Dear Alison and Tony: I’m married and a stay at home mom, and my friend is single, between jobs, and unhappy. Recently, I shared what I thought was a funny story with her about my personal life, but instead of laughing, she got furious and accused me of being insensitive, since my home life is happy and stable, and hers isn’t. I apologized even though I didn’t mean any disrespect, but she is so upset she won’t even speak to me. This isn’t the first argument we’ve had, but this is just over the top crazy! It’s always something with her. Whenever I attempt to tell her something about me, she always turns the conversation to something worse happening with HER, like it’s a competition. I’ve been where is she and have had plenty of troubles, but I worked hard to accomplish my goals. Why should I feel bad that I made good choices and my life is happy? Shouldn’t a real friend be happy for me no matter what her circumstances? I don’t want to end the friendship, but how do I make her see the light?
Signed, Frustrated Deborah
Alisons Take: “Don’t you know that you’re toxic, And I love what you do, …” Don’t you know that you’re toxic….” (Britany Spears’ – “Toxic”). ” The lyrics, Deborah, apply to you.
You are the one who needs to “see the light.” You have empowered and conditioned your friend to behave badly. She whines and one-ups you, and you seethe silently, without calling her on it.
Your friend is jealous and competitive, but instead of having “one better” than you, she tries to gain your attention, sympathy and support by insisting that whatever troubles or issues you are facing, hers are always “one worse.” And if things are going well for you, she can always fall back on making you feel guilty, because her life sucks. Either way, you lose and she wins, because she gets the two of you to focus all the attention on her. For someone who is alone and unhappy, this is free therapy and a way to get sympathy. She is the sole focus of your relationship. So I’m wondering as I read your question for Leather and Lace Advice: Why did you apologize?” Even if your attempt at humor fell flat, that’s not cause for a major blow-up. By apologizing, you just validated her behavior. Could it be that listening to your friend’s sad life makes you feel superior to her, or reminds you of how blessed your life is in comparison? (don’t protest until you mull this over).
You have outgrown this friend but still remain loyal. So realize that she isn’t going to “change, and let Tony and I help you change the conversation, literally. The next time your friend begins to “one up” you, immediately stop her and say: “know your life really sucks and you’re miserable. You’re always telling me so. As your friend, I feel sorry that your life isn’t better. But right now, I really want to share something about me” (then go back to the topic you were discussing). Hopefully your friend will get the message.
Tony’s Take: You have answered your own question. To your toxic friend, friendship is you providing understanding and comfort for her. You have a positive attitude toward life which means even though you struggle you will improve your life in small ways every day. This is the reason you have a life companion and she does not. She wallows in her troubles, because she is comfortable with her issues. Instead of trying to correct them, she uses them as an excuse to show why her life is not better. She blames everybody and everything else for her problems.
People like this latch onto those with big enough hearts to listen to them and sympathize with them. They use that sympathy as self justification, but God forbid the person giving that sympathy should have an issue that steals the spotlight from the needy one!
If you read some of the questions we have posted on Leather and Lace Advice, you’ll see that there are many women with exactly the same type of selfish friends. I would advise you to find friends that offer a give and take, not those who demand sympathy. Those that give are where you will find true friends. As to your current friend, you might consider her less as a friend, but more as a source of light comedy. Listening to this type of woman rail against the world can be amusing, but it will eventually become boring, when you have “heard it all before.”
Alison’s Response to Tony: I couldn’t agree more with your assessment Tony. Well said! People in general can be very self-absorbed. But sadly, it is often women (who should consider each other as “sisters”) who can be the most inconsiderate, even cruel, to one another. Frustrated Deborah has probably outgrown the relationship. I hope she has other friends who actually share her joys and sorrows more equally.
Tony’s response to Alison: We are missing the point that the reason the writer puts up with the toxic friend is that the she may be insecure and is afraid to lose one of the few friends she has. You see this manifested in her apologizing for her otherwise very reasonable reactions. This makes the relationship even more toxic, because Deborah never gets to talk through her own problems, leaving her frustrated, depressed and upset. She really needs to find a friend whose company she enjoys and who enjoys her, before these issues start affecting the relationship with her husband.