“I don’t know if 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 you hear these words from a friend or someone you care about, they hopefully send a shiver up your spine. That sentiment is almost always unhealthy because it indicates a deep imbalance in your relationship.
There are exceptions. For example, if it’s said in jest just once with a twinkle in her eye, a clearly playful tone, and it’s understood to be an exaggerated statement of love, then that’s not worrisome. Or maybe if he’s in some kind of absolutely dire circumstance, such as caring for an ill parent or if he recently lost his job, then perhaps it’s an understandable and human response to a crisis.
But if these words are said in the context of a normal relationship alongside routine 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.
Don’t get me wrong. Normal, healthy friends listen intently about each other’s depression or sadness and even sometimes you might hear that someone wants to hurt themselves. They feel that down, and need support. You can be there for them and it’s good to know someone has your back when you really need them. Hopefully, there’s gratitude shown for that, knowing they would return the favor if the situation were reversed.
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 mutates into all give, and very little give back. You get tired of not receiving; conversations are one-way, practically free therapy sessions, with you exhausted after the first thirty minutes. 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 addressed. There could be significant depression or a bipolar disorder present, where at times, suicide can seem like the only way out. Your friend needs treatment beyond your capabilities.
Or they could be struggling with a “personality disorder,” or a consistently unhealthy way someone has of thinking of themselves and others. They simply do not handle relationships appropriately or effectively and they usually have little insight into the impact of their behavior.
There are many different personality disorders and their treatment is tough. There are people with narcissistic tendencies, where initially their motive is to seduce you into their world with compliments or “love bombing.” then it’s on to making the relationship all about them. However, a classic narcissist would not necessarily become “suicidal” if you weren’t available for them; they might become enraged, then aloof.
Consistent talk of suicide is more characteristic of borderline personality disorder. If present, your establishment of appropriate boundaries could be perceived, by them, as intense abandonment.
You need things to change or you may even want out. And yet, you still care. What can you do?
1) If your friend is in therapy, ask to join a session.
You can talk about needing a change or even closure on the relationship, whatever your goals are and however you want to put it. Get the support of the therapist and be honest about the reasons why you’re there.
It’s the therapist’s job to deal with the patient’s danger to self.
2) If they’re not in therapy, then ask them to go to a therapist with you.
You need a third party to navigate this terrain, who can offer objective observations and give both of you support. If they refuse, you can meet a couple of times by yourself. Maybe that therapist can give you ideas about how to either get closure or to adjust how you’re interacting with your loved one.
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 are attempting to give you and create more solid emotional boundaries yourself.
4) Tell Others.
You may have to tell your friend that you can’t keep their secret. It’s too much. If needed, get help from family members, a mother or father, son or daughter.
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. Are you aware of having the need to be needed, or maybe being seen as having it “together?” Those needs may be fueling your end of the problem.
In the end, you can’t keep someone alive who struggles to want to live.
It’s their very difficult battle to fight. You can support, listen, love. But not fix.
You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly posts as well as her podcasts, plus Dr. Margaret’s eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”
Originally published on Midlife Boulevard and later here on February 13, 2016. This is a revised version.