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Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Friend

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Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Friend

Postby mtlarue » Thu Jun 23, 2011 3:37 am

Hello, all! This is my first post. I have joined this forum because I do need advice.

I have had a friend for ten years who I always thought was a bit over-dramatic, but she is a good person. She has four children and went through a terrible divorce, and for some of the past two years her psycho husband had full custody of the kids. (Yes, he is a terrible human being. We can't even go there right now.)

During these past couple of years her behavior has graduated from being dramatic to downright bizarre. I chalked most of it up to stress, because she endured a great wrong at the hands of the court system. Recently her case was vindicated for the most part, and she will be getting her children back, so I am happy for her. On the other hand, I am at a genuine crossroads as to how to proceed next. I will be as brief as I can be:

She had to undergo a complete clinical psychiatric evaluation last fall. The only part of the evaluation I disagreed with was that the licensed evaluator said she was paranoid about being wronged. She was definitely wronged. Other than that, the evaluator says my friend is self-centered, has delusions of grandeur, and suffers from impulse control. One paragraph of the evaluation is decent, where the evaluator says that she is a good mother and should have the children. She is a good mother, and I think she thrives with her children.

Since she received the eval, she can't stop bringing it up. She obsesses on it. I think this is because the eval is right on the nose. My opinion is that my friend suffers a bit from narcissism and histrionic personality disorder. She has serious traits of both -- promiscuity, melodrama, self-centeredness, alcohol abuse and denial, an absolute inability to not only deny by to forcefully deny that she does the things she does, no ability to confront her bad behavior, and she is not able to talk about anything that doesn't refer to her.

I have sat on the phone with her for hours while she goes on and on, and now I feel guilty for the past two years. I feel as if I enabled her to spiral deeper into mental illness. She has lost a second job recently, and I am now suspecting that she was fired for any reason. She always deems the martyr approach -- that she was fired for acting correctly -- but I suspect her behavior might be a problem.

She will call at all hours of the day and night, from 2 a.m., to 6 a.m., to midnight. If I don't answer, then she has been known to call four and five times in a row. When her life was going very well for the past two months I didn't hear from her once, which hurt me a bit; she only seems to call when she needs to talk to someone.

Here is my conundrum, in consideration of all of this:
I do not call her if I need to talk, because I have felt that her life has been too stressful to put more onto it. I did, however, call once nine months ago very depressed about the recent death of my father. He died after a painful and tragic illness. When I began to talk about it, she interrupted and went on about how her parents hate her (her mother does, and her father is an alcoholic), and she went on, and on, and on, leaving me on the other end of the phone, near tears and out of the conversation altogether. I just said I had to go, hung up, and I cried by myself. Then, I got over it and moved on.

I tried to talk to her this weekend as well. This, mind you, is nine months after the last time I asked for help. I do not ask for help much. I called and told her I was feeling a bit down, seeing as it was Father's Day and all, and I just needed someone to listen. I was missing my dad.

"Oh, tell me about it, girl. I haven't talked to my dad in years. I know how it is. ... blah blah blah..."

This was her response, again. I ended up listening to her go on aimlessly, talking about her life, while I sat on the other end of the phone for two minutes, and then I just hung up, defeated. She called back (probably because she was all wound up now and had no audience), and I told my husband to just hang up. He is tired of her, and he says she uses me, so he picked up the phone and slammed it down. She later left some message that sounded flippant, like I had done something wrong. I could not tell if she knew she had been insensitive or not.

So, here is my issue -- I know about the DSMIV and wrote a seventeen-page paper on histrionic two quarters ago. I am now positive that she has some personality disorder or different groupings of a few. Her behavior is pervasive, constant, and it defeats her needs. It is not effective. Therefore, I think she really needs help. The problem I have is that I am unsure where to put up boundaries, when she can be expected to be act normal, and when her behavior is excusable.

I know I have to accept her for who she is, but when I can't even tell her that she is being self-centered without receiving a litany of reasons of why she is -- she has been wronged, she is tired, no one has walked a mile in her shoes -- I see that I am dealing with a probably hopeless case. I do not believe that she will ever be able to give what she demands now in our friendship.

I'm taking the Dear Abby approach right now to backing off, which is be gradual. I do not put as much effort into our friendship as I used to, and I gradually put in less. But, I don't want to be that person who stops being someone's friend because that friend is mentally ill. Most people don't understand that mental illness is not fun to deal with. People who have personality disorders can be maddening, especially when the particular disorder involves the trait of subconscious behavior or behavior that is denied by the doer. Meaning, I get nowhere with telling her what she does. Here is a great example: She went on for a year that her husband assaulted one of her children. I agree that it was awful. However, two Christmases ago I got to listen, via the phone, to her yell and rage at her kids, drunk as hell. Then, she strangled the one kid who her ex-husband assaulted. When I brought this up to her, she refused to talk about. She still does. And yet, she has no trouble calling foul to every single person who wrongs her.

I am tired, and I don't know where to expect her to behave. I must stress, too, that she will go on for weeks after I say something to her, passive aggressively fighting my opinion. For example, I told her it was time to let the eval go, and she brings it up all the time. When she does, she uses my words "Get over it", but she does so in such a snide tone that I want to punch her. I asked her if that is how I sounded, and she will change the subject back to the eval. So, taking all of this into consideration, especially her stalwart denial to accept responsibility for any behavior or to even acknowledge it at time, and especially that she uses me as her biggest dumping ground, when do you think I get off the ride, and how?

I can use all the help and advice I can get from you all. Except for trying to reason with her, of course; there is no possible way to talk over her. She interrupts constantly and talks 85% of the time we talk because she just will not shut up.

Thank you all so much.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby jilkens » Thu Jun 23, 2011 3:58 am

Wow... I'm not even sure what to suggest! Your friend sounds very, very ill with little insight into her problems. Is she getting treatment? Counseling?

She definitely has a total disregard for boundaries. You're going to have to set the boundaries up on your own and enforce them in a way that could seem insensitive (especially if she plays the victim card about it). Let her know what you can or will not discuss with her, and what will happen if she disregards your rules.

Basically the line will be wherever you feel it needs to be drawn. Let her know it exists and what you will do to guard it, and follow through.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby mtlarue » Thu Jun 23, 2011 5:04 am

Thanks so much, ladyswan. I did forget to add that she lives states away from me, so our friendship is currently all by phone. We will be moving to her area of the world some time in the next six to nine months.

I would like to see her get help, especially since she has a free option -- a battered women's shelter by her home offers free counseling. She went a few time and then stopped. I mention it often, and she gets loud about gas prices. She does seem to make excuses for anything that she just doesn't want to do.

I think setting boundaries with her vocally is exactly where this is going, and that will be hard. It seems that I am the best friend, the smartest person, etc., until I set a boundary or tell her she's wrong. If you have any advice on to how I do this successfully, I'd take it in a minute. Do you think a letter would work if she won't listen?
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby AnxiousAna » Thu Jun 23, 2011 11:22 am

I sympathise.

I have a handful of disorders of my own, and my sister has BPD, and it can be extremely difficult for a mentally healthy person to try and cope with a friend or loved one with a personality disorder, let alone if they have something to contend with of their own.

The most important thing I've learned is to identify which of her behaviours harms me, and to know what I can and am willing to take. It sounds as if your friend's behaviour is negatively impacting you, and she won't take responsibility for her problems not harming you - so you have to. Personally, I found this to be really important, and it helped me to work out what boundaries I need to place and reminds me how important it is to enforce them.

For example, I cannot listen to my sister fantasise about suicide. It effects me negatively, and I've told her this and that while I understand she feels this way, it makes me worse to hear about it and that she can talk to a professional about that if she needs to.

Work out what your limits are, which of her behaviours are harming you and which you are willing to endure for the sake of your friendship. Perhaps place a limit on the times she can call, and switch off a phone after that time if she calls. She will probably resent you for trying to place boundaries, ignore them, lash out etc. In my experience all you can do about that is to be warm and accepting and non-judgemental, stay calm but be firm, and explain that you don't blame them or dislike them but that you need to put the boundaries in place for you, and for your health. If she continues to ignore them and push them (which is pretty likely) you just have to stay calm and remain firm and not budge.
It's common from my understanding that it's common for someone in that situation to feel like you're rejecting, abandoning or neglecting them, but as long as you explain that this is something you need to do to protect yourself, but you love her, and you remind her that there is a professional she can see for free who will listen and is trained to listen to and help her, then that's really all you can do.

No one can really tell you where the line should be, but don't think you're a bad person for needing to enforce boundaries, or that you're uncaring in any way. Enabling your friend and giving her the attention she's after isn't going to help her in the long-run anyway. I'd just keep steering her toward help and try to remain strong, that's what I do, anyway.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby mtlarue » Fri Jun 24, 2011 1:15 pm

Ana, you gave me shivers, because in the summer of 2009 I had to listen to her telling me she was going to kill herself, over and over again. I was terrified to call the authorities because I was always reminded of her attempts to regain her kids. I caved.

For what it's worth, just being on this forum has given me the feeling that I no longer have 50 pounds of lead on my head. While I was reading your post the phone rang twice. It was her.

I cannot express my thankfulness at being able to read and listen to others who understand that I am drained and feel badly, because I might have added to her problem. Thank you so much for just responding. When I read your post I felt like I was reliving much of the summer of 2009. There was so much she wanted from me, but I didn't have it. When I suggested help, she actually got mad. I was dealing with someone who wanted to talk to me but not to a therapist. After reading so much of this forum, and your post as well, I see this may be a pattern.

I am going to read more on the boundaries, because my concern is that the boundaries issue might be the main problem. How is it that someone can be so damned persuasive?

By the way, (edit) I am thankful that you share about your sister. That cannot be easy.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby AnxiousAna » Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:03 am

It's a situation that sounds familiar to me, and I'm sure to many others here.

I don't know if this will help or be applicable in your situation, but try to google the "drama triangle". I learned about it from my sister's therapist; the idea that my sister will try to pull me into this metaphorical triangle where someone is either the victim, the protector or the persecutor. When she occupies the victim role, she wants me to be the protector, to listen to her and sympathise and give her all the attention she is craving. If I refuse to do that or enforce my boundaries, she perceives me as the persecutor, then becomes the persecutor herself, and is angry with me and blames me and lashes out, thinking I don't care about her and I'm rejecting her.

The point is that there is no good place on the triangle. The idea is that you need to get off the triangle entirely, and not get drawn into being any of those roles. Even when you feel sorry for yourself because it's so hard on you, you end up being the victim, and so on (even though it feels justified to me!)
Supposedly there's another triangle next to it, which is all about calming down, taking care of yourself, taking time to get back into your skin and your life and remembering yourself and not getting overwhelmed with her problems and so on.

I'm sorry I don't remember it clearly enough to explain it all, but I did find it yourself because I identified that pattern of behaviour in both herself and me.

Boundaries is, without a doubt, the hardest part. She WILL fight you on it. She will ignore them, get angry, lash out at you, push them etc. You just have to be firm and always stay calm and never lash out back, and try your best not to sound like you're judging her or blaming her or accusing her of anything.

I don't know if writing them to her would help, since if she won't listen to you she probably won't listen to a letter either, but once you set them you should definitely write them down for yourself so you can stay strong and make sure you don't allow little exceptions and let her push and move the boundaries. She sounds like a master manipulator, but when you know that and you know that's what's going to happen, you can better prevent yourself by being taken in.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby mtlarue » Mon Oct 31, 2011 6:27 am

Hey, and I know it's been awhile. I felt the need to come back here and thank all of you for your kind words and allowing me to vent. I truly appreciated your ears.

Sadly, the friendship came to a crashing end this past week. I wanted to drop by and let you know that it ended over money, of all things. Never a lender or a borrower be, I have heard, and I couldn't agree more now. The details of the incident are kind of boring; she did not understand my paying a bill for her was a loan, even though I was really clear on it. When I asked for the money back a few weeks later, she became really angry because money is tight for her. Well, money is also tight for me, and I couldn't afford to give her the money. She told me the friendship was over.

I took this chance to cut and run. I did so because I realized that I could never end the friendship and not feel a tremendous amount of guilt, as if I'd be leaving her. It's rather ironic that she dumped me, but I have read that this happens with HPD, too. If the friend (me) does not play the assigned role, or loses her use, then often the friend (me) is left. I guess that I have lost my usefulness over the summer and fall, because I do not let her ramble on forever now. She also has a friend who gives her money. Her needs are being met.

I am sad, but I do think this is for the best. I have deleted her from my social networking (she didn't, which is weird, considering that she told me to screw off), and I am finding that there has been what feels like a ton that has been lifted off me. I feel guilty about this, but then I don't. I'm vacillating.

Thank you so very much for letting me get this out and for letting me know that I was not alone. You are very nice people.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby mtlarue » Mon Oct 31, 2011 6:47 am

P.S. Anna, the drama triangle is amazing! I read everything I could find, but I never said thank you. I do think that my drawing out of the cycle was a pivotal point in her deciding that I was no longer necessary. Alright then -- TTYL.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Fri

Postby ThereWillBePeace » Tue Dec 04, 2012 6:44 am

I just wanted to say that I am going through a very similar situation with a friend who has many of the same attributes as your friend. I can only echo what other people have been saying, which is to set some boundaries and keep to them, especially if she fights you on said boundaries (which she most likely will.) I am also speaking to myself, and am not "preaching" or anything. Peace.
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Re: Not Sure of Where to Draw the Line with Mentally Ill Friend

Postby Thoroughly » Fri Jul 11, 2014 6:29 pm

Wow, I could have almost written the exact same story! SOOOOO many similarities! In mycase, longstanding friendship with ongoing issues but at first, I could overlook them. she had a lot of bad stuff happen to her, bad BAD end to a long relationship, accusations and a criminal charge, estrangment from family members...drama, drama, drama. Like your ex friend, MY ex friend couldn't ever stop talking about herself, OR making a topic all about her. I went on vacation? She went on an even more amazing vacation. I had a sore back? SHE had a terrible sore throat, a cough plus a sprained wrist...with a long convoluted story to go with it. I won some money on a scratch off ticket? That led to HER story about going to Vegas and winning at a slot machine. I had a bad, troubling fight with my mom? DIdn't even begin to compare to the issues with HER mom. On and on, for years. Like your ex friend, my ex friend got progressively worse. She slept around, compulsively lied to her various boyfriends and lovers, had sex with incredibly inappropriate people (a 19 year old when she was 40, plus she worked with his mom!), couldn't get her crap together. Her phone calls only came when she was in crisis and needed me. My problems always took a back burner to hers. Being around her got more and more depressing as her physical health started to deteriorating. This affected her looks, which led to her obsessively shopping for flattering clothes, makeup, hair accessories....and she'd spend hours getting ready to go out. I felt sorry for her because she was obviously so tortured. I didn't want to abandon her at first...and we still had some good times. But she was exhausting. Like your friendship....ours came to a point where it just exploded and then ended. SHe picked a fight with me over something ridiculous. She was obviously very jealous over some good fortune I'd had (I landed a great job, making good money, and had met an awesome guy). She had nothing nice to say about any of my accomplishments, was very rude during a visit and finally just started an argument. SHe acted completely delusional during the fight, making all kinds of outrageous claims against my guy and insulting me pretty much the entire time. We never spoke again and while part of me misses her, I certainly don't miss the drama or the worry she brought with her.
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