March 13, 2010

Supportive Friends

The Blind Girl by Sir John Everett Millais

Backstabbing Friends by Stormchild:

“Something I've noticed as the years go by: "I've always maintained that you don't know who's a friend until you're facing a crisis; then the people who stand by you are friends, those who cut and run are not. Over time, it seems there are more and more who cut and run. And of those who don't, entirely too many seem to be "Charity Preeners", primarily interested in helping so they will have something to brag about to others. Not a good sign, sociologically. Plain old decency seems to be a very scarce commodity these days.” 

I’d like to editorialize on your comment, Stormchild, without putting words in your mouth or misusing your comment. I could write about friends who stand by us during crisis, or friends who are charitable because it’s fashionable, or fair-weather friends who are only there when times are good (or only when times are bad. Some people get off on having the inside scoop on misfortune).

I’d like to write about an interesting phenomenon, though: the idea that the average person is incapable of supporting a friend’s struggles---that every problem we face should be referred to an authority; i.e.: therapist, because we don’t know how to Feed and Care for one another Properly. It’s as if we’ve abdicated ourselves of responsibility by out-sourcing empathy, compassion, and support.

Excessive reliance on therapy may lead to dissolution of communal inter-reliance. In my perception, there’s a change a-foot and it impacts community in subtle ways, dissolving social cohesion and trapping people in an adolescent conception of friendship. Now that therapy has been de-stigmatized (at least for most American people), we rely on external authorities to have all the answers to life’s mysteries.

For those who only have time for the short version, you can stop reading now. For the long version, read on:

When common decency dictates contact, I query myself: “Why am I hesitant calling so-and-so? She’s dealing with so many problems right now.” Which is exactly why people are reluctant to make a phone call or visit so-and-so: she’s dealing with so many problems right now. We seem to be increasingly reluctant to extend sympathy, especially when someone is in pain. (Or is that merely a subjective perception now that I’m an older woman? Is society fragmenting; or am I reacting to marginalization as an older woman?)

It's tough in American society to talk with friends heart-to-heart. If we dare bring up personal challenges, the first thing people say is, "Have you seen a therapist? No? Why not? Do you really believe you don’t need one ‘cuz we had a neighborhood emergency meeting last night and everyone agrees: you need therapy. Especially since you don’t think you do. Here, we passed the hat at our last meeting and we’re donating your co-payment. Now stop messin’ up our day with your complaints.”

One cyber-friend told me that the perception of Americans in her country is that we run for a therapist if our toast falls on the floor, butter side down.

It concerns me that people are losing confidence in themselves, medicalizing every lousy situation life brings our way. As if we're supposed to feel good all the time or be mentally impervious to bad shit happening to good folks. What strikes me is that outsourcing support lets people OFF THE HOOK. Instead of struggling with a friend, we offload responsibility to therapists, which keeps the friendship shallow and hinders the development of reciprocal bonds. People seem to be getting the idea that a friend's struggles belong in the therapist's office---not in the friendship relationship.

Excessive reliance on therapy can be disempowering on an individual and group basis, like running to an authority whenever we feel bad, anxious, or uncertain. I believe we're losing an opportunity to increase social bonds by empathizing with a friend's suffering; and becoming rather lazy about digging inside ourselves for experiential wisdom. I believe that conversation and joint efforts to support people while they do their own work, has been and is essential to healthy connections within a society.

We want our friendships trouble-free because we sure don’t want be affected by a friend’s bad energy thus attracting misery into our own lives. This is an adolescent definition of friendship rather than a maturing and deepening understanding of the vicissitudes of life.

An enabler or a friend?

I’m a listener. The kind of woman people visit just to say “Hi”. We enter my living room, in total privacy, where a handy box of Kleenex is pre-arranged on the end table. Just in case. Just in case either she or I break down in tears.

Life is painful. Life is joyful. Life is.

By the time we’ve finished talking, the unspeakable holding her hostage had been spoken. I ddidn'treact. I didn't blame or judge, nor did I take responsibility for a friend’s problem, whatever it may have been. And really, fixing the problem isn’t what they wanted anyway. They wanted a friend who would listen, empathize, and bear their struggles with them. They’d fix their own problems and if they couldn't, they’d call a therapist. Every community has a book of yellow pages, and word-of-mouth spreads fast when a therapist is competent and respected. It spreads even faster if the therapist isn't.

My daughter once told me I was a shame-magnet. She wasn’t accusing me of being a prisoner of shame, but a person who invited people to release their shame. Shamed people are sensitive to the slightest grimace on a listener’s face, looking in their eyes to see if you'll validate their suspected unworthiness. If you’re uncomfortable with vulnerability or unable to tolerate other people’s pain, they will silence themselves in two seconds flat. Were they as terrible as they felt themselves to be after betraying their values and beliefs? Was she a shameful mother because she loved her gay child when everyone in the community shunned him? Was he a shameful man because he could not forgive abusive parents?

Shame. Shame. Shame on our unwillingness to bear one other’s shame.

It disturbs me how deskilled people feel themselves to be in creating intimate and bonding friendships. There are many reasons for this and I haven’t come up with all of them but I get the feeling that people see themselves as incompetent to support a friend’s struggles. We have overvalued therapeutic intervention and devalued friendship. We’re afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, thus isolating a victim even more by saying or doing nothing because we’re uncertain. We don’t trust ourselves. If by chance, we meet this person on the street corner, we excuse ourselves by mumbling a few words about "needing to leave ‘cuz we have an appointment", rather than giving them a silent hug or taking a few moments to listen. Or, the rudest thing of all: suggesting therapy.

Empathy requires a willingness to suffer. Not a distancing from a friend like a professional must do, but a sincere willingness to hurt because they hurt. I see a reluctance to become involved in one another’s lives as if we’re supposed to be self-sufficient entities never depending on others or allowing others to depend on us. We turn reciprocal friendships into self-serving relationships because we don’t wanna be bothered with the burdens of intimacy; resulting in shallow friendships and in a circular way, preventing us from sharing our struggles, too. We isolate others because we are afraid of their pain and we isolate ourselves because we believe other people are indifferent or don't want to be bothered.

Please don’t mishear my concerns about therapeutic support. I am not suggesting a listening ear will cure mental illness. What I see is an abdication of social responsibility by deferring to therapeutic authorities when what our friends may actually require is compassion and empathy on a friendship basis. Not a professional one.

In fact, the extension of compassion and empathy bonds people together.

The best friends supporting me during a life crisis, were those who cared for me, treated me with kindness (not like a leper who was gonna ruin the lunch party), and reminded me time and time again that they were always there to listen. They showed up without waiting for me to call, carrying gifts like a pretty container of bath salts, home-roasted coffee beans, a book they loved, a bouquet of flowers, or in the case of my cyber-friends---a box of Oreos. One friend gathered fruit from her orchard, handpicked and selected as an expression of her love and concern for me.

And they listened. And they listened. And they listened some more.

Some people suggest we listen three times to someone’s trubbles, and then stop listening entirely. Once someone has cried three times, we’re enabling them if we let them cry four times. Or five. Well, that makes me a criminal-enabler-in-the-first-degree because some of my friends have cried a hundred times before feeling ‘cleansed’ enough to stop.

Friendship is a responsibility.

Though life is unpredictable and nobody deserves to be harmed, it does seem that whatever goes around, comes around. For years, I listened and offered comfort and support to friends and family, never expecting I would be on the receiving end one day.

And then I was.

And there they were. With casseroles and Kleenex.

So I’ve come up against an oddity in our society: our fear, as friends, to say or do something wrong because we aren’t professional psychologists. That lay support is suspect because The Blind Are Leading the Blind, as the pejorative cliché goes.

Which is destructive to social bonds if we shrink back, becoming dependent on outside authorities to fix friend’s problems so we can enjoy Happy Lunches and Jimmy Choo shoe-shopping---a total abdication of the responsibility of friendship. 

We don’t need to ‘fix’ one another’s burdens. Just witness. Cry, suffer, and grieve their losses in the bones of our very being. This is what people need and desire most. To have someone care when caring is a painful thing to do.

A therapist is a professional resource best qualified to treat serious mental problems; but therapists will never replace the healing power of friendship. When someone willingly and without motive other than love and respect, chooses to bear our burdens with us, they are validating our worth. Telling us we matter. Which may be the most important thing any human being could ever do for others, or for themselves.


P.S. I hope people don’t leap to a generality and accuse me of ‘Devaluing and Discarding’ professional counseling or psychiatric research. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is reactionary, polarizing, and unfortunately, all-too-common. My intent is to ‘think critically’ and encourage others to do likewise.


  1. I aslo have some wonderful friends who have helped me through much. Because of 2 abusive marriages, some have even been there for both rounds.

    I had a bad experience with a therapist in marriage counseling the first time around. She never brought up the word abuse, and pointed the finger at me more than not. I was too much of this, and not enough of that. I heard plenty of that at home. My self esteem got lower and lower. I ended up from that point forward, going it on my own, with friend, some family, and awesome blogs like yours.

    I read a great article once about therapy. They said most of us truly have the answers inside of us, and what therapy does for some people, is just someone having a listening ear.


  2. Actually, I disciplined myself to back off from too much sympathetic time with suffering friends because I was afraid of becoming too controlling, too aggressive with comments, and too blunt.

    And I backed off because it seemed that a few relatives had no intention of dealing with their woes or their attitude. It turns into a pity party and is a one-way support event, rather than a reciprocal bonding exercise.

    You need to be careful that you aren't an enabler, that's for sure, now that I know what an enabler is and how she behaves.

    There certainly is a fine line to walk in all this, and it takes much experience and personal training to individualize the support.

    I agree that there are too few supporters for the suffering in this world. I'd be willing to do more, if the suffering people are open to the idea.

    Sometimes there are roadblocks.
    Then I sympathize for them, alone.


  3. CZ -- I believe, because of who I am, that I make a better listener than I can advise giver. Empathy for me is spelled in listening and not crying, though it's okay to cry if the story is really really sad. For me, tears get in the way of my hearing. My daughter listens and shows her empathy through her shared tears. It is beautiful to watch how people warm up to her -- and be both are good friends. We're just different in how we support others.

    I love what you wrote -- and I believe therapy is vital as well -- and like in all things, there are good therapists and not so good therapists. The secret is to find one you can related to and someone you feel can 'hear' you.

    Love this post. But then, I'm biased in all things CZ. I think
    you're amazing!


  4. Unfortunatelty, I think the real reason our society has seen a frightening drop in empathy is because people just don' t give a darn. It truely scares the bejunipers outta me to read current relationship books, especially for workplace relationships. People are encouraged, dare say urged, to drop those who are too-,whether it's too-emotional, or clingy, or intense, or needy, or who just aren't fun enough. I've even seen books that encourage blatantly dismissing those who try to share less than sunny feelings, since "they're not telling us antthing we'd want to hear." You're likely to get a lecture about being too sensitive, and how everyone has their own "cross to bear" . My 12step group is the only place where people acually have any empathy at all.

    1. Great comment, Anonymous!

    2. i totally agree...people are just simply becoming more selfish PERIOD! even in the bible it says somewhere that people are becoming more cold because of wickedness...and i also blame the kardashians who are the high priestesses of selfishness...and look how popular they are!

  5. It's very true----empathetic people are becoming an endangered species. It amazes me at how quick people are to label someone as *too needy* if they seek emotional support during a time of crisis.
    Those same individuals who are so quick to label---will most likely find themselves in a situation where they need support, eventually. Hopefully, that will be a wake-up call.

  6. Hi Freestyle,

    Thanks for commenting on this article. I needed to review the topic again.

    As time goes on, people seem to have less and less patience for another's problems. We're so individualized now---we can entertain ourselves without extending ourselves to anyone else. It's kinda sad...

    I mean, even our charitable work is reduced to clicking a donation button. Then we 'feel' good about ourselves but not really. It's not satisfying because the good we experience is DOING something by engaging with other people. Not clicking buttons linked to PayPal.

    I am off-topic. What's new? Ha!

    Thanks for reading and posting,

  7. Hi CZ,

    I love your essay! You know, FB reminds me of the ultimate in let's put on our happy faces and if your 'story' is less than pure blissful or darn near it, then in my experience, you're in the wrong place. But then, FB also reminds me of real life, at least in America. It's very much the same in that regard.

    I was talking to a new friend recently. She's a little out there on the opinionated side. I asked her if she wanted to visit the meditation trail, or perhaps go to one of the meditations going on this week in our area. Just a thing to do, I thought, and something calming. She said she didn't go around people that she didn't know because some folks have negative energy that does something to her aura. I had friends in the '80's who were like that. Always making sure they hung out with the positive happy folks. Come to think of it, I know many like that as I write. Sigh...

    I miss my grandmother and Dad. They were always willing to be there with me in my pain, but took joy in my happiness as well. Never once did they say, "Um, sweetie, that's too negative okay and I'm watching my energy vibes."

    What you have written sure strikes home with me these days. People have new and better ways of not caring for their sisters and brothers. It is disappointing. What is the world coming to?

    I agree too that therapists have a place. I've needed them and have found help with deeper long-standing issues, but when it comes to simply being human, there's nothing better than having a friend to sit with and pour your heart out if you need to.

    Thanks for writing CZ! Big Hugs and Love, dogkisses.

    PS I hope this doesn't go to your spam like with W'press. I'm having difficulties commenting under my dogkisses user name b/c of my other blog. Gotta fix that soon. xoxo

    1. "She said she didn't go around people that she didn't know because some folks have negative energy that does something to her aura."

      *rolling my eyes now* and I'm close to vomiting, too!

      What Is Up with the pretenses? Listen, people hide behind excuses like this because our society is narcissistic enough to condone their LOUSY behavior! If her aura is messed-up because someone is negative or hurting or miserable or depressed, then she needs to work on her boundaries. She needs to work on her resilience. Maybe what she needs to do is think about someone else besides her narcissistic self!!

      I detest this kind of thinking and it's been promoted rather heavily the past few years with "The Secretrons". I have read things online and heard things that make my eyeballs fall out of my head---they're so self-centered and selfish.

      I am not gonna pussy-foot around though and say that it's FUN to hang out with people that are hurting. I won't even try to minimize how challenging it can be to support someone who is hurting or suffering...It Is exhausting at times. We do it though, because we care and some of us (thank goodness) believe we ARE our brother-and-sister's keeper.

      As I've been challenged to care for others instead of focusing on my widdle self, I have experienced deeply satisfying rewards...for one thing, rising to the challenge increases our self-respect AND (though not always), it forges a loving bond between ourselves and the person we're helping. Being a caregiver has given my life meaning even if my aura isn't a glittering rainbow of scintillating colors all the time. ha!

      Who cares about, or even thinks about their AURA when someone is suffering? Or needs a shoulder to cry on? ARGH

      Love and Hugs back,

    2. Jeez, dogkisses comment reminds me SO much of my narc mother, and her responses to things. And all this talk these days of "emotional contagion," that's the language being used, just reinforces that it's ok not to be able to tolerate the unhappiness or difficulties of friends. UGH

  8. 20 years ago, after a rough breakup, I became friends with a guy who invited me to talk to him about it--but then became very critical. One of his many criticisms was that I was "negative" and "depressed" and people didn't like to see me coming to their table. Well, no kidding! Why wouldn't I be upset and depressed just a few weeks after losing a boyfriend I'd loved? And hearing that people didn't want me coming around--That made it even worse!

    For the next year, he'd pick and pick at me, criticizing everything about me, using my body and then telling me he didn't want me, and then accuse me of being too negative and wonder why I was so "gloomy" all the time. Gee, I wonder why....

    When, a couple years ago, I was brutally verbally abused by my N-friends and my husband and I decided that's it, we've had enough, and broke off the friendship, I was heartbroken. I still haven't gotten over it, though I've gotten used to the pain. For a while I spoke to friends about it, looking for shoulders to cry on. But I'd start to feel like I was talking about it too much, like I had so much hurt and pain to share but they were dismissing me with, "Just let it go, move on." And that was only, what, a few days or weeks after the breakup? Even my husband didn't like hearing too much about it. And the more people stop listening, the more you feel like you're "dwelling," you're the one with the problem--and you sink into the depths of sadness with nobody to help you out. When I could have used shoulders to cry on and people willing to hear the whole, twisted mess of what had happened, not just a tiny chunk of it.

    It's one reason I've resisted therapy. (Another is lack of money.) I didn't want to unload on a stranger. I wanted to share the burden with friends. It's also one reason why I took to blogging about it....Which the ex-friends found, by the way. So they know all now. And ridiculed me for it.

    1. Hi Nyssa! I missed your comment until Calibans' Sister posted a comment this morning. I'm really sorry about that! I will pop over to your blog and say "hi" (but don't blame you if you don't reply since you left this comment in 2012 and I didn't even acknowledge your comment!)

      How awful it is when family members or friends find our blogs! I can relate....I've written about things that couldn't be articulated any other way. Blogging can be very cathartic AND it can help us organize our thoughts. When I write something 'out', it helps me figure out what needs to be done to correct the problem (even if the problem is 'me').

      I went to therapy several years ago and it changed my life for the better. It was definitely worth the money and the time. It doesn't work for everyone though.


    2. Blogging was working quite well for me, because I could write without worrying so much what other people think. I was actually glad the X-friends found it at first, because they read everything I'd ever wanted to say to them, but was too afraid to. But then they threatened to sue, began emotionally terrorizing me, stalking my blog when they knew I wanted them to go away....They even came to my church and the woman practically pressed up against me in the communion line, started breathing down my neck in a threatening manner.

      There was more crap to deal with now, but I felt like I couldn't talk about it too often. One group I spoke to about it, began plotting 4chan-style vengeance on the ex-friends, to destroy their reputations in the community, and that frightened me, until I got them to stop it. I went to them for support, but practically had a nervous breakdown from their plot and all the stress it caused.

      I felt alone, because I wasn't the type of person to just ignore the lawsuit threat or laugh it off, and couldn't force myself into being that way, but my husband obviously wished I would. I felt their threat was very real, not something to ignore. I wanted somebody to tell them to knock it off, a group to show them I have people on my side, not counseling sessions to help me pretend the threat did not exist. I didn't want counseling, I wanted my stalkers to stop stalking me!

      A couple of months ago, they switched service providers, and got a static IP address, giving me the chance to switch to Wordpress and block them at the server level. Things are much quieter now. They're no longer watching as I blog out my anxieties, because they can't. The lawsuit threat has also never materialized.

      The other day, I saw an episode of "Mork and Mindy" in which a woman in mourning for her husband was part of a "positive thinking" group. She had a partner from the group who would put her back in positive thoughts whenever she began to grieve. I thought, How unhealthy, and is that where all the resistance came from to letting people grieve, "positive thinking" in the 70s/80s?

    3. "I wanted somebody to tell them to knock it off, a group to show them I have people on my side, not counseling sessions to help me pretend the threat did not exist. I didn't want counseling, I wanted my stalkers to stop stalking me!"

      I'm so glad you responded, Nyssa! Pertaining to this comment about therapy, I AGREE with you 100%. The last thing we need when we're being harassed, stalked, abused, mistreated, etc. is to be told to forgive. Or be encouraged to 'reframe' the situation and put ourselves in the abuser's shoes. (ARGH) What we need is for the attacks to stop. Not a 'new way to look at things.'

      Your story sounds traumatic---not only your friends stalking your blog but your other friends willingly engaging (even escalating) a war!! Over the past decade, I've been through some cyberfeuds and ya know, some folks just LOVE that sort of thing. They enjoy the hysteria, the retaliation, the sneaking-around, the nasty emails and threats. When someone (no matter which side they're on) LIKES the drama and chaos, revenge and retaliation, that tells us something. I am not that kind of woman and usually don't hang out with people like that unless they're family. ha...jest kiddin'. Not even with family---that attitude is NOT okay with me. Life is too darn short to spend it plotting revenge.

      Now about lawsuits, the best way to deal with that is to learn about the law. Know our blogging rights so we aren't frightened by legal threats. I've been through this a few times too and it was very stressful at first. Now I'm fairly clear on the law and found out there wasn't any money at stake...except for legal representation should a judge allow the case to go to court.

      I'm glad to know changing service providers has provided you some relief. Cyberstalkers and harrassers are such chickenshits.


    4. P.S. RE: Mork and Mindy. How ironic a Mork and Mindy sitcom would capture Facebook today. ha! We don't want people to grieve, to be sad, to be lonely, to be anything other than Positive Thinkers. Which is the fast road to narcissism: an escape from reality.

      I also think people aren't very skilled at healthy boundaries. So when a friend is mourning, his/her listeners can't separate themselves enough to see 'her' as an individual. They just feel sad (definition: bad) and thus the need to change the way she feels so THEY feel better.

      Part of being a healthy supportive friend is working on ourselves so we can bear their burdens with them. If we are overwhelmed by a friend's negativity, the problem is our boundaries.


  9. Thank you for this blog, CZ. Your writing and many of the commenters' posts have helped me come to terms with my fairly recent recognition of my elderly alcoholic mother's N behaviors. If diagnosed, she might not rate very high on the continuum, but she's got some persistent N traits, without a doubt.

    My brother and I are adjusting fairly well to the long-overdue realization that she won't help herself and that she has a personality disorder. I'm struggling with how to handle one relationship and I think that you are probably willing and able to advise me. If not, that's okay. You've done a lot for me already by sharing your insights on this blog! Before I get to my current dilemma, here's a fairly concise description of the background:

    My brother and I are mostly at peace with our mutual decision to drastically limit contact and involvement with our mom after years of her refusing to do any of what we and everyone that cares about her knows she needs to do in the way of harm reduction measures. This decision came after seven years of failing to persuade her to allow us to help her get help for her severe alcoholism, transition from her unsafe house into assisted living, and let us or our cousin (an accountant and financial planner) monitor, not take over, just monitor her finances. She's 74, her brain and body have been saturated with alcohol for at least 15 years and in the last seven years she has fallen dozens of times. The worst falls have produced a broken hip, broken elbow, broken shoulder, second break of the same hip and most recently a fractured ankle. All but the fractured ankle required surgery and hospitalization, which lead to alcohol withdrawal symptoms and side effects from anti-seizure meds. She's in a wheelchair and is physically very frail due to all of the above along with poor nutrition. Her one and only concession "to us" is having a caregiver in her home. She says she agreed to this because we insisted on it, but the truth is that her limited mobility makes it impossible to bathe or use the toilet without help, much less prepare what little food she's willing to eat.

    Sorry, I must make this a 2-part post.

  10. What I'm struggling with now is the affect that my decision to back off, without going no-contact, is having on a long-standing friendship. Bill and I have been friends for 31 years. We've had great times together and helped each other through many of the rough times each of us has gone through from our late teens to age 50. He doesn't approve of my brother and I having made the difficult decision to give up trying to help our mother help herself. He has always liked and admired our mom. They're not extremely close, but she has been somewhat of a tonic to the pain of his own mom leaving the family when Bill was in his early teens. Because she's a secretive, covert N type who projects the image of a Wonderful Mother who has nothing but (non-toxic) love for my brother and me, he's disappointed in and disapproving of the change in my relationship with her. This hurts me, but I can sort of understand his position because I have not been candid with him about the extent of her difficult personality and the way it has affected my ability to have peace and happiness in my life at times. I'm not traumatized by her N ways. Long before I knew the meaning of the word narcissism I learned to keep our relationship superficial, mostly civil and fairly distant.

    What I'm asking is, do you know of a way that I can make Bill understand that my choice was necessary without causing him the pain of knowing the ugly truths about my mom? I'm not out to protect my mom's reputation or pull away the mask that she's worn so well for most if not all of her life. My other close friends and some extended family members know the facts about my mom. She's the type of N that is a fine friend, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, work colleague, neighbor, customer, etc. You have to be married to her or be her adult child to experience her toxic, dysfunctional side. Thank you for reading this and for any helpful response! Lisa

    1. Hello Lisa. Somehow, I must have missed the emails alerting me to your comments. I didn't reply to Nyssa either but that can happen when a post is over a year old. My apologies again. <3

      If you are still around, how about an update? What has happened with your mother, Bill and your brother?


  11. "Shame. Shame. Shame on our unwillingness to bear one other’s shame." What a brilliant sentence. I'm so glad you linked this post to your most recent. I hadn't read it before, showing me what an ongoing treasure trove your blog is. I emailed my friend this morning, before reading this, and I now feel so glad that I did. You are right--friendship is a responsibility. Genuine relationships are always responsibility. One either lives up to it or not. This is a wonderful post, so much to think about, and so revealing of your character CZ. I am so glad you are my friend. You have treated it as a good responsibility from the very first, standing up for me first, taking fire for it. You must be a wonderful friend to have IRL (although frankly I'm starting to feel like we ARE friends IRL. Cyberfriends can be more real than proximal friends). I wish we lived closer to each other. Thanks for the link. love CS

    1. Hi CS! I love it when you scrounge through my work and find something worthwhile! I have some strong feelings about friends and our responsibility to support one another, as you have read. I hope I'm a good friend to anyone who can stand being around me...ha! I try.

      To reciprocate the love here: you are my friend which might scare you a little bit and who could blame you? My life isn't exactly Facebook Quality---there's plenty of lows to go with the highs and sometimes silver linings are impossible to see through the fog-and-chaos. I'm glad you are my friend; you have supported my struggles, too!

      I have a handful of cyberfriends who are LIFELONG friends now. We started hanging out in cyberspace several years ago and now they're part of my family. I believe cyber-relationships can be profoundly healing, in ways face-to-face relationships can't be. Having a mix of both makes life so much richer don't you think?


    2. Hi CZ, I definitely know it makes my life richer. I watched "Silver Linings Playbook" last night, and (sorry) but in a few places I had to laugh out loud imagining you and your sis sitting through it as a bday movie. It was rueful laughter, I assure you. But I can see why it wasn't the best choice of a day movie with your sis!!

      I didn't like the magical happy ending though. He suddenly stopped being "in love' with Nikki and was in love with Tiffany? please. Even taking meds doesn't make all that happen so fast.

    3. Uh yea. Ya think? I nearly laughed myself silly when she was dancing in a professional competition.

      My sister LOVED the ending. It's the kind of ending people with bipolar dream about, hope for, act on, are disillusioned by. When they don't get the fantasy ending which they assume to be a possibility, then the whole family gets to live through another round of life-threatening depression. I would "thumbs down" 'Silver Linings Playbook' just for the ending alone!

  12. Hi CZ,

    I'm so glad CS found this and shared it. It's a brilliant essay. The key phrase in the post for me is: "Empathy requires a willingness to suffer." that's precisely what some people are not prepared to do. They're happy to see you as "charity" and help out in practical ways, but sharing in your suffering? that's a different story.

    The flip side to this that I would like to add is that both DH and I shared in my sister's suffering all through the 4 years from the time her first husband left her until they legally divorced, but the minute she got some sort of happiness with a new boyfriend, that she didn't want us to share in. That was a big eye opening for me, the fact that she only wanted to share her misfortunes but not her joys. Have you met people like that too?


    Kara xx

    1. Hi dear Kara!

      Being able to 'feel' someone's sorry with them requires healthy boundaries ourselves. With good boundaries, we can feel someone's sorrow and grief and we can allow them to be, do, feel, act, and think as individuals without controlling 'their reality'.

      BUT, at least for myself, creating healthy boundaries takes many many years and if we are motivated to love someone, we'll learn whatever we need to learn in order to stay connected to them. Because what happens (in my view) when someone cannot distinguish between self-and-other is that they DISCONNECT from that person. They may see that person as 'less than' in order to disconnect, or they encourage their friend to PRETEND everything's wonderful---or be DUMPED. They may even 'guilt' a friend into denying their reality by counting how many times they've listened to her story.

      "Oh yes, Alice. You've talked about your mother for the last three luncheons. If I listen one more time, I'll feel like your enabler and you wouldn't want me to feel that way, would you?"


      I hear this quite a bit in the media, don't you? That listening is enabling and we aren't doing our friends any favors. Some of the media-heads in the USA have promoted the Three Times Rule and people applaud and cheer and love it when they say, "I will listen three times and that's it!"

      People cheer because how easy would that be? You wouldn't be responsible for listening or supporting a friend. Why just think of it! You could carry a check list with each friend's problems and when she'd reached her maximum three-times limit, cross that topic off the list. And you could STILL feel good about your self when you went home! Now if that's not evidence of an increasingly narcissistic society, what is??!!&&##!


  13. Love this post, CZ. I'm so glad CS shared it. I love your idea that people have their own timetable, that there's no statute of limitations on grief and suffering. Of course there isn't! Good point about therapy, too. I had not thought of this before, that we have "medicalized" suffering so much that people think it now belongs in a therapist's office. A scary thought, indeed.



    1. Hi Kitty! Yes, it's so true. We have "medicalized" suffering. Do we now feel entitled to a suffering-free life? Is that why? Or are people less willing to immerse themselves in someone else's pain in order to validate and support a friend? Does this mean people view friends as disposable if they don't meet our needs?

      I caught myself in the act one day with someone whose timetable for suffering exceeded my timetable for listening. I was just about ready to suggest she see a therapist when I remembered this post. We write these things for ourselves, too. ha!

      Thanks for stopping by!


    2. I think with the "new narcissism" culture, people DO feel entitled to a suffering-free life, just as they feel that self-esteem is all about making everything positive and pretending the negative doesn't exist. Suffering really has become a dirty word. Argghhh. Don't get me started. I'm working on a post about this so these ideas are fresh in my head. XX00

  14. "friendship is a responsibility" really shocked to hear that because i can tell u that MOST people do NOT think like this and this is the first time i heard this phrase which i have tried to live my whole life. right now im so extremely bitter at "friends" (i realize i basically have none), especially one person i known since high school, almost 15-20 years now. i have been there for her when her dad left the family, her mother is a narc as is mine which is why we really relate to eachother, her sisters have narc tendencies since her mom has turned them against her,she's overweight...i have tried to be a great friend and im an empath (i think u def. are one too, since u said your daughter says u are a "shame" am i. what it is is that we are people who are very understanding, thoughtful and non-judgmental and people sense that in us...which is why they feel comfortable telling us their deep problems they wouldnt tell anyone else; they know they can confide in us and we are caring...i just call myself the "diary" to everyone :))

    so anyways about this friend...she's very nice really, but just i guess insensitive and unthinking. she feels im her personal therapist but hardly ever asks me even how im doing? she doesnt and and all she talks about is her weight. she did call me on my b-day this year and i think last year...but ALL these years she never acknowledged it? why now? because shse senses im pulling away from her out of bitterness. im sure i have poor boundaries but seriously im an empath and i really cant help that people come to me because of that vibe i unconsciously project (many times i hate it. i dont want to feel everyone's pain all the time..or maybe im just projecting my pain onto them?) even if i do have poor boundaries or whatever it is, i just would like a friend who feels the same as i do which is that u have to be there for your friend no matter what, thats why theyre ur friend? sadly many people dont feel like that...i always felt that when my turn would come she would be there for me...but some people tell me i should expect nothing in return...ever? i understand u can do something for someone, a random person and not expect anything, but a friend? u cant expect anything from a friend ever? then what does friendship mean? u may as well rent a friend then, if theyre only gonna be there for u in the good times like in a party situation...friendship means nothing nowadays, its only getting worse...and it doesnt surprise me of why narcissism seems to be on the rise and people blame the victim instead of the narcissists...they see themselves in the narcs, they relate to them. also u have to be "happy" all the time, dont get me started on that!

    1. The one thing I can suggest is to talk with your friend and tell her how you feel. You can also tell her what you expect from the friendship as "her contribution". Since you've been friends for so many years, the relationship should be strong enough to tolerate such honesty. This is part of our Boundary's not just about protecting ourselves from insults. Boundaries are a way to define who we are and what we expect from other people.

      Now true---sometimes people are offended and they get defensive. If we empathize with this beforehand, we can avoid getting defensive back. We can say we understand how they feel rather than retaliating OR taking it personally. Even if people LOVE one another, they get angry when they're confronted so finding a way for a friend to "save face" is part of our task prior to talking to them.

      I think that in the end, people appreciate being told what "we" expect. It keeps things clean and fair. It avoids building resentments or either side and it also reminds people they need to give back, rather than continue taking.

      Since you have Aspergers, you will probably run into this problem througout your lifetime because you like to "give to others" and you like to "please them." Don't CHANGE this part of your personality because it is wonderful. But when you sense yourself feeling resentful in anyway, take charge. Write down what is bothering you and what you expect in return from someone you have befriended for years. Then when you are comfortable in understanding yourself (and the situation), ask to speak with your friend. Be sure you have validated your emotions as YOURS to own so you aren't seeking validation from your friend. It's easy to get side-tracked and want our friend to know how badly they made us feel). You can let that go and start anew by setting expectations.

      If you do this, let me know how it goes!



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