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Stressful Friendship

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Hi, I’m seeking advice concerning a long-distance friendship I’ve had for 3+ years with someone my age. This person has severe untreated social anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc.

We became very close, we’d chat daily, call each other, etc. They quickly became very emotionally dependent on me, seeing as they had no other friends. For the first year and a half we bonded a lot.

As their dependence on me grew, they began sharing increasingly more of their irrational thoughts with me, expecting me to always be there to help, at the detriment of my own mental health. Perfectly normal hobbies I had would make them irrationally upset, anxious, sometimes angry.

There were so many topics I couldn’t bring up for fear of triggering them. Every time I got a text, I’d feel my heart constrict. They’d get anxious if I didn’t respond fast enough.

I started questioning whether a good friend would constantly subject someone to so much stress. I always went out of my way to help them, oftentimes sacrificing my own mental well-being. My heart rate would sometimes increase tremendously when in conversation with them.

One day, I made them promise me not to share so many of their anxious thoughts with me anymore because it was very unhealthy for me to constantly be in a state of stress. The months that followed were actually good. I felt like our friendship was healthy again.

Then, last year, they started dating someone. I felt like maybe it’d be a positive change in their life. They started talking to me less and less, going from talking every day to now once every few weeks. The few times they’ve talked to me in the past few months have been when they’ve been having problems. They don’t text to check up on me. This made me take a step back and reflect.

Have I been used this whole time? Did this person ever care about me? This is where my question comes in. Should I completely cut this friend out of my life? I’m so scared they’ll react badly if I do, considering their mental health issues and how close we used to be. Should I even confront them about all of this, or just block them on everything? My mom suggests the latter, but I wanted an outside opinion.

Thank you and sorry for the long message (From France)

Stressful Friendship

Answered by on -

A.

I think it is an error to see this relationship as one where you’ve been used. While I understand how you could come to that conclusion, there is another way to look at it.

You were in this relationship for a reason that may be important to explore. Perhaps you needed to feel useful to someone so needy, possibly the intensity and long-distance substituted for intimacy, maybe you needed to learn how to establish a boundary. Whatever it was that drew you and held you to the relationship is on your side of the fence. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

You were in this relationship for a reason and whatever that reason is has changed. Him getting healthier and having a relationship and bothering you less is exactly what you’ve wanted. So it is curious that as he has changed, you are feeling used rather than relieved and happy for him.

It is time to move on. I do not think you need to do anything about cutting him out, blocking him, or confronting him. Your work is for you to recognize the dynamics that brought you together for mutual benefits have changed and that you are both less important to each other than you have been. Don’t give him any more a priority than he does you. If he connects every few weeks you can be casual about the timeline you respond. He hasn’t done something wrong; he has simply moved on, which is now important for you to do.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Stressful Friendship

TALK TO A THERAPIST NOW:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Stressful Friendship. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/01/23/stressful-friendship/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Jan 2020 (Originally: 23 Jan 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 21 Jan 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.