completely.

Then I finally manage to shoot out, waving bye bye and literally closing the door (gently) in the face of my devastated daughter. Then discovered that the door to the room with the fridge (for their lunches) was locked, so had to go back through the room they were in.

Five seconds, perhaps six, had passed before I came back in. And my tearful son, my angushed daughter? My son was sitting at a table, happy as can be, interacting with another kid. My daughter was all the way on the other side of the room, getting toys. Happy as can be.

So they may not be playing you because they're drama lovers; they may simply have found the strategy worked when they were young, and wrapped it into their worldview as normal.

and yeah, we have some work to do with ourselves and our kids to get 'em past this.
posted by davejay at 3:55 PM on April 20, 2007


As others have said, your friends sound depressed to me. My advice to you is that you try to be sensitive and supportive to them to a degree that doesn't unduly upset you or interfere with your life. When it gets to be too much, put a bit of distance between yourself and these friends. After all, even a good friend can't solve another person's problems. However, I would try not to judge your friends' reactions because this sort of response is very likely due to abuse in childhood, depression, and other valid (non-selfish, non-dramaqueenish) reasons.
posted by mintchip at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2007


Seconding what others have said: it may be drama, but it may be depression. If the former, yeah, that's rather a pain to deal with, and it'd be a good idea to tell them that it's bothering you a little - in a compassionate way. But I'd ask that you try to get their side of the story before writing them off as drama-queens. I've been struggling with depression for years, and yeah, I've ended up engaging in pretty much all of those behaviours.

Stop emailing? Yup. Not because I want friends to email me and reassure me [which sadly doesn't always help], but because I can't seem to manage even minor interactions, and because I'd rather not inflict my current mental state on anyone else: I'm aware that I'm irrational and over-sensitive when depressed, and can end up getting into painful and pointless arguments then, and I'd rather avoid that. I don't want them to see me in this state either.

End up sitting in the corner of a party looking depressed? Yup. Not because I want attention, but because I'm trying to figure out what to do. Sometimes a depressive fit strikes in the middle of something: I can be at a party, socializing and having a good time, and then it's like the tide turns. Maybe there's a proximate cause [a comment or something], maybe there isn't, but the process it sets off makes rather less sense. And so I'm stuck trying to figure out whether it's a brief thing that I can push through, or whether I should try to get out before things get worse. This is often compounded by the fact that I generally did want to be at these events, talking with these people, and I'm loathe to give up on it because of my stupid depression.

Taking myself off mailing lists? [I don't do the MySpace/LJ thing]. Yup. Again, not for drama [I generally don't expect anyone to notice] but rather because I can't deal with some aspect of the thing: emails to the list are making me feel guilty for being a depressed hermit, or irrationally annoying me, or something.

Which is all to say: much of this may have as little to do with whatever the proximate cause was as it has to do with you. Sure, the event might seem like something that results in being "peevish or slightly depressed" in the way that happens to all people, but unfortunately, depressed people aren't everyone else, and it can be a constant struggle to keep your head above water. You might consider broaching the possibility of depression with your friends: if they're already trying to treat it, you can figure out depression-specific ways to help, and if they aren't, it might be worth it for them to look into starting. But if it's depression, please be patient: they don't want to act this way any more than you want them to act this way.
posted by ubersturm at 9:32 PM on April 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm a lot like your friends, I suppose. I'm introverted, "unusual", deeply emotional and highly sensitive (also bipolar 2 and an INFP and all of those other things).

When I'm feeling low, I withdraw from social activities, stop any online journaling (especially if the immediate cause of my low feelings is someone who might be reading there), and I can't really hide my displeasure if I have to be at a party. Until recently, it would never have occurred to me that I was being "dramatic" when I tried to keep things to myself and deal with my own issues. I never want anyone else to feel badly and I generally feel like I'm the one best capable of dealing with my sensitive reactions and emotional swings. If a friend insists on "drawing me out", it would probably hurt if I later found out they thought my concerns were minor and peevish. I might think they should have left me alone then, but that's probably not the best strategy either, not from their point of view.

I appreciate your empathy and your willingness to support your friends, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel to be "drained" by your friends in this way. But since you can't change your friends (only yourself) and you asked for coping strategies, I would recommend the following:

1. If they "withdraw" and you sense that there's something going on, just send a short, supportive email letting them know you're thinking about them. Perhaps send an uplifting story or something funny. Maybe share some music with them. Then go on with your day. Keep doing this often so you feel like you've reached out and kept in touch, and they still feel that connection to society and to you. But this way you're not opening yourself up to being drained by them (unless they respond in email, which ought to be easier to deal with), and if they really are trying to manipulate you, they're not getting much satisfaction and they'll get over it or find another target.

2. If you're at a social gathering and your friend is "glowering in the corner", let them have some space, but do try to include them on conversation if you can. Try acting like there's nothing going on (nothing worthy of your empathetic interventions). Just don't ignore them completely, and don't over-react and single them out. That'll probably end up ruining any fun you might have had and making you more resentful. Sometimes being around other people who are having a good time and including me in it can really help. If not, I'd rather stay at home.

3. If your friend relays their experiences to you and it's "much ado about nothing", just ask them if they're glad they got it all out, tell them you're glad they told you, maybe make some plans, hang up, take a deep breath, and laugh.
posted by Danila at 10:18 PM on April 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think there are some huge assumptions being made early in the thread. My personal experience with depression is that very few mentally healthy people will understand why the things that hurt me hurt me. That's because the very definition of depression is for things that wouldn't under normal conditions cause me pain to cause me pain.

I rather think that this problem is yours, and that you can choose to or not to have it. Don't make so many assumptions about people's intentions. Simply take them at face value -- if they are your friends they deserve that. And if they're hurting over something they're hurting over it. Your ideas of what's worth hurting over are not only irrelevant but pretty judgemental, too. You ideally should be concerned with whether or not they're hurting rather than whether or not in your view they should be.
posted by loiseau at 11:15 PM on April 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


Plenty of people temporarily fall off the face of the earth for reasons that have nothing to do with drama: they need a break from socializing all the time, they're busy, they're depressed...the list goes on.

You don't mention how these friends react once they're back in contact with everyone, which is the most important indicator of whether or not they really are attention whores. Do they whine that you're too selfish to know exactly what they needed/wanted while they were hibernating (i.e., you're not telepathic enough for their tastes)? Or do they act normal or a little sheepish? If it's the latter, you should lay off on the email unless you have reason to suspect it's something serious. They may just want peace and privacy for a while.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 12:41 AM on April 21, 2007


So I feel like I'm being tested to see if I care about them, because it's on me to notice their mood or behavior and then come to them and ask how they are.

It sounds like you have no evidence that you are being tested because you immediately rush to "help" your friends every single time this happens. Has any of these friends ever asked you for help?

To be able to know if your friends are manufacturing drama, you need to stop "helping" them out. If they are upset at you for not caring, that might be manufacturing drama. If they don't notice or aren't too upset by it, then they're not being dramatic, they just deal with sadness by becoming withdrawn.

Here's a question to ask yourself, though: If you actually performed this experiment, and it turns out your friends don't need you as much as you think they do, would you be relieved, or upset?
posted by 23skidoo at 6:00 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


On reflection, thinking about it from the other side, I'm not sure what you want your friends to do. Be stoic? When they don't reach out to anyone for help, but instead try to deal with whatever it is on their own, you draw them out. When they react to that and tell you what's going on, you think it's minor and feel used, like it wasn't worth your concern. Since they didn't make any efforts to elicit your attention in the first place, I'm not sure what you want them to do, and perhaps you should think on that and clarify that.

Do you want them to not show emotion or pain or any negative feelings, because if they do you'll feel compelled to do something about it? And then you'll only resent it. How could they prevent this? By pretending to be happy when they're not? Are friends only for the "major" upsets in life (and I'm only going by your perception that these issues truly are minor)?

I get the feeling you don't believe they are "there" for you the way you are for them. Perhaps you don't share your "minor" complaints and concerns and life foibles with these friends, so you never get what you're giving. It sounds like you do genuinely like them and value their company, but maybe you think they're too self-centered to support you in this same manner. I don't honestly know if you've ever given them the chance.

I thank you for this question, as it is causing me to do some soul-searching. I've lost two friendships over similar issues. One friend who was always "there" to be empathetic and counsel me and listen to my concerns, but he never really shared anything with me, even though by the end I was begging him to. He ended the friendship because I was too draining, and that outweighed whatever fondness he had for me. To him, I was being "draining" when we'd be at a party and I wasn't as happy and outgoing as everyone else, and he'd just have to pay attention to that and try to draw me out. The more I try to keep stuff to myself and deal with it, the more people like him think I'm being overly dramatic. Yet if I blow up or let it out every time I feel like it, then they'd REALLY think I'm being dramatic. So I feel like my only recourse is to try to hide any negative feelings, but that doesn't make any sense to me. So I'm trying to understand this from your point of view.

The other friend I lost was very, very outgoing and she really did not like the fact that we'd lose contact for weeks at a time. She felt like I wasn't being "there" for her. Whereas, if ever I needed her, surely she'd be there for me. Although, again, I never called her when I was feeling down, I never approached her for sympathy or support, and this too bothered her. No matter how often I tried to explain my introversion, and the fact that I don't need to talk about everything and I do need to drop off sometimes, she still felt unsupported and I understand that.

I'd like to learn how to be a better friend so I don't drive people like you crazy. So I'll be watching this with interest, and thanks again for the question. I hope my experiences give you a glimpse into a possible explanation of your friends' behavior.
posted by Danila at 8:56 AM on April 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Being avoidant and being dramatic are two highly different things.

I suggest you learn to decipher the difference in your arsty friends and,
a) leave the avoidants alone when they are down
b) leave the dramatics alone when they are acting out, BUT NOT WHEN THEY ARE DEPRESSED.

Basically, anyone who is eager to have a shouting match while upset, versus just "irish goodbye" style bailing, you should pay attention to when they fade out of life. Otherwise you are probably bugging an introvert.
posted by shownomercy at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2007


go to parties and sit in a corner glowering if they had a bad day

It seems like you are reading a lot into this behavior. Maybe your friends enjoy watching other people interact. Don't assume everyone likes to behave the same way you do.
posted by yohko at 6:19 PM on April 21, 2007


Some good answers came from this thread, so I'll go through and mark them. But overall, people seemed to get bogged down in a discussion of the definitions of depressive VS. dramatic behavior and missed answering the question, which is about people who are acting dramatically (and additionally may or may not also be depressed). These people are deleting their LJ accounts. Depression is when you stop posting for awhile. Drama is when you delete the whole thing and put up graphic placeholders that say "abandoned" in the middle of a blank page.

Danila in particular made some resonant comments, so I'll respond to a few of those here:

On reflection, thinking about it from the other side, I'm not sure what you want your friends to do. Be stoic? [...] Since they didn't make any efforts to elicit your attention in the first place, I'm not sure what you want them to do, and perhaps you should think on that and clarify that.

I actually disappear from contact at times too, but I feel like I don't end up generating worry in my friends or family because of the way that I do it. If I'm in the midst of any email conversations, I write back and say that I'm taking a break and that I'll definitely continue the conversation when I'm next able to. During the break, I continue to respond to any short time-sensitive emails like questions and invitations. If there's someone I normally would have gotten in contact with (say I'm going to be out of touch for a month but I normally email someone every two weeks), I'll write a short note to say that I'm alive but busy.

I feel like the short answers I give to the time-sensitive emails telegraph that I am still approachable if anyone needs something. And in fact I am. So though it's important to me to do disappear if I need to, if my friend sells her apartment or has a fight with her boyfriend or whatever, I am still available and will respond appropriately.

I definitely understand that some people might be too depressed to send these "don't worry" messages and respond to invitations; but if that's the case, shouldn't I worry? If someone is too depressed to be able to write a short email that says, "I'm gonna be busy reading and reflecting for the next few weeks and I'll write again afterwards," I AM worried about them.

Do you want them to not show emotion or pain or any negative feelings, because if they do you'll feel compelled to do something about it? And then you'll only resent it. How could they prevent this? By pretending to be happy when they're not? Are friends only for the "major" upsets in life (and I'm only going by your perception that these issues truly are minor)?

If I visited a friend at her house, and her baby was sitting there in the high-chair crying and whimpering, I really want to pick that baby up. I can't help it; I just do. I want to make little faces; I want to show the baby a duck wearing a hat. But if the baby's mom tells me, "Oh, she's fussy because she hasn't had a nap," I stop worrying about the baby! I know that she's fine, even though she's upset. I know that she'll get better on her own after she's had a nap. I still care about the baby's well being, but I no longer think it's something I can help fix, so I accept it and move on.

So: no, friends of mine don't have to pretend that they're happy. But I am going to worry about them when I can clearly see they're unhappy, because I care about them. If they want me to know that they're feeling down but they don't want me to try to fix it, how would I know that? They know if their stuff is unfixable or not; I don't.

Part of the problem here is that these friends of mine seem to respond to my efforts well. They DO act as though they feel better after a long talk. They tell me they appreciated my emails. They tell me I'm a good listener and have good insights. So if my friend sits glowering and then I spend time with him and then he feels better and says so, I will definitely try that strategy again. If my friend who had been emailing every four days stops responding for two weeks, so I send him an email with one link and then say, "How's things?" and he writes back three paragraphs on how he's doing and what he's been feeling, then I will try that strategy again.

Maybe the people in this thread don't respond like that, but my friends do, as I explained in my original question.

To him, I was being "draining" when we'd be at a party and I wasn't as happy and outgoing as everyone else, and he'd just have to pay attention to that and try to draw me out. The more I try to keep stuff to myself and deal with it, the more people like him think I'm being overly dramatic. [...] So I feel like my only recourse is to try to hide any negative feelings, but that doesn't make any sense to me. So I'm trying to understand this from your point of view.

I can picture my version of this. I'll approach my upset-looking friend at a party and say hi, how are you? He'll say, "Bleh, I'm upset about various things." I'll say, "What things?" And then he'll tell me about them. I'll then feel like I have to honor his telling me because even if I wouldn't have gotten upset about such things I know it's important to him, and so I'll stand there asking follow-up questions and feel like I then can't go return to the bar because now we're talking about his important feelings and how can I leave in the middle of such a conversation and no one has arrived to pass a conversation off to and my friend certainly hasn't changed the subject or asked me how I'm doing or done anything to make me feel like he doesn't want to keep discussing the topic. And then I'll get an email on Monday thanking me for talking to him the whole time at the party.

Whereas he could have said, "Oh, let's not get into the specifics; I'm just here to be around the party energy, please don't worry about me even though I look down. How did that thing go that you did on Wednesday?"

Anyway, I feel like this thread gives me lots of insight into depressed people, but doesn't address the depressed AND dramatic confluence that I'm dealing with. I do feel compassion for the depression part but contempt for the drama part and I don't know how to be a good friend for the first without encouraging the second.
posted by xo at 9:18 AM on April 22, 2007


What you're describing doesn't sound like drama. At all. "Drama" would be that friend at the party going up to everyone they know and sniping at them, or ranting in a monologue about how awful their life is, or refusing to talk to you until you begged and pleaded to know what was wrong.

A friend straight out saying, "Bleh, I'm upset about things" the second you ask, "How are you?" is being honest and straightforward with his feelings.

If you, at that point, don't feel like having the conversation, feel tricked and railroaded, and yet stay in the conversation anyway, then you, in this scenario, are the one who's not being open and honest with your feelings.

The friend is taking care of himself -- he's talking through his feelings with a friend who honestly seems to care about them. That's a good, healthy thing. You are not taking care of yourself -- you are letting yourself get sucked into situations you don't want to be a part of (it actually sounds like you are actively pursuing situations you don't want to be a part of) and then getting resentful.

Your friends are fine with the interactions. You are not, but they don't know that. So this is not something they are doing to you. This is something you are doing to yourself.

Change your approach. If you don't want to talk to a depressed person all night at a party, don't walk up to that person and ask "What's wrong?" Go over with a joke, or get them involved in a bigger conversation, or say, "Hey, you look down; tonight's busy, but maybe we can grab coffee tomorrow and talk?"

With the not responding to email thing, they are telling you what they want -- they want not to respond to emails. You might feel compelled to respond to things, and so you feel annoyed when they don't respond to your emails. So, stop sending emails if they're not responding. Or do what you say you'd do in their place, and model the behavior you'd like -- "Hey, I notice you're not responding to any emails; you must be really busy with stuff. I'll lay off; let me know when you've got some time."

You're trying to enforce your norms of behaviors on people without explicitly telling them what you want, or how their behaviors make you feel, or taking care of your own emotional needs. So you end up feeling used -- which makes sense; you're giving them more than they're giving you, but the reason for that is that they're being really clear about what they need and you're not.

Your behavior, while perfectly acceptable and remarkably empathetic, is obviously not the norm for this group of people. So stop railing against their inconsideration and instead, do what they're very nicely doing for you: Teach them how you'd like to be treated, and take care of your own needs first.
posted by occhiblu at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Change your approach. [...] say, "Hey, you look down; tonight's busy, but maybe we can grab coffee tomorrow and talk?"

How would that approach change anything? Either I talk about the problems at the party or I talk about them over coffee, but either way I'm talking about the person's problems, no?

With the not responding to email thing, they are telling you what they want -- they want not to respond to emails.

I don't know why this is so hard to believe, but people really do test their friends in this way. I'm not saying that all depressed people do. I'm not saying that anyone other than my friends do this. But my friends write me emails saying, "I need reassurance that I'm wanted; that's why sometimes I deliberately don't approach people even though I want to invite them out or talk to them," and "Friend Xxxx hasn't written me in three weeks, so I'm not writing either to see how long it takes her to write to me."

The last friend to test me like this stopped writing over five years ago. I didn't approach her, and she has never written again. She also locked her LJ, deleted herself from all mailing lists we were both on, and told our mutual friends that I had ditched her. How is that not drama?

The depressed people who disappear from email without saying where they're going or how long they're going for may be acting similarly, but for different reasons. I took the time out to explain to Danila (because she asked) how she might disambiguate her approach because she was getting unfairly labeled as dramatic when she was merely retreating.
posted by xo at 11:40 AM on April 22, 2007


How would that approach change anything? Either I talk about the problems at the party or I talk about them over coffee, but either way I'm talking about the person's problems, no?

What I'm saying is, *you* need to decide what you're comfortable with, and figure out how to approach these problems in a way that gives you what you need. If you do want to talk to the person but not at the party, then figure out some other time and place to talk. And if you don't want to talk to the person at all about the problems, then... don't.

Basically, either decide that the people you're spending time with are worth putting up with as they are, warts and all, and accept their behavior; or else figure out what you want and start enforcing it. If you lose friends, then I personally would probably feel that I was better off -- I don't see the point in having people around me who make me resentful. But I bet that if you could articulate, even to yourself, what kind of behaviors you WANTED (not what you don't want), and started enforcing that in kind ways, you might start improving these relationships.

It sounds like you're not setting any boundaries with these people at all, and like when they do things that sound like setting boundaries, you're taking them as "tests." They very well might be tests, but when they do something that says, "Don't talk to me" and then you talk to them anyway, you're teaching them that the process of setting boundaries is a passive-aggressive way of saying "I need you." And by not setting up any boundaries for yourself, you're giving them no way of trusting that you're interacting with them because you actively want to or just because you feel you should, which leaves them on shaky ground (and leaves you resentful).

It sounds, from everything you're saying, that you need to learn how to say no to these people when it's appropriate, and you need to learn that "when it's appropriate" means "any time at all that I don't actually want to deal with this." Your feelings are as important and as valid as theirs, and they really will survive without your intervention.

If you like the constant interventions, however, if this is how you find a niche to interact with these people, then that's fine, too. (I'm not being sarcastic, I've had several groups of friends where that was basically my role, and it can be rewarding in its own way.) But you can't actively intervene all the time and complain that you have to be the one actively intervening all the time. Just stop intervening. And yes, there will be consequences for that, so you need to decide which consequences you're more comfortable with -- feeling resentful because you "have to" intervene, or feeling locked out when someone flips out when you don't intervene.
posted by occhiblu at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


I appreciate your responses, xo.

The "friend" who was simply "testing" you is not a friend worth having, as I'm sure you realize by now. If any of your current friends are really just trying to test you, don't give them what they want. I reiterate what I said earlier and what occhiblu said so well; just send a short email letting them know you're thinking about them and give them space. The manipulative drama queens will want more, but they won't get it without reaching out and demanding it, something they're clearly trying to avoid.

The ones who just dropped out because they're genuinely not feeling so great will appreciate your note, and they will especially appreciate the space. Either way, you're not drawn into anyone's drama or problems.

I actually disappear from contact at times too, but I feel like I don't end up generating worry in my friends or family because of the way that I do it


I understand that this is your approach, but you're judging your friends by the way you prefer to approach things, and this isn't entirely fair. If I'm feeling bad, the last thing I feel up to doing is sending a bunch of emails to everyone who "might worry", and then checking my email every day, and then responding to every email with an answer. I know you don't think your friends are actually depressed, and maybe they're not, but feeling bad is feeling bad, and when they feel bad they don't have the energy or the mental wherewithal to worry about all of the people who will be worrying about them. That's just too much.

I begin to get more of a sense of your dilemma. If you completely dropped off the face of the earth for any period of time, everyone who knows you would know it must be really serious. Because even when you're sick or busy, you have to maintain a connection to the social group (by sending short notes, answering emails, periodically updating your journal). So if you were to suddenly stop that, something significant must be going on. Perhaps you automatically assume the same thing when your friends sever their social connection (not emailing, not journaling, etc.), so it feels like something major must be going on because it would be major, if it was you. But it's not you.

This post is long, so I'll try really briefly to explain the personality conflict (and I believe that wrt most of your friends, this is a personality conflict NOT a character conflict). We keep the depth of our feelings to ourselves. The feelings may be expressed with our art, our music, our writings, our clothes...but not in casual oral communication, and definitely not to maintain social connections. For us, inner harmony is much, much more important than social harmony. If we don't have inner harmony, we don't have social harmony. I suspect for you it may be the other way around.

So when something has happened to upset our sense of emotional balance and harmony, whether it is a big thing or a little thing, the natural response is to retreat inward and fix it. NOT to reach outward for repair, and definitely not to reach outward so as to maintain a sense of social harmony with meaningless (to us) little notes that don't really say anything.

As occhiblu said, the glowering friend at the party is talking through his feelings with someone who cares enough to listen. The simple act of talking them through may be enough to repair his emotional balance. Other than listening, you wouldn't have to do anything else.

Either I talk about the problems at the party or I talk about them over coffee, but either way I'm talking about the person's problems, no?


Well for one thing you really shouldn't do much talking. Just let them talk it out, they'll work it out for themselves. You don't have to solve the problem, whatever it is. The real problem is their emotional imbalance, not whatever has caused it. The coffee approach is good because you don't have to ruin your own fun at the party, but you don't have to ignore your friend either.
posted by Danila at 1:15 PM on April 22, 2007


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