Friend who lacks self-esteem is driving her away
Q: I have a very good friend who is relentlessly negative about herself. Every time I see her, she criticizes her life, her personality, her lack of ambition, accomplishments, and so on.
I understand the roots of these feelings are deep. But it has begun to feel oppressive to be around her. When I try to point out one of her wonderful qualities, she snaps at me, like how dare I contradict her. That's the point where I tune out completely and just try to get through dinner.
This has become unbearable. Do you think there's any way to have a conversation with someone like this? How do I start? She'll accuse me of trying to change her, and I'm not. I just don't want to sit through a dinner with her bad-mouthing herself, my friend. She's an incredibly caring person (just not to herself), and I'd like to have her in my life.
Dealing With Debbie Downer
A: "You're an incredibly caring person, and I'd like to have you in my life. But other than sitting here and listening to you say awful things about yourself — about my friend — how can I help? What would you like me to do?"
I wouldn't blame you if you had to withdraw, but I do think this is a question worth asking first. You've been responding to her self-loathing jags with declarations. She doesn't want that, so it makes sense to try asking questions instead.
Weight complaints are wearing thin
Q: One of my girlfriends is fixated on weight. She eats fine, works out and has a nice figure. She has a boyfriend who comments on how much he hates women who focus on their weight, so she doesn't complain to him. But she often makes comments to me.
As I have finally overcome my own fixation on weight (including an eating disorder that I worked through myself) and because I am also super-pregnant and feeling a little on the poofy side, how do I tactfully tell her to stop? I am just tired of hearing about it. I tell her that as long as she is healthy about her eating and working out, she should be fine, etc. But she WON'T stop.
A: You said it yourself: Give your "As I have finally overcome . . . poofy side" speech, verbatim, followed by "I need to beg that we talk about something other than appearance."
Yes, it would be nice if you could help her deal with her problem, but it sounds as if you've tried. Sometimes you just have to save the one you can, and in this case that happens to be you.
By the way, her issue isn't just weight, it's the whole emotional Blue Plate Special. She's pretending not to be the kind of woman her boyfriend hates, even though she is, and she's obsessing about body image? She doesn't like herself a whole lot and so a good deal of her energy goes into trying to become someone she does like.
As long as her efforts take place on the surface — acting like the good girlfriend, having the right body, etc. — she'll never find peace. The will to look deeper is something people have to find on their own.