“You are so cold”
I was thus informed, at the end of a heated discussion. The topic wasn’t worth remembering, which is why I can’t tell you what it was.
What she meant though was “you’re not taking my side; you’re not offering me comfort.”
Also: “you’re not willing to spend your time listening to me complain without offering suggestions. I don’t want your suggestions, I want you to listen. And I’m quite okay with staying miserable – I’ve been this way for months. Why can’t you understand that?”
For all of our wealth, it seems our society is filled with pockets of the pity-people: folk who are miserable, and have no intention of doing anything about it.
Part of the problem, for some, comes from their mental illness: there is absolutely zero to be gained by telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up. It’s like asking a banana to peel itself.
Or like telling a diver, in mid-dive “please don’t get wet”.
Shit’s gon’ get wet, yo.
I think everyone handles such unfortunate people differently. My preference – and this is not a perfected process yet – is to mention some ideas they should consider so that they won’t be miserable anymore, and then vacate the area.
I’m not talking about the person who just lost his job, or the woman whose husband just left her. Offering helpful “next steps” to either – especially immediately after the moment of crisis – borders on insane, not to mention cruel. I truly think that you need to feel the pain and the hurt before you can carry on. Before you should carry on, in most cases.
And to be fair, the “I just want you to listen” complaint mentioned above is often fair. It seems to be a male-female thing. A lot of women seem to want us guys to listen without offering suggestions. Many of us guys just see a problem that needs fixing. This issue isn’t about that.
The bedraggled person I’m talking about has been miserable for months, and seems unable or unwilling to extricate himself from his pain. My experience – based upon years of trying to help various people – is: he or she needs professional help.
I’m not equipped. I haven’t had the training. Even if I did, I would imagine that being close to such a person (related or friend) would preclude my ability to provide any kind of effective help.
If one is a warm, inviting person, one becomes a target for the marginalized and hurting person. This is acceptable. What’s not okay is the person who wants to bend one’s ear, for days and weeks on end, about the same topic, and with the same result. Which is: nothing. Stasis.
It’s a hard thing, saying “no” to such a person. I’ve employed a technique similar to the ones used on me, when being rejected as a date companion.
“I like you, just not in the way you like me.”
“We can certainly meet. I’ll get back to you when I can figure out a date that’ll work.”
“Sorry. I’m at work right now. Can we talk later?”
“Listen, it’s been great chatting, but I’m late for an appointment/work/washing my hair.”
“Can I get back to you on that?”
(Just kidding about the first one)
Coming right out and saying “I agree that what happened to you was unfair and wrong, but you need to get help”, might be the right answer, but I’ve never known it to work. The minute you say something like that, you get:
“So…you think I’m crazy!”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy. I—”
“Only crazy people need counselling!”
“Um, I’ve gone for counselling. Am I crazy? Also – did I say you were crazy?”
I’m frankly amazed that there’s still such a stigma about mental illness. Some people are honestly in need of help, and would benefit so greatly from it – whether that helps comes in the form of chemical balancing (drugs) or cognitive therapy.
Have you noticed – there are still some adults walking around who have no idea who they are. Some are quite okay and are functioning well in their ignorance. Some may go their graves that way, and that’s fine.
Others will experience just one thing going wonky in their carefully constructed utopia, and their world will crash. They have no idea what happened, or what to do, or why they became such a target for pain. They just know something isn’t right, and that someone else should pay. And, not seeing that person/company receive justice, they become embittered and enraged and inconsolable.
And they want to talk about it. At high volume.
They have no idea they’re broadcasting at such a high volume, and so when you decide you’ve heard enough, and you want to help them, what they see is you coming along, offering a Pollyanna answer, sure that what you’ve told them will bring sunlight and butterflies to their miserable existence. How dare you.
In effect, offering such a response means you’ve become their mortal enemy. Just like the company/person whose offended them, you are against them.
They’ll continue to vent to you (if you let them) but they will watch you with a now jaundiced eye, expecting you to continue offering advice – because it’ll prove to them that you’re still against them. This time they’re ready, and they will lash out.
You’ve now got a toxic friend.
The only thing left – at least when I face such a person – is to cut him off. Regretfully.
It’s necessary to do so, I think, if you want to maintain your own sanity.
I wish I had hope for such people, but I frankly don’t. I get the sense that many of these folk will go their graves, still toxic. Their gravestones will read “I died alone, you bastards.”
I still see a lot of people dealing with toxic folk by continuing to be their sounding board, day after day, year after year. You can see the lines of stress on their face, as they’re sure they’re not doing enough for their friend. How could they be, since their friend is still miserable?
I wonder at these long-suffering and patient friends. On occasion I’ve asked them “what’s the point?”
They shrug, resignedly. There is no point. Not really. They’re building after-life credits, I suppose. They prefer to see themselves as helpful and kind, and are worried that others will see them as cruel if they’re not there for their friend.
What they are not doing, from where I stand, is living.
I could be wrong though.