“I don’t know how I would make it if I didn’t have you to talk to.”
“Sometimes I just want to it to be over. But I know I have you, and that keeps me from doing anything.”
“If I lost you, I’d be nothing.”
Words like these should send a shiver up your spine. If they don’t, you may have an intense need to be needed. (And that’s a problem as well…) Perhaps if it’s understood to be an exaggerated statement of love, then that’s not worrisome. Or maybe its source is someone who’s facing a dire circumstance, such as caring for an ill parent or having suddenly lost their job, perhaps it could reflect gratitude or acknowledgment of you being there.
But if these words are routinely said in the context of an everyday relationship alongside conversation such as, “What are we doing Friday night?” “Did you get my text?” or maybe even, “I think I need therapy,” then you’re in troublesome territory.
When need becomes dependence…
Don’t get me wrong. Normal, healthy friends listen intently about each other’s depression or sadness; sometimes you might might even hear that someone wants to hurt themself because they feel that down, and need support. You are there for them; it’s a significant testament to your friendship. And it’s wonderful to trust that the same will be given – that this friend will have your back. Deep friendship during really hard times is a wonderful gift.
What’s much harder to tolerate or to cope with is chronic, intense dependence, “What would I do without you? You’re saving me from myself.”
This dynamic can sneak up on you in any relationship. What started out as a fairly even give-and-take somehow mutated into all give, and very little give back. You slowly begin to realize how draining the relationship has become, as you mute your own desires or needs. Ultimately you can find that you’re tired of conversations that are one-way, practically free therapy sessions. It can easily feel like the life is slowly being squeezed out of you. You feel trapped and perhaps even emotionally blackmailed.
What’s clear is that their emotional fragility needs to be professionally treated. There could be significant depression or a bipolar disorder present, where at times, suicide can seem like the only way out. Or they could be struggling with a “personality disorder,” which is a consistently unhealthy way someone perceives themselves and others, as well as having little insight into the impact of their behavior.
You need things to change or you may even want out. And yet, you still care.
What can you do about it? Five proactive steps.
1. If your friend is in therapy, ask to join a session.
Whatever your goals are within the relationship, be honest and take advantage of having the support of the therapist. You can discuss your need for a fundamental change in the relationship so you’re not burdened with being the one they look to for guidance or even a reason to stay alive. If closure in the relationship is what you’re seeking, the therapist may be critical for your friend to help them through the change.
Remember it’s the therapist’s job to deal with the patient’s danger to self, not you.
2. If they’re not in therapy, then ask them to go to a therapist with you.
You need a third party who can offer objective observations and give both of you support to navigate this terrain. If they refuse, you can meet with a therapist yourself. Hopefully, they can give you ideas about how to either get closure or to adjust how you’re interacting with your loved one.
Again, remember that no matter what your history with this person, your responsibility is to look after your own emotional health. Your friend is an adult and needs to do the same for themself; if they chose to not take advantage of seeing a therapist, it’s not required of you to pick up the pieces that fall as a consequence of their decisions.
3. Read some material on how to handle feelings of abandonment or emotional manipulation.
I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me. Stop Walking On Eggshells. Disarming The Narcissist. Understanding The Borderline Mother. All these books are wonderful resources and might help you make adjustments in how you communicate. You might not have to leave the relationship if you learn how to step out of the responsibility they’re attempting to give you and create more solid emotional boundaries.
4. Tell Others.
You may have to tell your friend that you can’t keep their secret. If it’s too much and you’re shouldering this burden silently, it might be time to open up about it for your sake as well as the one overly dependent upon you.
Additionally, keeping that individual’s secret isn’t healthy for you, so begin to talk about it with trusted family members and friends for the sake of your own mental health.
5. Look at your own need to be needed, or in control.
It may be that you have your own emotional reasons for creating this kind of relationship. Be honest with yourself and consider if you have the need to be needed, or maybe being seen as having it “together?” Those needs may be fueling your end of the problem and you may have had a level of participation in this situation greater than just being a recipient of their issues.
In the end, you can’t fix someone who has mental health issues that require professional intervention, and you can’t be the only “reason” someone who struggles with the concept of suicide decides to not go through with an attempt. It’s their very difficult battle to fight.
You can support, listen, love. But not fix.
You can hear more about this and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive my weekly newsletter including a blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
My book entitled Perfectly Hidden Depression has been published and you can order here! Its message is specifically for those with a struggle with strong perfectionism which acts to mask underlying emotional pain. But the many self-help techniques described can be used by everyone who chooses to begin to address emotions long hidden away that are clouding and sabotaging your current life. And it’s available in paperback, eBook or as an audiobook!
And there’s another way to send me a message! You can record by clicking below and ask your question or make a comment. You’ll have 90 seconds to do so and that time goes quickly. By recording, you’re giving SelfWork (and me) permission to use your voice on the podcast. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!