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I suffer from Bipolar Disorder. I suffered from a depressive episode last year. A friend of mine feels I'm too negative. He constantly prods me in social situations -- "What's going good Bob?"

He has a narrow view of life and a fragile ego. He is also very arrogant and does not take criticism well. I therefore don't want to be too direct with him.

Ignoring the comments has not worked. Going along with the suggestion only seems encourage the behavior.

I'm concerned that stating, "This is getting to be bit much Joe" or "I don't like it when you redirect or greet me this way," would be too stand offish.

How can I back him off gently?

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    What's your usual response when he does this, and what about that isn't working for you right now? Do you have an example of what would be too direct? It's important to include details like that so answers won't be suggesting things you've already tried or thought of trying, that will never help you.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 2 at 6:24
  • Address ed in post.
    – Cerebrus3
    Oct 2 at 17:51
  • Thank you, that helps!
    – Tinkeringbell
    Oct 2 at 19:05
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    How is your friend supposed to know that you don't like what he does when you don't tell him? And he's your friend, right? Friends want to know if you dislike something, so they can change it.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 4 at 9:59
  • @gnasher729 prior experience. Joe can be very closed minded.
    – Cerebrus3
    Oct 7 at 12:50
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You have provided one possible explanation for Joe redirecting you and asking you what is "going good" during conversations: that he is trying to be your therapist and trying to fix you. If this is what he is doing, a gently funny reply like "Joe, I have a therapist already, thanks" might stop it.

But consider that what Joe is actually saying is "I don't want to hear about this bad stuff. Can we talk about something happier please?" There are friends who will say this -- not for you, but for themselves. And that's fine. After all, Joe isn't your therapist and isn't here to listen to your problems.

If you don't want to discuss lighter or happier things with Joe - and you very well may not - then this is a signal to adjust your friendship. It doesn't sound like you really like Joe: he's narrow, fragile, and arrogant, plus he corrects you a lot. Perhaps you should see less of each other? Or if it can't be avoided, perhaps you should communicate in a shallower way. "Mmm, this coffee is delicious." "Hope you had a great weekend!" "Did you catch that game last night?" Keep it light. Save the deeper stuff for true friends.

Personally, I've changed the subject with people who won't stop telling me how terrible things are for them, probably thousands of times. I hope I'm a little gentler than Joe. Sometimes it's as a favour to them: I have had older relatives, for example, who ruminate constantly on what they've seen on the news and how awful everything is and so on, while ignoring lovely children, sunny days, and delicious food that's right in front of them. Other times it's a friend who "complains" about things most people would love to have: getting used to the way their new car drives, mowing the lawn at their new bigger house, business travel, how heavy these diamond earrings feel when you first put them on. And still other times the complaints are real, but I just don't want to have that conversation today. I don't have to. If I am a good, close friend, I might let the person vent to me again about the same things as last time, hoping it helps them. But it's not my obligation to listen again, and I might prompt the person to choose another conversational tack.

I have also been a person with a lot on my mind. I had a terminal diagnosis for about 6 months until an experimental treatment cured me. I have had family members in the hospital, or facing mental health struggles, or facing legal troubles. And when I spent time with people I often didn't want to cheer them up by talking about lighter things so that they could feel better while I was going through all that. I declined that emotional labour. You can do that, too, if you choose.

You say that going along with it just encourages the behaviour. Of course! If I say "let's talk about the baseball game" and you do, and we have a happy animated conversation about it for 20 minutes, I am totally going to suggest discussing the baseball game another time. If you genuinely don't want to talk about what is going good in your life, you will have to say so out loud. But before you do, please revisit your internal explanation for why Joe is making this request.

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I suffer from bipolar disorder too. I have all my relatives very often worried by my past or present state, sometimes making comments behind my back (I hear my boyfriend tone down over the phone with my parents on line).

One thing to consider in our particular case is that we are prone to overestimate our autonomy, our well-being, and are prone to be irritated by people that doubt it. While I do think there are room for Joe to handle the matter more tactfully, it's always worth asking yourself as well if you don't react excessively to what's said or done.

With that cleared, I am going to propose something inspired by non-violent communication (NVC). In non-violent communication, we rarely consider a wording (no matter how violent) to be incorrect or insulting, we rather think the problems arise from the fact our needs are not met. We then express what's unsatisfying through observation, feelings, needs and requests.

Here, I would think you need compassion, that you don't get, and possibly feel belittled by an attitude that put emphasis your weaknesses and fragility. While you can communicate the first need without conflict, NVC would invite you to consider the second as a judgement, a meaning Joe may or may not intend. NVC invites to "play dumb" about judgement and address the matter on the needs level to reduce conflict surface.

I'd rather try to address it on the level of a fundamental agreement rather than attach to the particular wording which only is a consequence of that. The wording is only illustrative and is meant to be adapted to context. This results however in something in these lines:

Joe when you ask me what's going good I'm feeling irritated because I also need compassion for my problems. Would you agree to listen to me regardless if I can be negative ?

As requested, this is an attempt to solve the matter without ignoring it, and hopefully without the conflicting parts about invalidating Joe's wording. It's possible that Joe would decline accessing to your request, but enunciating it clearly and getting a clear answer would help you situate what kind of support you can expect from him in the future.

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