“I don’t know if I would make it if I didn’t have you to talk to. I might think seriously of hurting myself.”
If you hear these words from a friend, and they don’t send a shiver up your spine, something is wrong.
Maybe if said in jest. Once. With a twinkle in her eye and a heavy sigh of relief.
That would be okay.
Maybe if she is in some kind of absolutely dire circumstance. Maybe she is caring for someone with Huntington’s Chorea or some other disease in its last unbending stages. Maybe the two of you have just been through an EF-5 tornado and are cleaning up wreckage. Or, even more horrible to consider, your children were involved, maybe hurt, wounded, or worse in a mass school shooting. Obviously, tragic, unreal, painful circumstances create intense, dramatic feelings. For a long time.
Also understandable and a human response to a human crisis.
Yet if it occurs in the context of a normal friendship. Regular every day, “How was book club?”, “Do you know if Denise ever sent out that email?”, “Which teacher have you heard is better with slower reading kids like Luke?“, or maybe even, “How did your therapy session go with John?” kinds of relationships. With more complex conversation thrown in when it is needed or requested.
There is something that is getting out of balance.
Don’t get me wrong. Normal, healthy friends listen intently about each other’s depression or sadness. Even sometimes that someone can feel like they want to hurt themselves. They feel that down. Friends support each other about anxiety. Worry. Any kind of difficulty can be talked about openly.
What is hard to tolerate – to cope with – is chronic, intense dependence. It can easily feel like you are being squeezed. Like a cobra.
Knowing someone has your back when you really need them. Even if it’s for days at a time. Showing gratitude for that. Knowing you will return the favor.
Being told or to have it inferred that a friend will fall apart or become suicidal if you aren’t able to perform that duty?
“It’s only by talking to you that I don’t feel that way. You are saving me from myself.”
Whether that is stated or inferred, it will kill the relationship. It’s too much. (Unless for some reason, the person being counted on is significantly unhealthy themselves and craves feeling needed 24/7.)
This dynamic can sneak up on you in any relationship, not just friendship. What started out as a fairly even give and take… somehow mutates into all give and very little give back. And you are tired of not receiving. Conversations are one-way, practically free therapy sessions, with you exhausted after the first thirty minutes.
What do you do if you want out? You feel stuck. Emotionally blackmailed. And yet, you care for your friend, and don’t want anything bad to happen to her.
What is clear is that the fragility exposed needs to be addressed. It may reflect what in psychology is a “personality disorder” or a consistently unhealthy way someone has of thinking of themselves and others. They simply do not handle relationships appropriately or effectively. And they usually have little insight into that.
There are many different personality disorders. There are those with narcissistic tendencies, where initially their motive is to seduce you into their world with compliments or “love bombing” as one expert put it. Then it’s on to making the relationship all about them. However, a classic narcissist would not necessarily become “suicidal” if you were not available for them; they might become enraged. Then aloof. Suicidal threats are more of a borderline personality disorder trait, as it is likely perceived as intense abandonment. People, however, can share traits of these personality disorders – it’s a little like vegetable soup. You rarely find any one recipe with the same ingredients.
So what do you do?
If your friend or partner is in therapy, I would ask to join a session. Or two. And talk about needing to get closure on the relationship. Take a break. However you want to put it. With the support of the therapist. Be honest about the reasons why.
It’s the therapist’s job to deal with the patient’s danger to self.
If they are not in therapy, then ask them to go to one with you. You need a third party to navigate this terrain. If they refuse, I would meet a couple of times yourself with a local therapist. Talk with them about the specifics of your friendship. How it got the way it did. Maybe that therapist can give you ideas about how to get closure that you have not been able to see.
Hopefully, they will say yes. At that point, either the same thing can happen as above, except with both of you in the room. Give support to both of you for the difficulty of your positions. Perhaps your friend can develop a relationship with the therapist where you can leave, and your friend has support to grieve.
And that is okay.
It might be the best thing for both in the long run.