Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

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Emusing
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Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Emusing » Wed Jul 01, 2015 1:39 pm

Firstly, this is a problem that happened over a month ago, so we're talking past tense and the person in question is no longer living in my country. Now she's "just somebody that I used to know"... :violin: However I still dwell on the problem regularly because I think I really screwed up! I failed at being a friend, big time. It's incidents like this that make me think, no wonder I have hardly any friends. Maybe I'm a mean cold person? So I would like to hear your thoughts, especially if you have some kind of experience with anxiety, in hopes that I might learn to handle situations like this more responsibly in future.

My friend had a clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder, but was not on meds. But she was a very kind, big-hearted person, and had really decent humanistic worldviews that I respected her for. We had a lot in common, hobby-wise. In the beginning there were all the signs of a great friendship.

But then after about 2 weeks of getting to know her, she texts me one night, and then again the next week - each time offloading a massive pile of self-doubt and anxiety about her life. Telling me she was worried she wasn't going to make it as a freelance artist, saying all her work was crap... I've been through all these doubts myself too, every artist or freelancer does. Anyway what else was I to do but try and console her? I sent her some reassurances and compliments, but mostly I told her to really focus on back-up career plans to alleviate pressure to succeed in this one field. I tried to give her practical, useful advice - rather than platitudes. She didn't seem to listen to any of this advice, and routinely worked herself up into a state of anxiety about a variety of things - e.g. what people thought about her, why certain people didn't like her, why people took so long to text her back, whether people would misinterpret her text messages, and always worrying about her uncertain future.

It was becoming a real drag, I can tell you! Pretty soon I was real tired of listening to her mundane fears, but I was too polite to turn her away. Plus I thought, a good friend stands by you through thick and thin, right? I was really trying to be a good friend at this point.

Each time she would confide in me, I would try to focus on saying helpful things - this is what I would like a good friend to do for me, slap me out of my self-pity and make me focus on the practical course of action. Like suggesting that she stop worrying about things that are out of her control. I suggested introductory meditation (it really does help! It's amazing for anxiety). I suggested distracting herself with fun hobbies, or exercise to boost endorphins. Each time she went "yeah, I know I should do that" but never did. She would keep herself awake all night worrying.

I've since read online that "stop worrying, it's nothing" is a terrible thing to say to someone with anxiety disorder, because they KNOW that their fears are not rational, but they have no control over it. Well okay... but what am I supposed to say? That it's okay for them to live in fear? Because it's not. Shouldn't everyone's goal be to at least TRY to work with their problems? To improve their quality of life? Why should anyone accept anything less than happiness for themselves? No, she actually told me "The doctor said I will probably always be anxious, this is the way I am and I will never change". I hate this attitude!

Through experience I believe that if something is freaking you out, you can either work with yourself on the problem, accept it for what it is and get on as best as you can - or indulge in your own misery and make everybody else feel miserable too.

After dealing with several months of her ceaseless anxiety, I was feeling pretty miserable.

Sometimes I wondered if subconsciously she actually liked having a problem for people to fuss over her, the idea it disgusted me.

Not wanting to upset her or make her more anxious, I bit my tongue and never really told her what I thought of her. I did not want to hurt her, I just wanted her out of my life. I took the cowardly course of action - I started avoiding her and declining invitations until she no longer contacted me. I told her I was super busy (it was a half-truth). Maybe she was hurt by my unavailability? I don't know, but I could not handle her anxiety. I was totally over it and I saw her as childish for not taking action and working through her problems, venting them on others instead. Most of the things she was anxious about were my own fears too - but I dealt with them or calmed myself down rather than letting it freak me out. I want my life and my social circle to be calm, composed, uplifting - not neurotic and unsettling.

I am sorry for the novella here ... but I wanted to tell the whole story like it really was from my POV.

So my question is, was I cruel and heartless? Was I insensitive? Do I have smug misconceptions about anxiety? Should I have spent more time with her? Should I have sympathized with her choice to accept her anxiety rather than work with it? Are people with clinical anxiety disorders so "special" that they cannot benefit from "brain training" and other forms of cognitive behavioural therapy?

What would you have done. Other than tell her to see a psychologist, she was already seeing one for years.

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby SandWshooter » Wed Jul 01, 2015 8:06 pm

She doesn't want you to fix it, she just wants you to listen. Don't pressure her or it'll make the anxiety worse; just let her vent, it's a way to lessen the anxiety to a degree
Hi, mac!

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Annie » Wed Jul 01, 2015 9:07 pm

^ This. Also, you were not cold and heartless. The fact that you decided to research anxiety shows that.
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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby MrCawfle » Thu Jul 02, 2015 3:01 am

Wow. Sounds like a page from my life with (fill in blanks) A) girlfriend ______________ B) friend ____________ C) coworker ___________
D) _______(I hate to type this) _____________ family members.

Fist of all, you did the best you could've. I bet that you aren't very fond of conflict. I would've probably done the same thing. I LOATHE conflict. I won't say why but I have very good reason to hate it.

Second, this person sounds very needy. We generally don't do good with big, honkin' messes of emotions. Picture everyone's emotions as a switchboard. You, me and all the Introes here are the perfect, streamlined ubermench of humanity. Our switchboards have about three inputs and three jacks (and one reads "beer"...hee hee...). Picture your friends' jacks. A buh-zillion tangled cords and unlabeled inputs.

This friend was your teacher. When you meet another friend or a mate who doesn't posses those qualities, hang on (but loosely). We Introes are not clingers.

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Emusing » Thu Jul 02, 2015 4:59 am

Yep, we don't need drama in life. When people have heightened emotional reactions, I disappear like a squirrel up a tree.

SandWshooter wrote:She doesn't want you to fix it, she just wants you to listen. Don't pressure her or it'll make the anxiety worse; just let her vent, it's a way to lessen the anxiety to a degree


I feel like she was abusing me, I'd only known her for less than a month before I became her stress ball. I make exceptions for people I really care about, but in general I do not really want to listen to people's problems unless we are engaged in an objective discussion about what can actually be done to solve the problem. Otherwise they're just venting and I refuse to be used like that. And she did have a loving family to talk to, after all.

I personally vent in my diary most of the time rather than bother real people... or sometimes online where people can choose not to read/reply. As a result I did have a friend who "dumped" me because I never told her any of my problems and she felt like I wasn't opening up enough... I said I just like to deal with most of my problems internally, I don't like to lean on people. She saw this as a sign that it wasn't cool for her to lean on me, and she promptly shut off to me.

So many people in my life have had anxiety and similar situations like the one I described, leading me to cut ties with a several people who I initially thought would become great friends. It makes me doubt my ability to maintain friendships.

I think I'm extremely fussy about who I befriend and this leaves me in isolation, because very few people in the world have real intelligence (instead of pseudo intelligence, parroting views they hear from others, know-it-alls), have their lives together, have some emotional stability, especially in my college peer cohort. Every day I wish I had good close interesting friends, but I look around at the hundred+ acquaintances around me and see nobody that stands out as worth the effort.

It's terribly depressing :(

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby MrCawfle » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:03 pm

Introverts are said to be good listeners. We get a lot of emotional noise bounced off us for that reason. Personally, I'm not a good listener. I just don't know what to say to people.

Also, most people aren't "emotionally trustworthy". You'll find people with whom you click and can trust.

No, the masses don't have real intelligence. They don't or can't think for themselves. Next time you see a herd of cattle, see if they're all facing the same direction. ;)

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Justwatching » Thu Jul 02, 2015 5:52 pm

Emusing wrote:What would you have done. Other than tell her to see a psychologist, she was already seeing one for years.


I'd have cut her loose. Personally, I'd rather be alone than with someone who uses me as an emotion tampon. It's about quality not quantity of interaction for me.

Emusing wrote:It makes me doubt my ability to maintain friendships.


That's what you take away from this? I don't think you're deficient for expecting emotional maturity/stability from people. You tried to help her become more emotionally independent through practical advise, but she didn't want help, just someone to unload her emotional baggage on. It's a raw deal and you were right to turn it down. Ignoring her and making up excuses was a touch cowardly, but I understand why you didn't want to confront someone when they've established themselves as unreasonably emotional.

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Emusing » Fri Jul 03, 2015 3:08 am

Justwatching wrote:
Emusing wrote:It makes me doubt my ability to maintain friendships.


That's what you take away from this? I don't think you're deficient for expecting emotional maturity/stability from people.

I believe that others perceive me as a poor friend.

I have turned away quite a number of potential friends in my life and now I find myself virtually alone. Meanwhile all the extroverted party girls around me in college all have dozens of "best friends" selected from the same cohort of people that I have observed to be emotionally shallow, mean and/or needy. Apparently these character flaws are not a problem for the vast majority of college students, who happily take abuse and engage in daily conflict, then simply "make up" and continue on, and this seems to be the definition of "friendship" - putting up with abuse from annoying boring people on a daily basis. So basically in the eyes of my neighbors, I am not good friend material.

I'm just frustrated. Often it feels to me that the human world is backwards.

But I should add that I would do absolutely anything for the one or two people in my life whom I truly deeply care about. I would never flake out on the rare somebody who I feel is worth the effort.

Sometimes I wish that I could have enough patience, forgiveness and compassion to give everyone my best effort.

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby MrCawfle » Fri Jul 03, 2015 11:29 am

Emusing wrote:I'm just frustrated. Often it feels to me that the human world is backwards.


I hate to say it but I think you're right. With the new electronic dynamics, it seems like there is more tail-chasing. More furniture-moving. Less critical thought. Our job is to see through it.

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Orientalist » Sun Jul 05, 2015 3:17 am

I would have done my best to help her overcome the anxiety or set up a plan for overcoming it, but when it became apparent she was just using me for endless venting, I'd have cut her loose. I think for most of us compassion has limits.
If the truth hurts, you ain't livin' right.

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Re: Don't know how to deal with severely anxious friend

Postby Justwatching » Sun Jul 05, 2015 10:41 pm

Emusing wrote:I believe that others perceive me as a poor friend.


That's because you are. To most of them anyway. You mentioned a select few people who you'd do anything for. I doubt they have the same perception of you.

Emusing wrote:I have turned away quite a number of potential friends in my life and now I find myself virtually alone.


Lol, be thankful you're getting the offers I guess. I must just give off an anti-social vibe.

Emusing wrote:I'm just frustrated. Often it feels to me that the human world is backwards.


Ain't that the truth.


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