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Advice on dealing with manipulative, but also very sweet friend

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This topic contains 26 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by avatar Ange 2 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #779068 Reply
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    Anna

    I’ve known my friend Debby (45) for ten years now. She’s sweet and loving and if you need her, she will drop everything and come running. But she also has another side, that has become more and more difficult for me to cope with. I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to deal with her behavior.

    She’s extremely manipulative, with a talent for creating chaos. Luckily, she uses that ‘power’ on things that (in the big scheme of things) aren’t that bad. When we’re in a group of friends and the group mutually decides on something (big or small), Debby will always stir things up by planting seeds of doubts in all of our heads. I feel like she does this to make herself a little bit more important, if that makes sense. To secure a certain role in the group. She often feels left out, but it happens in situations we can’t really include her. She can feel very left out when you’re the one getting a promotion, for example.

    I want to stay friends with her. I know the other side of her as well (which is more prevalent). I’m quite sure there’s something more going on, like she might have a mental illness and/or suffer from depression. I’ve tried to talk to her about this, carefully and compassionately, but the conversation just left me drained. It was a tough subject of course, so her defence mechanism kicked in and she manipulated the hell out of that talk. It was exhausting.

    The only way to deal with this, I think, is to change I way I deal with it. Do you guys have (had) similar experiences with a friend? How do you let it not get to you? How does one deal with someone who manipulates out of fear of rejection, without rejecting that person?

    #779078 Reply
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    Fyodor

    How does she “plant seeds of doubt” in your heads? Like with a trowel?

    #779085 Reply
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    Anna

    Sorry, English is not my first language. I had to look up ‘trowel’ and this gave me a good laugh, thanks 🙂

    #779113 Reply
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    Kate
    Keymaster

    She sounds like a good friend in some ways. I’m not getting what she does that’s so bad. Examples?

    ETA this doesn’t read mental health issues to me, it reads “feels insecure or low in the pecking order, and tries to establish equality with other members of the group in ways that she can.” You could potentially deal with this by showing enthusiastic appreciation for her great qualities, not putting your personal successes in her face too much, and not playing into her manipulative tactics.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by avatar Kate.
    #779176 Reply
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    Fyodor

    I guess it would be helpful to understand more about what she does specifically. What you’re saying just doesn’t seem like anything to be bothered about

    #779306 Reply
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    keyblade
    Member

    Your statements about your friend “Debbie”, are really strong statements. I understand how she might react in a defensive manner especially if you weren’t forthright about why you were initiating the conversation with her.

    “She’s extremely manipulative, with a talent for creating chaos.”

    “I’m quite sure there’s something more going on, like she might have a mental illness and/or suffer from depression.”

    These statements describe the way you interpret her behaviors and comments. They also assign a motivation to her. But they aren’t specific examples of what she said or did that bothered you. And you are speaking about a group of other friends.

    Have you discussed this with your other mutual friends? Are you sure they are experiencing Debbie in the group the same way you are, as manipulative and chaotic? This isn’t to say you aren’t allowed to be bothered even if they don’t all agree with you.

    If you are bothered by a seed a doubt, you could always state you disagree with her, right? I agree with others that its challenging to offer suggestions on what to you might say or do and that more specific details would be useful.

    #779407 Reply
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    Anna

    You are right. I tried to come up with a short example that paints a clear picture of the situation, but those examples are still so vague, and I can understand why you’d say “those are some pretty strong statements” based on my initial post. The example below is not exactly a short story but it’s a representative example, I think. I’ve changed some of the details but you’ll get the gist.

    After years of trying, our mutual friend A. finally got pregnant. When she told us, we were with a couple of friends, including Debby. I could tell Debby was genuinely happy for A, as we all were, but when after an hour we were still talking about A’s pregnancy, Debby suddenly announced that she was hoping for an outcome like that, as well.

    We were all surprised since she’d never told us she wanted kids. She then proceeded to tell us that she had been diagnosed with a very rare condition that had almost killed her and that had “something” to do with fertility. The doctors “were perplexed” and “had never seen such a condition before” and she might never get pregnant, but maybe, hopefully, one day we would be able to congratulate her, as well.

    When we asked her some questions (like: what hospital were you treated in? What did the doctors say, exactly?), Debby became very emotional, saying that she couldn’t talk about it and had kept this a secret because this – all this attention – was exactly what she didn’t want, and that we should be focussing on A.

    A couple of weeks later some friends organized a get-together for A. Debby was included in the invitation. The plan was to take A to the beach (which she loves) and drink non-alcoholic wine at sunset and IDK, just be together as friends.

    Debby was not on board with this idea, she thought it might be too early to celebrate. What if something went wrong with the baby? I understood her point, but A actually knew of our plans and loved it. When I explained this to Debby, Debby said she was very surprised because A had recently told her that she’d much rather go to this new hipster bar than to the same old beach spot, but okay, whatever I wanted. That got me confused: was this about not planning something for A for it might be too early to celebrate, or was this about not planning the thing Debby had in mind?

    It’s hard to make this long story short but in the end, it became quite an ordeal to get to the freaking beach that day. Debby not only called me to raise questions about the exact planning of this ‘day with A’, she also called two other friends, telling one of them I had doubts about the whole organization, too, and telling the other she’d read that the beach hut would be closed for construction work (something we could of course easily verify, so that wasn’t the smartest of tactics).

    When Debby realized she couldn’t control this ‘day with A’, she insisted on being one of the drivers, only to realise two days prior that her car was at the garage. I should’ve just responded with: okay, no problem, we’ll hire a car, but instead my first reaction was a very annoyed one, which caused for some crying on her part.

    In between all of this, I reached out to her saying that if the whole ‘pregnancy-celebration’ was too hard on her because of the developments in her own life, I would understand her reasons for not joining us (though we would love to have her there). She appreciated that, but continued to stir things up.

    Truth is that I’m having a hard time believing she really has a life-threatening, rare medical condition that perplexes all doctors. I’m also very afraid that I’m wrong and that I’m being a bad friend for thinking this. Either way I try to be a good friend to her. If it’s true she needs my support, but if it’s not true – if she’s making this up, say for attention or so – she still needs my support, and love, and indeed attention.

    To be clear, I didn’t sat down with her to talk about her having a mental illness – I tried to talk to her because I thought she was unhappy. And that she might benefit from talking to a professional, someone with an outside view. I know it has helped me a lot (she knows I’ve been in therapy as well). But she spun my words around, and at the end of our – very long – conversation, she concluded that what I perceived as unhappiness, was actually ‘toughness’ (for lack of a better word; sorry, English).

    Some of our mutual friends have already distanced themselves a bit from her, which makes me sad since in her heart she’s such a good person. (She’s not always like this! And the day at the beach in the end was real fun.)

    I think her actions stem from strong insecurities and the feeling of losing control over certain parts of her life. I don’t think this will change, as she sees no reason to change. I have to learn not to buy into her manipulations as described above (aka don’t react so strongly on the car thing when I could expect that to happen), as Kate says. But I don’t really know how to do that.

    One friend, who also still loves her, tells me I shouldn’t let her get to me, just shrug the manipulations off and try to focus on her good points. But Debby does get to me, sometimes, and I’m annoyed that I let her. Maybe I should be more mature about this, but again, I don’t always know how that ‘works’. How one can shrug that shit off, but still take Debby (and her problems/illnesses) seriously.

    #779528 Reply
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    keyblade
    Member

    I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. If I thought a friend of mine was trying to sabotage an outing I was planning, I wouldn’t have liked it, either.

    If A told all everyone she was pregnant, it isn’t strange you would want to celebrate. Debby sounds like she was looking for problems that didn’t exist, and then created a stressful situation by not informing everyone earlier about her car (unless of course something really just quit working). Maybe she really just didn’t want to go to the beach. But nobody forced her to go, and she could have made plans to go to the hipster bar with everybody, too if she had wanted to go so much.

    Maybe part of what’s making it hard to let this go is that you don’t know what to do with all the undiagnosed illness information? Personally, I would try not to change my own behavior around something Debbie doesn’t want to discuss. If she has an undiagnosed disease, it’s on her to manage how she chooses to discuss it with people. At 45 she could have strong feelings and unresolved conflict surrounding “A”‘s pregnancy. So what? Maybe she does have some issues she doesn’t fully understand, but it really isn’t on you to help her figure it all out. It isn’t your responsibility to point her towards therapy or fix things.

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by avatar keyblade.
    #779588 Reply
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    anonymousse
    Member

    Wow, at first when I read this I thought you were being hard on Debby, and were assigning motivations to her behavior that may not be there.

    But she honestly comes off as a little crazy. Maybe more than a little. I’m trying to wrap my head around the beach thing. Is she superstitious?

    I don’t think shrugging her shit off is a good idea or even really possible. I mean, you don’t have to make a big scene with her and her ideas, but taking a step back from her, and being more formal and less friendly with her might help a lot. Take her name off the friends list and think of her more as an acquaintance. When she proposes something else to your planning, just say No. “No, Debby, we’re going to the beach. I’ve doublechecked everything, and that’s what we’re doing. So sorry if you can’t make it.”
    Yeah, it’s sad that you and others have had to take a step back from her, but that happens when someone lies and manipulates people. It’s not on you to make sure her feelings aren’t hurt. She’s stepped over a line, regardless the reasons. You tried to talk to her about it and she deflected your help. That’s what a good friend is owed, and now you need to take a step back for your mental health.

    #779630 Reply
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    Kate

    Ok so Debby has issues. It sounds like for whatever reasons, she feels left out or “not as good as,” or whatever, and so she acts out to get attention. If as you say, she’s generally a good person and you value her friendship, then enjoy her friendship but do not engage with the BS. Don’t enable it, don’t give it oxygen. Don’t even try to talk to her about it. FWIW, I don’t condone sitting someone down and telling them they seem like they must be unhappy and should consider therapy, not if they haven’t confided in you that they’re unhappy. I think sometimes with certain people and certain behaviors, you can just outright tell them not to do x, y, and z because it’s not ok and you won’t put up with it, but that won’t work with Debby. You just need to recognize the bad behavior, when it happens, as what it is – a play for attention – and ignore it. When she says ridiculous things, just say, “mmm.” Or “ok,” and move on with doing whatever you were going to do.

    #779635 Reply
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    Kate

    I guess if she says she has a serious medical condition, you don’t simply ignore it, you can say, oh I’m so sorry to hear that, and then gently steer the conversation back. But if she’s like, oh, the beach is closed, you can say, hmm, and google it, and that can be the end of that. You don’t have to spend emotional energy on nonsense.

    #779659 Reply
    Skyblossom
    Skyblossom
    Participant

    Good friends don’t try to manipulate so I’d take a step back from the friendship. When there is a group activity go into the planning knowing that she will likely try to sabotage it in some way and prevent that from happening. From now on if she volunteers to drive you can ask if she still has the same car and comment you’ll find a different way to get there since her car has been unreliable. Then no matter what she says you make a plan to get there that doesn’t depend on her. The same for anything. Don’t let any aspect of it depend on her. You can say things like thanks but I’ve got that handled or I have an idea I want to research. Don’t let her change the plan. If she suggests a different place than the one that is already chosen you tell her that sounds nice she can look into planning that herself for a different day and then don’t feel obligated to go to the second event or to help with it in any way.

    She is way over the line of acceptable when she starts telling lies about you such as you having doubts when you don’t. That’s why I say pull back from the friendship but also call her on it. Send a text to everyone involved that you have no doubts. You can say there seems to be some confusion about what you think and you just wanted everyone to know that you have no doubts about the location/time/food/date/whatever. Don’t let it slide by as if you don’t know. Set it straight as soon as you know she has said something and let everyone know. If you all started doing that she would probably stop passing around lies because she would realize she is always caught and everyone knows what she is doing. She will only do these things as long as they work. Don’t let them work.

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