I've known someone through a social activity group for about a year. At first he seemed a bit odd, but more or less harmless. He's a smart and funny guy and it can be good talking with him in short bursts (he talks a lot). We're not exactly "friends;" we used to meet up and chat when the group got together before lockdown, about once a week. We also exchanged contact details a few months ago and have been chatting online.

Over time, he started telling me more intimate details about his life and feelings, and admitted to being depressed and angry at the world.

Now it seems all we ever talk about is that, but it's not really a conversation, it's just him ranting at length while I can't get a word in edgewise. I have tried to generally listen and offer thoughts about what he says, but none of it seems to get through. Even if I point out flaws in his reasoning, he'll dismiss them and change the subject, e.g.:

Him: "I hate everyone and everything."

Me: "So do you hate me too?"

Him: "Oh, uh, not you... But anyway, -goes back to ranting about how everything is terrible-"

I have often suggested he seek professional help, to which he seemed reluctant at first but did somewhat listen, although I still don't think he's made any effort to pursue it.

He's convinced himself that his life is terrible and will never get better. All he ever does is rant and complain about it, and then call people "shallow" etc. when they don't want to hear it. He seems to think he's some kind of enlightened savant and that he's figured life out, and everyone else is just "sheeple."

"Physically" his life is actually pretty decent: he has a job, has a fairly wealthy family (who he hates), and is in good physical health (as far as I'm aware). I know these things don't necessarily make someone happy, but it does seem like he's trying hard to find things to complain about.

He always seems to have a multitude of excuses ready for when I suggest anything, e.g.:

Me: "Have you considered -thing-?"

Him: "Oh, I can't do that because -some contrived, nonsense excuse-."


Him: "I tried that, but it didn't work, so it's pointless." AKA "I made a half-hearted attempt and gave up at the first sign of difficulty."

He seems to expect things to just go well for him by default without him applying any effort, and when they inevitably don't, he complains about how life is unfair.

Part of me wants to be brutally honest with him; of course he's going to drive people away if he's constantly negative - who wants to listen to that all the time? That doesn't mean they're shallow or selfish; if anything he's being selfish by expecting people to listen to that. I also think he's got some unrealistic expectations about what he thinks life should be like, and he's just going to be stuck in a cycle of perpetual disappointment when reality doesn't live up to them.

He's just come back to me with yet another rant about how he hates everything after I tried being positive and offering suggestions. At this point I don't really know what to do or say; it's clear he's not listening to me (or anyone) and seems to want to to wallow in his depression. I would consider myself to have been depressed a few years ago, but I worked my way through it, went to counselling, read some philosophy and am now in a much better place. So I feel like I can relate and do want to help him, but ultimately he has to want to help himself, and I don't know how to get that through to him, or if I even should. I just don't want him to do something stupid like self-harming (which he's done once before) or suicide.

2 Answers 2


First, understand that the job of being a therapist, helping a depressed person feel better, and ensuring they don't kill themselves, is one that takes years of study and training. It's not something you can just do because you want to help. Yes, having a friend who wants to help can be vital for a depressed person. Magically fixing someone because you say the right thing at the right moment is not how that works. It's more about being there and caring about them.

Second, I see you responding to what your friend says as something that he means literally rather than emotionally, and I get a sense that you think if you can prove the statement is wrong, your friend will cheer up and feel better. That's not how this works. Catching him in a logical fallacy like "so do you hate me?" will not lead to "oh I guess I don't hate everybody after all." It is likely to lead to "I can't even express my misery properly."

So, my suggestions. Stop making suggestions. Stop telling him it's not that bad. If you need to contradict him, do so in a way that is not about him.

I hate everyone and everything.

Ooof, that must be unpleasant. I hope it doesn't last too long. And don't worry, everyone doesn't hate you back. For example I am your friend.

Then say something about the game you're playing or the subject you talked about before, don't blatantly change the subject, but carry on the conversation.

I want to -thing-, but -stupid excuse-.

That's rough. I want to -thing- too. Maybe there's a way we could do it together?

or -

I know, I remember you wanted to -thing.- Anyway I can help get past the -stupid excuse-? Or is there some other way to get there?

You're mentally healthy so you know that not having clean socks shouldn't keep someone from reading a book, or that if it does for some weird reason then you can do the damn laundry, but your friend is having problems in that part of his life. Dismissing these difficulties, or describing his failures as making half hearted attempts and giving up, is failing to understand the realities of being depressed and of having issues with executive function.

Sometimes people benefit from a friend who is physically present and brings them a cup of tea or coffee, suggests going for a walk together, or just sits with them and doesn't judge. Other times they benefit from an online friend who tells jokes and stories, asks for their opinion, reminds them they have some skills and abilities. Always they benefit from someone who doesn't judge them, doesn't tell them they're being depressed wrong, doesn't dismiss their actual symptoms as stuff they should just stop doing so they can feel better.

You can tell them, truthfully, that it's hard to listen to these rants if you want. You can tell them what you would like to do instead of listening to the rant. That might or might not work. But if you don't understand where the rant is coming from and what it means, you're not going to fix it with a single suggestion of something that would take a lot of work to implement, like going to therapy or reading a book and doing what it says.


Your friend has joined the great tradition of journeymen curmudgeons everywhere. The most offensive habit of such sufferers is Free Floating Hostility. They have a large quantity of fierce opinions that are doing nothing on their own but waiting. When you or another unsuspecting individual comes along mentioning the subject then you have just asked to hear their opinion in its full force. When you are not there the news on the TV or radio gets to hear these same opinions. There is no true need to be angry. It is a hobby, a casual activity to indulge in when there is time. It is almost that they are picking a fight.

The energy powering each of these responses is their general anger and disappointment in their life's progress and the considerable satisfaction gained from enumerating the details. Now these are legitimate opinions (let's say) and they are giving them to you since you ask for them(?). All is as it should be, right? You can see they are in a trap, not of their own devising but of their own maintenance. I had a better description of this in the question I've linked below.

Another problem, at the great risk of sounding like dr phil, is that they are People Hungry. The longer they are unable to talk to others, at least those who agree or who will listen, the more they are ready to back-up and dump their problems out, in this case on you. I have several friends in MN who pride themselves on being alone all Winter without needing people. I phone them with great caution knowing I will not be able to hang up until Spring. This just amplifies your friend's collection of opinions and the need to express them. They have to get it all out, every new thought and each variation of the old ones.

As with (much) therapy the answer is not to tell them they are wrong but to offer alternatives. In this case alternative means to talk to them in a way that does not open the door for the standard reaction. Any proposed solution is an invitation to renew their attack. For your own sanity please remember that the door to such problems is locked from the inside. You can offer but that's all you can do. At some point you may tell them that you are not interested in hearing these complaints about all and sundry as you cannot help with such things. This would clarify your relationship but might end it as well.

I would focus on telling them what you yourself are doing and when or how they might participate, join in, get away from what they are so hot about. If they lump you in with the shallow, or any group, you can politely if indignantly tell them that you are addressing your own current needs in the best way you can and they might do the same. In any case, the less you try to help "fix" their stated problems the less they will be able to react with the anger and intellectual sparring and wrestling.

Something I used to do when my friend would not stop going on about a topic was to ask what they were going to do about it. Are you moving, then? Who are you going to call? What can I do to help? After he had spent most of his force the prospect of taking actual action was a peculiar thought. I use this on most of my politically indignant friends now. If you can do something then get on with it already.

It is good that you are trying to be a friend and looking for ways to help. Look after yourself first and then talk to them without falling into the details of their current crisis. Whatever the problem is they are not talking to you about it.

How can I deal diplomatically with a feminist neighbor who continuously delivers political speeches in private?

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