Dear Dr. Ryan,
I have a friend that I love dearly, but I feel like she may be hurting my mental health, and I don’t know how to talk to her about it. I have GAD, social anxiety, and OCD. My friend also has a number of mental health issues (depression, manic disorder, BPD). I would never end a friendship over mental illness, but sometimes I feel like her mental illnesses often make mine unbearable. I love her to death, and she is definitely not a bad person, but her constant negativity and need for my emotional attention is draining me. She’s always airing out dirty laundry to me, and constantly talking badly about other people, including her friends. It seems like that’s all she does when we’re together, even when I try to change the subject or ask her to stop talking about it. I recently went through my text message conversations with her, and almost every single text from her is talking crap on another person, complaining about something that happened to her, etc. She thinks that she’s a super positive, open minded person, but I feel like she’s more often the opposite.
She’s incredibly sensitive, and if anyone opposes her or kindly tries to tell her she’s overacting, she takes it as a personal attack and blows up. She has been through so much in her life. Things that no one should have to go through, and I feel like because of that, I make excuses for her, or say “that’s just how she is” or “she’s going through a hard time right now, so she just needs to vent”. One of the problems with my anxiety is that I feel so deeply and feed off of others emotions to the point that it can really damage me. Another problem is that I’m very non-confrontational and have a hard time standing up for myself, especially to people with her personality type. She’s the only person in my life who makes me feel this way. How do I keep this friendship while keeping my sanity? Her grandpa just died, so should I wait to say anything? And how do I talk to her about it? I fear she’ll accuse me of attacking her, and I’ll be the one she talks down on to all of her other friends. Or maybe I’m wrong and it will help her make some positive growth in her life. Please help!
-Overly Negative Friend is Hurting my Mental Health
Dear Overly Negative Friend,
Often in mental health recovery, it is vital to be in relationships with others who are also in the process of recovery. It is by being connected with others working through their own process that you can provide support to them and gain support for yourself. Because of your own struggles with mental health, you can more intimately relate to your friend’s struggles and may be able to support her in a unique way that she may not receive from other friends.
But, how helpful and supportive are your current dynamics with her? It seems like you often feel worse afterwards and I would honestly question how much better she feels after one of these complaint sessions. Discontent and anger may feel better in the moment, but can insidiously infect her and everyone that this negativity touches.
If she is struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), this negativity could be particularly difficult to overcome and may feel overwhelming for her. However, just because she feels that way doesn’t mean that it is fair to those around her or even fair to herself. In times when she is criticizing someone it doesn’t mean that it’s your turn to add fuel to the fire. I think it’s fair for you to add minimal commentary or even ignore her when she comes to you with these kind of conversations.
Being responsive to her in these times may only serve to reinforce her continued negativity. If you are feeling anxious or sensitive to rejection during these times, it may feel quite difficult for you to avoid her outreach. But remind yourself that you want something different in your relationship with her and that you must protect your own mental health.
Figure out constructive things that you can approach her to talk about including issues or events that are important to you. If after some time of making this effort she is still unable to respond to your positive reinforcement, know that your friendship with her may have only been for a season. Set limits in order to protect yourself.
This was originally posted on DearHoopers.com