DEAR ABBY: I am in my early 40s, and married with two daughters. I have a friend, “Sally,” whom I have known since the third grade. We are like sisters. Sally has been profoundly depressed for at least 15 years. She sees a therapist and a psychiatrist on a regular basis and is on medication.
My question. Abby, is what do you say to someone who calls at least once a week, for at least an hour, crying so hard I can barely understand her? She calls to tell me how sad she is and how she doesn't think anything in her life will improve. While I’m concerned for her and care about what happens to her. I don’t feel l can give her any advice or guidance that her counselor/psychiatrist isn’t able to give.
Short of listening and providing the proverbial shoulder to lean on, what more can l do? l feel l need to be there for her. but I also feel drained dry because this has been going on for several years.
Any guidance you might offer would be greatly appreciated. —CONCERNED FRIEND IN FLORIDA
DEAR CONCERNED: You are a supportive friend, but when Sally calls crying so hard she can hardly talk, tell her that the person she needs to be talking to is her therapist. By allowing her to vent to you, you are preventing the therapist from evaluating her while she’s in crisis and giving her the tools she needs to improve. Your friend may need to have her meds adjusted or changed, and seeing Sally while she is “at the bottom” could give her therapist valuable insights. If Sally isn’t capable of placing the call to her therapist, offer to do it for her. —ABBY
Hi Concerned: It's so great that you wrote. The majority of readers have one or more similar relationships, people they try to support whom instead they enable. Because of your service to your friend it's now time for you to be served, ten-fold. We bring others into our lives to mirror that which we need to address in ourselves; your friend mirrors your addiction to enabling.
Let me re phrase your inquiry: You write, “...what do you say to someone …?” Notice that you were unconscious when you wrote (and proof read) that sentence? Specifically, you didn't notice that the question is rhetorical. A conscious person would have written, “What should I say...?” What I or another would say won't work for you. Advice, as with help, is similar to giving someone a fish rather than teaching them how to fish.
Re: "I don’t feel l can give her any advice or guidance." This reveals your misunderstanding about communication. I assure you she has been taking your non verbal advice all these years; you have been unaware of your own intentions and therefore you've been sending mixed messages which caused confusion and less-than-desirable results.
You have discovered that helping another causes more of the same (it creates dependency) and, that there are different kinds of support skills. We each use our leadership-communication support skills towards different ends; based upon the results you've been producing for yourself and your friend we see that you have unconsciously been using your skills to keep her stuck. Yikes! Shock shock! Gabby, you mean to say I have been unconsciously intending that she remain stuck? Depending upon how powerful you're willing to be, yes. The results are obvious no matter what your mind believes.
Communication mastery begins with intending what's so to be so. You have become stuck in trying to change her. This is not love.
Re: "Sally has been profoundly depressed for at least 15 years." I noticed you didn't mention what happened after which she has not been the same—that was a fork in the road for both of you—you now have the opportunity to handle it differently, consciously, from choice.
Here's some questions that will produce different results:
- 1) What is it about the way I communicate, the way I relate, that causes a friend to stay stuck?
2) What's in it for me for her to stay stuck, what has been my payoff? (You might need the support of another's mind to find this answer. It's there, hiding.)
3) What thoughts have I been withholding from my friend that possibly have kept her stuck? Thoughts withheld serve as barriers to the experience of communication.
4) Have I been giving my friend the full benefit of my experience of her or, have I doing my imitation of communication, pretending to be in open, honest, and spontaneous communication with her?
5) Have I been using her problem so at not have to address my addiction to enabling?
We see that support is not always positive. In other words, you have supported her in staying stuck. Let's imagine the outrageous: Is it possible, no matter how much our mind wants to believe otherwise, that she'd be “normal” if she had moved to another country, away from you, when she was 3-years-old? Are you that powerful? Often others on the way down (to crashing and burning) need to drive everyone out of their life so as to be motivated to heal. What would happen if she drove everyone out of her life? We don't know do we? What we do know for certain is that something about her relationship with you isn't working for either of you. It's a given that we bring someone with a seemingly larger problem into our life so that we can focus on their problem rather than acknowledge and address our own, equally debilitating, problem.
We all know how unsupportable some men can be when they refuse to stop and ask for directions. Ostensibly this behavior is gender specific. Not. So too do teachers arrogantly (I can do it myself) refuse to ask a communication skills coach, “What is it about my agreement-making skills that causes many of my students to not turn in their homework neatly and on time?” In other words, you too have been stuck in ignorance. Only now are you reaching out responsibly, wondering if your friend's condition has something to do with your leadership-communication skills.
What's exciting about your letter is that you are confronting the possibility that she can't heal with you in her life until you handle your own addiction to enabling. Your timing couldn't be better what with the responsibility of two daughters. —Gabby
* Here's four free communication processes in support of you restoring your integrity—The Clearing House.
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