Do You Talk the Talk, but not Walk the Walk?
By: Beth McHugh 2006
This week I had to deal with an incident which is unfortunately very common in everyday life, but when it happens to a person suffering from a mental illness or some sort of emotional breakdown, it is even more devastating.
It appears the world is not short on people who make promises to others, but at the last minute, will renege without a thought for the devastated person they leave in their wake. Do you do this? Occasionally, we really cannot make good our promises because of extenuating circumstances, but there are people who actually make a habit of making promises, often unsolicited ones, and then never make good on their word.
I had to deal with a very despondent yet angry woman who had asked a friend a favor back in late October to take her to see a medical specialist. It was very important for Ann to have the comfort and support of her “friend” Julie, as she was feeling extremely nervous about the upcoming appointment. In fact, Ann suffered from severe anxiety and panic attacks, which made events like doctor’s appointments even more unnerving than usual.
Knowing that Christmas was a busy time of year, she asked her friend as soon she found out she had the appointment. So back in October, Julie said “yes.” Ann was able to relax in the knowledge that no matter how nervous she was, her good friend Julie would be there for her.
But five days out from the appointment, Ann received a phone call from Julie. This was odd in itself, because Julie seldom phoned Ann, she usually rang her doorbell whenever she was passing by and really didn’t give a thought that continually doing this may be inconvenient to Ann.
Ann can see now that the seeds of Julie’s true personality were apparent long before the incident that occurred this week. There were other signs as well. Ann had an illness which made it difficult for her to travel alone, plus her mother had cancer and her son was chronically ill. She had a heavy load to carry.
Ann was especially susceptible to Julie’s form of “friendship” as it consisted of many kind words about her difficult life situation and she seemed genuinely concerned and caring. She even spontaneously offered to take Ann out for regular walks, shopping trips and coffee mornings, just to inject some normality into Ann’s overstressed life. Julie kept none of these promises.
The final blow came with the aforementioned phone call. Julie seemed her usual “caring” self on the phone, asking after Ann and her family, and making sympathetic noises at all the right places. Yet this time, Ann heard something in Julie’s voice. At first she thought Julie might be recovering from a cold, but that was not the case. After casually dropping the bomb that she would be unable to attend the appointment after Ann brought up the subject, Ann was naturally upset.
Julie made an attempt to assuage her own uncomfortable feelings by telling Ann that it would be a “challenge” for her to go alone to the appointment and that good things would come out of it. As Ann now realizes, the only good thing to come out of it was to have her eyes open to Julie’s true nature.
People like Julie find that making promises to other people in need makes them feel good. They get a buzz out of it. It makes them feel that they are good people. The fact is that Julie herself has a problem of low self-esteem and uses people like Ann to prop herself up. Yet she does not possess the self-discipline to actually commit to her commitments. She can’t see the damage she is causing just so she can feel spiritually good.
Ann now knows why Julie sounded “funny” on the phone. It
wasn’t a cold that made Julie’s voice sound strange; it
was the sound of her own guilt.