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Your Stuck Friend (Part 1)

Do you have a friend, community or family member who you care for and at the same time want to avoid? Each time you see him or her you hear them complain of their suffering and it is pretty much the same suffering you have been hearing about for the last year or more.  You see a part of them that is alive and delightful and yet they don't see it in themselves.  No amount of advice, reassurance, or cheer leading helps them shift out the stuck place they are in.  When you think about them, you start to feel heavy and frustrated wanting to be helpful, but not having much hope that you can be.

Regarding a situation like this a gem reader recently wrote:

"How do I use NVC to communicate my need for peace and joy to people in my life who are in a really negative space?  I find myself not wanting to be around these people but also wanting to convey why I may pull back from them.  These are people who I care about but I am feeling drained when I am around them.

Here's an example.  A friend who eats lots of processed foods, goes off of Thyroid, Antidepressants and Birth Control Pills cold turkey and all at once, without consulting with her doctor, complains about how she is having all kinds of physical problems, pain, depression, up all night crying because she is so miserable.  I listen with empathy and tell her I hear how she feels really bad, is scared and off balance, that she has a need for feeling healthy. She asks me lots of questions about about her health issues.  She makes and cancels doctor appointments, still keeps a very busy schedule, and travels cross country for work each week.  She seems to want to tell me how bad everything is without making an effort to take care of herself.  I feel distressed because I have a need for self-care and I see this person as someone who doesn't want to take responsibility for her own issues."

The first thing to return to as you cultivate the consciousness and skills of Compassionate Communication (NVC) is that the purpose is to be authentically connected such that a giving from the heart naturally arises.  One difficulty in arriving here is getting through the jungle of shoulds. Start by looking around your jungle. Let's make some guesses about our gem reader's jungle.

Here are some shoulds she likely has about herself:

- I should be more compassionate, understanding, patient, . . .

-I should know how to help

-I should be able to say what's on my mind

-I should respect her path

Here are some shoulds she likely has about her friend:

-She should take responsibility for the her own problems

-She should think about how her problems affect others

-She shouldn't ask for help if she is not going to use it

-She should pull herself together and do something that's effective

-She shouldn't be so attached to her identity of someone in pain

-She should see how she creates her own problems

Ah, what a relief to get these shoulds out in the open.  When they are out here where you can see them, you can hear the message they are trying to deliver.  Let's start with the shoulds toward yourself.  For our gem reader self-empathy might sound like this:

"It's so important to me to treat others with compassion and acceptance and I feel sad seeing how difficult it is to access that with this friend.  I feel frustrated because I want to offer help that works for my friend and nothing seems to help. I also want to use my energy in a way that makes a difference. It's really difficult for me to watch someone I care for suffer and not be able to do anything about it.  Let me just sit here and let myself feel the grief and accept that this suffering is what is true right now."


Getting to grief is a foundational skill in NVC consciousness.  A willingness to feel grief about a situation in your life is movement towards acceptance of things as they are.  Without this willingness to grieve, you will be resisting life, and your decisions will inevitably arise from a subtle place of anger or resentment.  Allowing yourself to grieve and accept things as they are, you open the door to a fuller connection to your longing to contribute to life.  From this place you can make decisions that are truly helpful.


In the next Connection Gem, I will offer another step in meeting situations like these.  This week choose a situation in which you see someone you care for suffering and allow yourself to feel your grief in seeing them suffer.  You might do this by just saying to yourself, "I feel sad seeing them suffer.  It's painful to know they are hurting."  Let yourself state the facts of the situation clearly and then name the "shoulds" you have about it.




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Your Stuck Friend (Part 2)
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1 Response

  1. Mar 05, 2015

    I have been this person who avoided and judged a friend. He was bankrupted by a third alcoholic partnership, a thieving drug addicted teen/adult, and in mires of problems because he could not say 'no'. Presumable he got good advice from his therapist and if I pointed out his contribution to his misery he would say "I know, I know".
    My first reaction to the person with the self destructive friend is to say that we are likely to be able to identify with our friend. Many of us have been that stuck person at some time in our lives. Perhaps not to this degree or about these issues. Many of us have areas of our lives where we are not facing how we are causing our own suffering, are doing things to increase it and complaining and expressing our misery to others. It is or isn't obvious to ourselves just how we are in this cycle sometimes. Sometimes it seems there are no good choices to get out of it or we don't have the internal or external resources to make those good choices.
    I have been this stuck person. It was embarrassing and at times shameful, so I didn't tell people all of what was going on so I am sure friends and family thought my problems were easier to solve because they didn't have a complete picture of the challenges I was facing. I unloaded on others because I was overloaded; I was overloaded by the complexity of my problems, the intense emotions that resulted, and the internal immaturity and lack of skills . I needed people in my life who were able to listen without being sucked in, wise people to help me find viable choices and to navigate the "helping resources" ie. social services system, therapy, body care (ie yoga), spiritual care, or the medical professions, etc. I was lonely and so my pain spilled into conversations in inappropriate places sometimes; anger came out as complaining and blaming and fear nailed both my feet to the floor. I watched friends and family draw back from interactions with me. I wan't angry then, their lives were not even on my radar, I was in such suffering. So, what was helpful for me? Small acts of kindness built me up. People who smiled, or greeted me warmly,or conveyed they cared about me and then moved out of the interaction before they slid into a negative state. The warmth and affection let me know that I was loved, despite my problems or my behavior. Receiving love and kindness increased my strength for facing my problems and making better choices. It was detrimental for me to have someone stay and listen until they were dragged down. Their exhausted energy just added to mine. I could feel their judgement and repulsion. That would increase my embarrassment and shame, foster secrecy and withdrawal. My friends needed to be kind to themselves too.

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