“I don’t know if I would make it if I didn’t have you to talk to. Sometimes I just want to kill myself. But I know I have you, and that keeps me from doing anything.”
If you hear these words from a friend or someone you care about, 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 he’s in some kind of absolutely dire circumstance. He’s caring for an ill parent or has lost his job.
That is understandable and a human response to human crisis.
Yet, if it occurs in the context of a normal relationship – “What are we doing Friday night?” “Did you get my text?” or maybe even, “I think I need therapy,” kinds of relationships?
There is something way out of balance.
Don’t get me wrong. Normal, healthy friends listen intently about each other’s depression or sadness. Even sometimes you hear that someone wants to hurt themselves. They feel that down, and need support.
It’s good to know someone has your back when you really need them. You can show gratitude for that, knowing you will return the favor.
What is hard to tolerate – to cope with – is chronic, intense dependence. It can easily feel like the life is slowly being squeezed out of you. You feel trapped.
“What would I do without you? You are saving me from myself.”
This dynamic can sneak up on you in any relationship. What started out as a fairly even give-and-take somehow mutates into all give, and very little give back. You get 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 still care.
What is clear is that the fragility needs to be addressed. There could be significant depression or a bipolar disorder present, where at times, suicide can seem like the only way out. Your friend needs treatment.
It may also 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, and their treatment is tough. There are people with narcissistic tendencies, where initially their motive is to seduce you into their world with compliments or “love bombing.” Then it’s on to making the relationship all about them. However, a classic narcissist would not necessarily become “suicidal” if you weren’t available for them; they might become enraged. Then aloof.
Consistent talk of suicide is more characteristic of borderline personality disorder. If present, your establishment of appropriate boundaries could be perceived, by them, as intense abandonment.
So what do you do?
1) If your friend is in therapy, ask to join a session.
You can talk about needing to change or even get closure on the relationship, However you want to put it. Get 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.
2) If they are not in therapy, then ask them to go to one with you.
You need a third party to navigate this terrain, who can make more objective observations than you. If they refuse, you can meet a couple of times yourself. Maybe that therapist can give you ideas about how to either get closure or to adjust how you’re interacting with your loved one.
3) Read some material on how to handle feelings of abandonment or emotional manipulation.
I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me. Stop Walking On Eggshells. Disarming The Narcissist.Understanding The Borderline Mother. All these books are wonderful resources and might help you make adjustments in how you communicate. You might not have to leave the relationship if you learn how to step out of the responsibility they are attempting to give you.
You may have to tell your friend that you can’t keep their secret. It’s too much. They may simply not be aware of the impact those words have on you, because they’re so accustomed to feeling despair. If needed, get help from family members, mother or father, son or daughter.
5) Look at your own need to be needed, or in control.
It may be that you have your own emotional reasons for creating this kind of relationship. Be honest with yourself. Are you aware of having needs to be needed, or maybe being seen as having it “together?” Those needs may be fueling your end of the problem.
In the end, you can’t keep someone alive who struggles to want to live.
It’s their battle to fight. You can support, listen, love.
But not fix.
And earlier version of this post appeared on Midlife Boulevard. Reprinted with permission of the author.
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