I have a friend I’ve known for many years. She’s part of one of the queer friend groups I hold closest to my heart. I love her and I want to support and encourage her — but she is the most thin-skinned person I have ever known — and it gets so exhausting I find myself begging off with the whole friend group just so I don’t have to hear it.
She takes EVERYTHING personally, even things that have nothing to do with her. I comment something nice on another friend’s IG, she wants to know why I didn’t comment something nice on her IG. The bartender misses filling her water, he’s mistreating her on purpose. We’re talking about TikTok influencers and I say “Oh they only have 500 followers” and she says “Well I only have 70 followers, I guess I’m worthless too.” Someone in our friend group tweets something that, again, has nothing to do with her, and all of a sudden she’s on the group text saying “Well if you say that people are going to think this this and this about me.” (To be clear she’ll be texting that to everyone EXCEPT the person who tweeted the offense because she’ll never actually confront anyone about anything, she just complains about the perceived slights behind their backs.)
I’ve tried so many strategies. I’ve tried asking “But do you think that was intentional?” to get her to think more deeply about what’s upset her. I’ve tried suggesting she talk directly to the offenders. I even tried suggesting something someone once said in an advice answer here about how most people are never thinking about us, they’re only thinking about themselves, and how there’s freedom in recognizing that we don’t constantly have to be worrying what people are thinking about us because they’re not, but that was absolutely the WRONG thing to say. In fact, anything but outright agreeing with her that she’s a victim is gaslighting or not honoring her feelings or something.
She’s obviously miserable all the time and I don’t want to add onto that. I don’t want to lose my friend group either. I understand being sensitive. I’m sensitive. But I do not understand taking everything personally all the time. Am I being shitty? Do you have any advice for how I might salvage my friend group and maybe even my relationship with this woman I’ve known so long?
Before I jump into the heart of the issue here, I just want to point out how much you truly care for and love your friend. Instead of blowing up in her face, complaining to her, gossiping, or even just abandoning your friendship altogether, you’ve worked through quite a few solutions to help your friend and keep the friendship. It’s truly commendable because this is extremely difficult emotional labor. I want to give you the A+ friend credit you deserve because you’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep her in your friend group and your life.
When I saw your post, I immediately thought of the friends that have come and gone in my life. I’ve had this friend. In fact, I’ve had quite a few of these friends, so I know how truly conflicted and frustrated you probably feel. The advice you found on Autostraddle about most people having selfish thoughts is generally smart advice. That’s honestly something I would’ve suggested because it’s definitely helped me. I think this advice worked in the past most of the time because a lot of us are hyper-conscious about what we look like, wear, eat, laugh, etc. in public, so when we take a step back and see that everyone else is only thinking about themselves, it makes people like you and me feel a bit better. However, it seems like this was the wrong thing to say because your friend wants to be loved, cared for, given attention to. She yearns to be thought of.
What I hear from the anecdotes you shared is someone who is deeply lonely and feels deeply unseen. Even as adults, we function like toddlers. We throw tantrums and get attention when we have a need that isn’t met. It’s pretty clear this is what your friend is doing. What seems to make this more difficult is that you and your friends are showing up for her, giving her attention, and saying “we’re here! we’re your friend! we love you!” and she doesn’t seem able to soak that in. The key world here is able. I’m sure if she could take all your love and hold it in, she would. It makes me wonder if you two have ever had a heart-to-heart about her deep insecurities, or if she’s even far removed from tapping into that herself.
This advice might be a little controversial, but when it comes to keeping friends, a lot of them are in your life for only a season. I write this with a lot of grief in my heart because I’ve lost so many friends as I’ve grown closer to the person I want to become. This is a part of life. A shitty one, but a part nonetheless. I’m not suggesting you throw the friendship away, but I am suggesting you take a step back and look at your friendship from a bird’s eye view. Has this always been the dynamic? Do you feel responsible for her? Do you feel like you need to fix her? Oftentimes, I’ve felt compelled to put in more work than I should to “fix” someone just so they don’t bring the group down. Even if your intentions are much purer than mine, you can only help someone who wants to be helped.
Your friend doesn’t sound like she’s in the place to accept help, and unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about that. What I will suggest, though, is reframing the way you respond to her comments. You can try rediecting the conversation to making her feel seen. For example, in the conversation about commenting on the friend’s IG post, you could say something like “I’m here with you now in person and this is how I show my love (or insert your love language). I didn’t mean to offend you and if you feel most loved through IG comments I can try and do better.” Granted, you don’t want to get into this loop of feeling like you have to constantly attend to her social media, but commenting a few times with intention might provide further insight into what she’s really looking for. As for a scenario like the TikTok followers, you could try and hit her with the cold hard truth: “I totally get why you’re upset. I sometimes get let down by how few followers I have, too. However, did you know most of those followers are bots/fake profiles? You have the comfort of knowing that the 70 people who follow you really care for you. I don’t know if [insert influencer] could really say that about their followers.” I’m wondering if a simple rephrasing away from the outer world and more towards her inner world of support could be helpful. Sometimes people need to have their support systems drawn out for them.
Additionally, you can point her in the direction of resources to help her like therapy or even free self-help apps like Woebot (I just learned about this in my therapy program!). I’ve learned from experience that even if you say all the right things, suggest resources, and even physically drive someone to therapy, none of it will matter if they don’t want to meet you half way, or really even a quarter of the way. You can’t be your friend’s therapist, even if you want what’s best for her. You’re allowed to love people from afar as they grow, change, and figure things out. I hope you’re able to strike a balance between wanting to support and feeling a sense of obligation. Sending you and this friend lots of warmth and affirmation!
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.