Friends and Mental Health (2)
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Last blog we looked at the importance of having positive people in our lives and the detrimental effect that negativity from others can have on our mental health. We also looked at how sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between a person who is good for our spirit and one who is subtly undermining us. We also saw the long-term problem that Katie was having with her friend Bree: a relationship that left Katie feeling both happy and strangely empty. Let’s look at another example of a relation that seems good but isn’t really working.
Jo and Courtney had been friends since school and both had their share of life’s joys and sorrows as they married and had children. Courtney was a good listener and very caring and Jo felt safe and comforted when she was in Courtney’s company whenever her life swung a little out of control. An hour with Courtney always helped Jo to see her world in perspective again.
Jo returned the favor on many occasions when Courtney was upset herself. But there was a problem in this relationship and it was Jo who felt uncomfortable and ultimately degraded. Over time, Jo became aware that the “friendship” was based on a rescue –victim basis, with Jo as the Victim and Courtney as the Rescuer. It took Jo a long time to work this out, several years in fact. Courtney was always interested in what was happening in Jo’s life. If anything bad was happening, Courtney was there for her. Jo really thought she had found a true “friend indeed”.
Yet, when Jo’s life was running smoothly, Jo couldn’t seem to organize a get-together with Courtney. An invitation to coffee almost invariably resulted in an excuse from Courtney. As time passed, and Jo’s father became terminally ill, Courtney was there again, helping, listening, cooking, caring. As soon as the crisis was over, Courtney retreated again. Jo’s messages on the answering machine remained unanswered or else Courtney returned the call two to three weeks later. Jo couldn’t work it out and she felt bewildered and depressed about this friendship which seemed so good at times, yet would suffer form periods of almost total neglect. Jo couldn’t work Courtney out at all.
It all became clear when Courtney suddenly announced she was dating a man who had MS. Courtney began to divulge with great excitement all that she was doing to help this man. She was cooking, cleaning, running errands, sitting with him in doctor’s waiting rooms, and spending time in the hospital with him.
Suddenly it all clicked for Jo. Courtney had real intimacy issues with both males and females, and only felt comfortable when she was in the caring role. If fact, it was the only time in her life when she really came to life. Jo realized that the only way she could continue to have a close relationship with Courtney was for her to be experiencing some sort of crisis, so that Courtney could let down her guard and swing into action. Unwillingly to have a friendship based on such a foundation, Jo reluctantly let the relationship go. Jo realized that the “friendship” had been undermining her self-esteem for some time. She went through the grieving process of losing Courtney but has since come out the other side feeling more positive about herself and no longer feeling that there was something wrong with her.
And what about Katie and Bree? Luckily for Katie, she realized that she was being used by Bree and this was the reason why she felt like she was on a roller coaster in the relationship. As it was for Jo, when it was good, it was really, really good. But inevitably the downside of these unequal relationships began to take their toll.
The reality is that all four women; Katie and Bree, Jo and Courtney, had problems. However, it was Katie and Jo who ended up feeling bad about themselves in their respective relationships and decided to change. Both women learned something about themselves and extracted themselves from these ultimately harmful, yet sugar-coated, relationships.
By listening carefully to their feelings and taking appropriate action, both Katie and Jo were able to exercise control in their lives and choose more suitable friendships, ones involving give and take on a more equal basis.