Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Looking inside self often is the best way to understand others
Somewhere, Va.: So … how do you tell someone who's emotionally abusive from someone who's just a bit of a control freak? It's easy to spot the more egregious examples out there (people — okay, jerkfaces — who limit your movements, actively insult you, and so on), but what about more subtle examples?
Carolyn: There's no need to apply labels. "Jerkfaces"? You're trying to be funny, I get it. But you're actually putting yourself at a disadvantage when you box up and isolate people as "other." Said jerkfaces are human, just like anyone else, and seeing them that way — i.e., understanding that they have feelings and histories and motivations that you may even recognize as similar to your own — is actually the best way to see them coming.
Marginalizing someone is essentially a decision not to look inside, either the other person or yourself.
You're not looking for something in them so much as you're looking for something in you. If you feel yourself (1) pressured to conform to someone's preconceived idea of you, and (2) hesitant to resist that pressure, then you're not in the right relationship for you. It may seem counterintuitive, but looking at your own reactions to someone is more reliable than trying to puzzle out what somebody else does, says, means.
When the person you're reading is you, you have more (and more trustworthy) information.
Give hard-to-please friend options for hanging out together
Negative Nancy: I have a friend who has been a bit of a thorn in my side lately. If I suggest a bar to meet up, she doesn't like it, but if I ask for another suggestion, she doesn't have one. And that's just one example — she constantly puts down ideas and points out problems without offering any ideas of her own.
She has never been a cockeyed optimist, but it has gotten to be a drag. I don't really want to make plans to hang out with her, because I know it's going to be a hassle. I've asked if there's anything bothering her; she says no. Should I cut her some slack and assume that it's a phase, or confront her?
Carolyn: I don't know that this has to be a big deal. If you still want to see her (that could be in doubt as her put-downs mount), then start making suggestions in either-or form: "Wanna meet up? I was thinking Bar X or Club Y." You can list two, three, four, whatever works without getting ridiculous.
If all of them get a "no," then you can go one of two routes: Ask for a suggestion, not get it, and then say, "Oh, well, if you change your mind on the ones I suggested, lemme know." Meaning she's in or she's out.
Or, you can say, "It's hard to find a place to meet up when you shoot down all my suggestions. I'm trying to spend time with you, not pick the perfect bar."
In other words, either drive around her, or drive right at her. There are merits to both — it just depends on how much you want out of it all and how close a friend you want to be.