How can you help a friend who you think is self-destructing? Can your friendship & respect save her?
Here's a listener question I received.
Dear Maryanne, One of my best friends has been unhealthily obsessed with the same guy for almost four years (we're now seniors in college). They have hooked up intermittently over this time but have never been on a date or spent any platonic time together. He has never displayed any actual interest in her or her feelings despite it being incredibly obvious that she is very attached. She refuses to show interest in any other person. My friend responds to this guy's booty call messages every time, running over to his place even at 3am in the pouring rain. He is unbelievably inconsiderate, refusing to walk her home after said hookups and only contacting her when he's drunk and horny. She is obsessed to the point of letting it completely control her mood. When she is happy it is because she may have sat next to him in class, or because he waved to her. She spends hours getting ready on days she thinks she may see him. On the other hand, she will lock herself in her room, play depressing music and cry if she hears about him hooking up with some other girl.
We are all worried that she is wasting her college life and will really regret this in the future. She has never been on a date or had a relationship, thanks to this. We've tried everything to help her out--talking her through it, attempting to set her up on dates, even ignoring any mention of him for a period of time. We're at a breaking point and have no idea what to do. Please help! -A, J, and S
Ladies, I am so moved by your letter and how sincerely concerned you all are about your girlfriend’s well-being. She is fortunate to have friends like you. Let’s see if I can help empower you by shedding some light and by offering you a shift in perspective of your friend’s situation: First, if your girlfriend has mentioned harming herself in anyway (suicidal threats, etc.) I implore you to seek professional help on campus. You can never be too careful here.
Next, If this isn’t the case and your girlfriend’s behavior is a steady diet of booty call and crying jags, I recommend you consider the following carefully: there is how you see your g-friend’s situation and then, ultimately, the way she sees it. The way I see it, getting her to see things your way is one of the biggest obstacles you have. For example; you see she is wasting her college life, vs., perhaps she sees that if she is more tolerant, accommodating, and available she will be ultimately rewarded and loved. Which for her may be more important than anything in the world right now, including “her college life.” Trying to get someone to love you to the point of breaking, or trying to get someone to love themselves, are both indicators of being out of balance and, on some level, two sides of the same coin. This is difficult to see, as one seems self-destructive and the other virtuous.
So the first thing I would ask you consider is dropping any judgment you have either way, as it is not helpful when trying to see the truth or ultimately what is needed. Next, I would ask that you consider attending to your own imbalance first. You cannot give what you do not have, and you can model healthy, self-loving behavior for your friend. I have created a CD on self-inquiry, which is how I helped heal myself of both these issues over time.
Now you’re thinking “Yeah, but why would she pick a guy who is using and disrespecting her to fulfill her heart’s desire?” Great question; oftentimes when we see someone who is desperate to be loved to the point of emotional annihilation, they have a history that matches. Maybe her childhood situation involved similar dynamics; in some way she experienced being deprived of love or that love was a reward, or unattainable. Or perhaps she felt she was neglected and now if she could just be more (fill in the blank) she could get the love she couldn’t get then. Perhaps she felt abandoned somehow and that if she had been more loving/available,/accommodating/something she could have changed the situation. This is called re-creating your family dynamics. And should not be underestimated as a major driving force in one’s life, especially when we are younger and less experienced in matters of the heart.
So here’s the Cliff notes: This dynamic (positive or negative) becomes imprinted early on; recent studies refer to it as an unconscious love imprint. It seems in this case we would all agree that your friend’s imprint may have been less than ideal. Perhaps she has already confided in one or all of you that she has in fact had some negative or similar experiences in her past that she is now recreating, and you are nodding your head; suddenly you have a new perspective and compassion. It’s a hard thing for friends to hear. You think, “How could she want THAT for herself?”
If this is the case, one of the things you can do to help is get some books or related materials in front of her that will help her illuminate this pattern, because if she can see this she can help herself and use your loving support to avoid what I call the potholes of unconsciousness. This, of course, is easier said than done and will ultimately require her wanting something better for herself. We all have lessons to learn, and this is apparently one of your friends. Let’s hope she gets it!
Okay. let’s say you have no idea what I am talking about; she’s never mentioned her childhood or any experiences that seem similar to this one, or you just don’t know. You may want to do some investigating. If and when you do find she is in fact recreating a past dynamic, see above. I can give you a list of books for her to read, starting with my own; Hindsight: What You Need to Know Before You Drop Your Drawers. Books on tape are great too, and frankly, if she is not a reader, read it to her. I have done that many times; it will go in either way. That could be a plan, as she has a low self-esteem issue and needs to do some work on herself. Again, I can recommend some books that will help. Let me know, which brings me to my next and final point for now: If she does get it, will it sink in?
The truth is, we can’t know what the catalyst or impetus will ultimately end up being for someone to awaken from self-sabotaging patterns and behaviors, mostly because we can’t ever really know what another’s pain threshold is or what their life lessons are. Unless you have nothing but time on your hands to hold your friend’s hand, the best we can do is be sympathetic and empathetic, but that’s as close as we get as we cultivate fierce compassion. The definition of which is: doing everything you can to hold someone in their highest light until it begins to harm you. At that point, let go with love, and trust that the same God that shines on you shines on them too!
This article was originally published at Maryanne Live . Reprinted with permission from the author.