Just a few weeks ago, I lost a friend of 23 years.
We met when I was 11 and she was 12. She saw me through my mother’s early death; I saw her through her mother’s later one.
She helped me pack my things when I made the decision to get out of my abusive relationship, and she held my hand and hugged me when I cried about it.
She was a good friend – as good as anyone could have ever been to me in my life.
The only problem for all of those 23 years was that she was better at giving me advice than she was at applying it to her own life. And for years, I watched her abuse her body in ways I never abused mine. My wounds usually came from people I allowed to hurt me. Her wounds often came from ways she hurt herself.
I was sure that, eventually, I would need to talk to her about her lifestyle choices (which ranged from severely poor money management to illicit drug abuse in front of her children). Despite her faults, I love her dearly. But I am so adamant about not giving out unwanted advice now, that I would usually find myself trying to nudge her with hints that what she was doing was wrong.
It didn’t work.
I waited too long to say something, and when I did, it all came pouring out in the ugliest way I had said anything to anyone in a very long time.
If you want to ruin a lifelong friendship with a friend who is destroying herself, I can tell you exactly how to do it.
1. Baby your friend for years. Then expect her to suddenly become an adult.
Sometimes when we have known someone for years, we have a tendency to make a lot of excuses for their poor behaviors. This can happen when we have known someone from childhood and have seen how hard their lives have been.
This was the case with my friend. She had been abused as a child, and I always had a soft spot in my heart for the problems she had in life. I blamed her parents for a lot of her poor choices, much in the same way I blamed my parents for mine.
But when I realized my parents weren’t the reason for my bad decisions, I realized hers were not the reason for hers.
I expected her to understand my revelation. She didn’t. And when she didn’t, I saw just how beyond help she had become.
2. Wait a long time to confront her about her self-destructive lifestyle.
Sometimes it can be so hard to tell the people close to us that we are concerned about them. We don’t ever want to be the bossy friend. It seems even harder to do when the person has gradually developed the bad habits. We might excuse the first few, blaming their lives or someone else.
As long as I made excuses for my friend, she continued in her self-destructive ways. By not trying to help her, I enabled her. And because I had enabled her for so long, I was the last person she expected to ever speak up about anything she was doing.
You can probably imagine how ridiculous a rebuke sounds coming from a person who has always told you there were good reasons for your bad choices. The longer we allow the people we love to self-destruct, the harder it will be for them to take sound advice from us later.
3. Make her think you have suddenly become judgmental by telling her all the things you should have said sooner.
Have you ever let things build up while you tried to keep your opinions to yourself until you finally burst?
When I started noticing the problems, I still wouldn’t say anything. I was so afraid it was not my place or that she had good excuses for her bad behavior.
Good excuses for bad behavior? Is that even possible?
By letting the tension build, I lost my patience and said things that needed to be said. But I said them in the worst way. I waited too long to approach her, and the concern I had for her came flooding out in a way that sounded harsh.
She said to me, “You think you’re better than everyone else.” I don’t think that. But by letting her carry on the way she was even though I saw things wrong, I made her think I had suddenly taken the judgmental stance she thought all of the other people in her life took with her.
I guess the big question I am left asking is: Would my earlier intervention have made any difference?
I try to tell myself it wouldn’t have, and that she would only change if she wanted to change.
Of course, this is true of all people. They only change if they want to. But I now wonder if my approach changed the way she received me.
She has broken all contact with me now. She blocked me from her Facebook page (which is, by the way, no place to conduct our personal conversations), and she has changed her phone number.
The way we come across to people can make a difference. I know this, and I let it happen anyway.
I think about the stories about Michael Jackson and how his family tried to intervene. Some have said that the more they tried to help, the more he pushed them out of his life. Perhaps this is what happened with my friend, too.
Maybe it wasn’t my approach. Maybe it was just that she pushes out all of the people who tell her she is doing wrong. But what I do know now is that if the fault lies with me, I’ll never know if I could have really helped her in a better way.
What do you think? Should we try to intervene for our family and friends knowing they might push us out of their lives? Even if it means we might no longer be there to try to keep them from harm?
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