I have a long-time friend/acquaintance with a lot of social anxiety. Sometimes it comes out in small ways like saying of herself “I’m so stupid”, constantly seeking affirmation, projecting her desires onto me because she is feeling insecure about them. Sometimes it comes out in big ways like breaking down randomly in the middle of a conversation because she’s feeling socially isolated.
I am fine comforting her once and a while, but I don’t want to be her counselor. And sometimes I just don’t have the spoons to decode what she is saying vs. meaning, even in casual conversation. Is there a tactful way to signal I don’t want to be a pillar of emotional support? Or that I need a break without further exasperating her anxiety?
Captain Awkward says you can restate your boundaries. Or you can try somewhat ghosting. The somewhat ghosting may exasperate her anxiety, but as Captain Awkward would probably note, that’s kind of on her. If you look up “African Violet” in the CA archives you’ll get all her ending friendship posts. Not that you want to end the friendship, you just want it to be less needy.
With me, I’ve been in that situation I think three times… and the first two times the needy friend ended up breaking it off with me after they’d fixed themselves up a bit and I guess no longer needed me (the third time we had moved away and I kind of ghosted on email because I had had a baby and just couldn’t anymore). Nowadays I see the red flags and avoid without getting involved instead of trying to help, because, as you say, I don’t have the spoons. And I’m not sure I ever was much help, but who knows. It’s amazing how nice it is not to have people around who are always emotionally draining. (Note: it’s different with people who are there for me too– there’s a big difference between people who are always taking and those who are actual friends.)
So I dunno, I mean, I would recommend counseling to her because her problems are more than you can handle and then back off. (Note, friend #2 broke it off with me because her counselor told her to. I was, apparently, causing her too much stress. And after I got over the initial sadness of losing a friend I’d cared about… I realized I no longer had all that stress she was causing me.)
If it’s just stuff like “I’m so stupid”, we recommend the negativity jar. But it sounds like there’s a lot more going on that simple tricks like that aren’t going to be able to fix.
Disclaimer: We are NOT counselors of any kind, and even if we were, we would not feel comfortable giving armchair advice. Talk to professionals and introspect before making important emotional decisions.
Ok, grumpy nation, who has better advice for Taylor?