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I have a young friend (25 years old) who keep complaining to me by message regarding each and every little problem he is facing in life, dramatizing those to the extreme. He seems in a constant state of very high anxiety.

Recurring topics:

  • His inability to find a girlfriend or approaching girls and his fear to be alone forever

  • Oversensitivity to fatigue state, or little pain: slightly drowsy translate into: 'I may have a rare disease involving tiredness but the doctors keep failing at understanding what I have'...

  • Fear of failure: Anything that could potentially involve or be seen as "victory" or "failure" situations is seen as a dramatic challenge that he will try to avoid because as he always says: "I will fail, and I don't want to fail"

etc... You see the picture.

I am always challenged about how to interact and answer to his complaints on messenger or IRL. I myself have been through a very hard time in the past (PTSD), he knows it and somehow sees me as if I was holding some secret magic tricks to help him which I don't of course...

So after listening and asking if he tried to get help from a professional my advice are generally to be stronger: do some sport, practice meditation, understand that failure is part of life, engage with others, volunteer etc, because those things helped me recover from PTSD. However he never tried to apply any of those advices...

But recently I feel tired, also honestly irritated that he dares to compare his little everyday struggles with what I have been through.

I came to think he doesn't write to me for answers but just to release his anxiety and frustration. How to handle the interaction in a way that he stop flooding me with his negativity without hurting his feelings or making feel abandoned?

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+100

Back in high school I had friends that were highly depending on talking to me about their everyday issues. I'm not saying they didn't have reasons to feel bad: one of them had to deal with their mother's sclerosis and depression, another one had a violent step-father, another had struggles to deal with celibacy and to get good grades, ... You get the idea. In the beginning I listened to them, tried to give them advice on how to feel better / potentially solve some of their issues. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Every time they came back to complaining and feel sorry for themselves.

As a person who sympathizes a lot with other people's pain I started to feel really bad. I couldn't deal with their pain anymore, I couldn't listen or try to give them advice. What I then tried to do was to talk to them about myself: my highs mostly, my lows too. Talking about my own issues didn't work at all, as they would use it as an excuse to come back to their own problems. The good news on the other hand, they would simply ignore. I then realized that, it's not that they were not good people who cared about the others, but that our relationship in particular was one-way, and that I couldn't count on them to rejoice about my highs and comfort me during my lows. I was there for them, but they couldn't (or wouldn't, for some of them) be here for me. This became crystal clear when one of them had solved their issues and simply stopped talking to me. Either I was not helpful to them anymore or they felt bad to continue talking to me because I reminded them of hard times. I don't know for sure.

If you want to try to maintain this friendship after all, I would suggest you express your discomfort using non violent communication. This is what I did with some of these friends after talking more about myself failed to restore a two-ways relationship. Something along the lines of

Hey Bob, there's something I need to talk to you about. I know you're going through tough times, and I'm really sorry that you have to deal with this. I have issues dealing with your pain and I'm afraid I don't know how to deal with it or how to help you. Do you think we could try to talk about something else for some time?

would get you to two potential outcomes: either they stop over expanding on their personal issues and you two start talking about other topics (like hobbies, common situations, etc) or they don't know how to talk to you about different things and will stop talking to you. Out of the five similar relationships I had, only one continued to talk to me; two of them came to seek professional help and the two others found someone else to listen to their issues. Which is why I should warn you: chances are this person only considers this relationship as a way of confiding to someone. If they try to stop talking about their issues though, it is likely that they will fall back to their old habits at some point. It is normal thing to expect, as habits are hard to break. The longer you'll practice this new way of communicating, the less likely it'll get for them to start complaining again. If they do fall back to their old schemes, gently remind them that you're not the person to which they should confide these things (and rather turn to a healthcare professional).

Friendships breakups are terrible to deal with (for me it's as painful as romantic breakups). You need to know that it is likely they'll stop talking to you because they couldn't make you listen to their issues anymore. Do not feel bad about it or think you've abandoned them; you don't owe this to them and you're not equipped to deal with it, which means you'll end up hurt too (unless you're a healthcare professional but even if it's the case, they must see a doctor they don't have an emotional connection with). You need to think about your own needs and remind yourself that you will not be helpful by becoming their emotional support, as it'll only result in a (co-)dependent, unhealthy relationship. This is something that took me a while to understand: even if they get upset by my refusal, I was not doing them any favor by nourishing this toxic relationship. Sometimes they understood they hurt me with their pain and we started a new, healthy friendship together, sometimes they didn't and we stopped talking - and it was hard, because I cared about them. But refusing to keep being an emotional bandaid was the right thing to do for both of us - and so it'll be for you two.

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I feel you.

I have been in a similar situation in the past. One of my friend always had 'drama'. Not just limited to her but way beyond that. From possessive behaviour to verbally hitting me in case I do not agree to listen to her.

Your last paragraph is all you need in your life.

I came to think he doesn't write to me for answers but just to release his anxiety and frustration.

You have hit the spot! Yep. When he approaches you, your mind wants to 'help him out', so it starts getting 'in the zone'. i.e. putting yourself in his shoes, making you feel everything that he feels. After your brain comes up with a solution, bam! You have no one to listen to! Your brain is tired and exhausted.
Look. You don't have to do this to yourself.

Remember: You are not a punching bag.

How to handle the interaction in a way that he stop flooding me with his negativity without hurting his feelings or making feel abandoned?

You are in a state of an 'abusive relationship'. Mentally abusive. Friendship is also a relationship. I might be assuming here but I reckon, you owe a favour to this friend of yours and there is a great deal of his influence in the past, or, you are indebted for something to him, which you believe you have to carry on. If latter is the case, following is for you, otherwise, you are better off without this "friend".

There are 3 hacks.

1. Over empathize! Fight drama with drama!

Ever been to a restaurant and sat there for more than you should? The owner would pester you 'services', if you make an order, good for him, or else... you get the message!

About six months ago, I had an issue with my credit card and I called up the support guys. The guy was probably a trainee and he said things like, "We do not want you to experience this.", "This is heart breaking.", "I am so sorry you have to go through all of this.", "This is really bad.", "I do not see the problem with your file, maybe these are just one of those errors but I am so sorry that you have to go through this.". After a point, it started feeling 'fake'. Next time I have an issue, I am sending them an email.

2. Make use of the word - Drama

Maybe it is a good idea to show the mirror!

Mr Underwood once said: (fictional but effective) enter image description here

I really believe you. Your life is like a drama to me. Never-ending pain. Sometimes it is so hard to believe any of this to be true but I believe you since you say it.

Try the magic spell above and let me know in the comments!

People like him tend to "oversell" their pain. Using a flood of naked truth "it is so hard to believe any of this", will hit them at the right spot.

3. Be wary of gaslighting

gaslight /ˈɡaslʌɪt/

verb

gerund or present participle: gaslighting manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.

"in the first episode, Karen Valentine is being gaslighted by her husband"

I had my own share of 'being polite', as you are going through but my therapist once told me, "Don't try to help those who do not want to be helped.".

I had my own share of feeling nauseated and cursing myself, strangling in political correctness that I was harming myself more than helping the other.

I realized when I am good to myself, I can effectively help more people.

You are doing a great job!

You do not deserve to go through this.

Do not over-do. Leverage your EQ. Ask your friend to take professional help and make sure you tell them exactly how you feel. Turn the table.

If you are attacked, do not take it personally. I am telling you from my experience, once I showed them the mirror, she was in a complete denial and made me check my own sanity. I shrugged her words from me.

Trust me, even if you feel bad for few minutes or hours, in the longer run...... it is liberating :)

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