Tag Archives: friendships

Why is that person your friend?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

A commenter recently asked an obvious question of another: “Why do you think that person is your friend?”  That rang a bell in me.  There are times, when reading the stories people send me, that I ask something similar in my heart.

Why do you think that person is your friend?

Why would you keep putting yourself through this?

Why did you think that person loved you?

Why don’t you just walk away?

Outside the situation, things seem so much more clear.  We read a story and the details are so contrary to anything that makes sense to us.  The narcissists are so cruel, so persistent, and so obvious that we want to grab the writer and help her/him run away.

But it isn’t that easy inside the relationship.  We know this because of our own situations.  We can look at others with logic and reason, but our own circumstances seem different.  They are filled with emotions and complications.

 

So let me take a bit to work through what happens in a friendship.  I suspect that friendship seems like the easiest narcissistic relationship to deal with—from the outside.  Those who grow up with narcissistic parents feel that they are stuck forever.  Those who are married to narcissists have to do a lot to get out of the relationship.  Those who encounter narcissists at work or otherwise professionally don’t usually have the power to remove the person from their lives.  But we all think the person with a narcissistic friend should be able to just walk away.

Very few people go through life interviewing strangers to see if they would make good friends.  Friends are rarely chosen methodically or even carefully.  Instead, friends come to us through circumstances, coincidences, or common interests.  We inherit them, they come with the job, or we suddenly discover them by our side.  Before we know it, the person has spent enough time with us and we have shared enough of ourselves that we think of him/her as a friend.

And few of us have ever really considered a definition of friendship.  We think we know it when we see it; but, when a friend turns against us, we are surprised and wonder if he/she was really a friend.  Even then we don’t take the time to sort out what we mean by a friend.

So without a careful way of choosing friends and without a helpful definition of a friend, we go through life gathering people into our circles.  We think of them as comrades, co-workers, acquaintances, colleagues, and associates.  Someplace along the line a few of them become something more—friends.  We assume they value the relationship in the same way we do.  We would miss them if they were gone if for no other reason than that they have become a part of our lives.

We acknowledge that there are different kinds or levels of friendship, but we still don’t think about it much.  A friend on Facebook is different from a friend from school days or a friend we confide in, but the overlap we allow is amazing.  We live in a culture where friends we have never met except online know more about us than friends who have walked with us through many trials in person.  Our culture speaks of “friends with benefits” or “friends in business” or “friends online” without regard to the conflicts inherent in the terms.

All of this is a way of saying that we have not been taught to be careful about whom we call or consider a friend.

So, when the narcissist comes along, we don’t have a guard up because we don’t think about guarding ourselves.  I have written often about the narcissist super-power, that amazing ability to manipulate what others think of them.  The narcissist might not even need a super-power to become a friend, but it gives her the ability to jump quickly past any fuzzy barriers we might have and get right into our hearts.

I suspect that the real reason it is hard for those in narcissistic friendships to end the relationship is that they can’t fully understand how they got into the relationship in the first place.  They might know the details, but they don’t understand the feelings.  All the red flags were there, the things others mention are true and should have been obvious from the start, but some kind of fog or deception took place.

Remember how narcissists work.  They look for people who are open.  Those who are lonely, sad, angry, frustrated, or afraid.  They manage to share a common cause or life circumstance.  Then they begin to tell you secrets (which may not be true) about themselves and get you to tell your secrets to them.  Pretty soon, they know much more about you than others and they know how to manipulate you.  You find yourself giving them your time, energy, even money—when you don’t want to.

So why not just walk away?  It seems obvious that this is one narcissistic relationship that could end easily.  Yet, it isn’t all that easy.  The narcissist knows too much.  By the time the victim realizes that the relationship is toxic, the hooks are firmly in place.  The narcissist knows how to threaten, how to plead, how to place guilt and shame, and all kinds of other manipulative methods.

Yes, you should walk away from a narcissistic friend.  Yes, you are being used.  Yes, you will be hurt again.   No, it will not get better.

It is possible to get out.  Set boundaries and maintain them.  Say no and mean it.  Don’t believe the lies, no matter how sweet they sound or how they tweak your heart.  Don’t blame yourself for being deceived.

And, for the rest of us, remember that the narcissist has to work harder to rule over a friend who can walk away.  Much harder than a boss or a parent or a spouse.  The narcissist must convince the victim that he is a lover and necessary in the victim’s life.  A narcissist knows how to do this very well.

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A Real Friend

Many years ago I served a mainline church in a small town.  The church had a rough history and seemed plagued with marriage problems.  At one point I was counseling with four families whose marriages were struggling.  It seemed to be all we could do to keep the couples together.

I left town for a few weeks on vacation and returned to find that five couples in the church had filed for divorce in my absence.  It was obvious they had waited until I was gone to do what they felt they needed to do.  I was hurt, offended, and angry.

I determined that I should preach on divorce, why God hated it and how evil it was (you know, condemnation).  When I told the elders, they were subdued and said little.  But one man came to me afterward, privately, and told me that I couldn’t do it.  That got my hackles up a little and I asked why.  He told me I couldn’t preach on divorce because I was angry.  His words hit me right between the eyes and I have never forgotten them.  I didn’t preach the message I had planned.

If any of the others had come to me with the same words, I probably would have ignored or scorned them.  It might have started a fight.  But this man was my friend.  I knew that he prayed for me every day.  He had never asked me for anything.  I knew that he could be critical, but he had never been unkind toward me.  He was my friend.

And when my friend came to me and told me something I needed to hear, I listened.  I listened because he had already proven his love and support.  I listened because he wasn’t critical of me.  I listened because I knew it hurt him to say it.  And I knew he was concerned about me.  It wasn’t divorce that was in his mind, it was my heart and my integrity. 

As far as I can judge myself, I never brought my anger to the pulpit after that.  His simple words still ring in my ears.  And I have never been so sure of a man’s friendship as I have of his.

You see, a friend can bring us the words we need to hear—but he needs to be a friend first.  We build defenses against the criticisms and challenges of others, especially in times of anger.  But a friend is someone we haven’t needed to build defenses against.  And, when that friend comes, we know we don’t need defenses even then.  They can speak into our hearts because we are sure of their love. 

This man was my friend for 30 years, until his death at 92.  This was the only time he chastised me.  His ministry of exhortation, rebuke, or admonishing in my life brought him no joy, no perverted pleasure.  He did it because he had to.  He did not see himself as my judge nor a force to keep me in line.  He was just concerned about me.

That’s the influence a real friend can have.

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Friends respect your boundaries

From time to time a new “friend” will come into your life who seems to become your best buddy right away.  They have to sit with you, call you, and do nice things for you.  This person wants to know all about you, meet your family, and be more important than your other friends.  This almost always turns out badly.

Ever feel like you are being stalked by a “friend”?  Smothered in niceness?  Ever find yourself agreeing to things you don’t want to agree with, just because that other person pushes and you feel the need to be kind?  Ever feel pushed into sharing things you didn’t want to share?

Real friends have no interest in making you uncomfortable.  They understand that you have things and time and ideas that are yours, not theirs.  They don’t feel like failures if you walk away with the same burden you carried in. 

Beware of the false friends who pull at you and push you and try to get things out of you that you don’t want to give.  Beware of friends who seem to want to take over your life.  That’s not what real friends do.  That’s what users do.  Some people need the lives of others and use others as distractions from their own dysfunction or fear.  Some people feed on the drama and anxiety of others.  They love to have the secrets of others because it makes them feel special or powerful.  It isn’t about you and it isn’t about love. 

The advice columns often carry the concerns of people who have given money or belongings only to find out they have been used.  Sometimes they find that they are responsible for the debts of others because they helped when the other person needed a loan.  There are people who will be your “best friend” simply for the purpose of getting something from you.  You don’t have to do it.

Listen: It is okay to say no!  Set your boundaries and hold them.  Your time is yours, don’t waste it on someone who is using you.  Your money is yours, don’t spend it on a user.  Your life is yours, don’t give it to someone who really doesn’t care about you.

Real friends will respect your boundaries.  They don’t push or pull.  They just walk alongside you as long as you are willing to walk with them.

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What is a friend?

Last week seemed pretty negative on the idea of friendship, but I didn’t mean for it to be that way.  I know that many people have suffered from the strange and often cruel characteristics of friendships within legalist systems. 

But this week I want to do something different.  I believe that friends are among the most important blessings God has given us.  I understand why people want, even need, good friends.  But too many people are so broken and beat-up that they don’t know what a good friend looks like.

I have a few special friends.  There are a few people who have had a special connection with my heart over the years.  In them, I have found encouragement, companionship, and counsel.  But they are few, and that’s okay.

You see, there are many kinds of friends, I think.  This is my list and it may not even be complete in my thinking, but see what you think of it.

  • False friends – people who tell you they are friends so they can get something from you.  Usually these people like to call you “friend” and use the word “friend” a lot. 
  • Acquaintances – people who you know from work, church, the neighborhood, or whatever but you don’t really connect with.  You don’t know them well enough to know if they would be good friends.
  • Circumstantial friends – people with whom you connect under limited circumstances.  Perhaps a friend you have at work but never socialize with outside of work.  Perhaps someone from school from whom you have now drifted away.  These can be good friends, but the friendship ends or wanes because the circumstances change.  Moving away, getting married, changing jobs, ending a project, etc. 
  • Crisis friends – people who stand with you through a rough time, but may not stay connected beyond that time.  God sends these people for support when you really need someone and you are thankful, but it isn’t the kind of friendship that lasts, perhaps because you really don’t have a lot in common.  This is a type of circumstantial friend, but the relationship seems much deeper.
  • Special friends – people you could call once every five years and have a great, almost intimate, conversation.  Nothing has changed in the relationship during that time.  There are few expectations in this kind of relationship.  You might have lunch with this person every week, but you might not go to her with your problems.  Not because you couldn’t but because this is one person who loves you outside of your circumstances.  You are encouraged just by her presence, even by knowing she is there.  She might not come to you with her problems, but she knows she could and you would care.  You both know the other will be accepting, even glad to get together, no matter what is going on in the rest of the world.

Obviously, all of these are good to have in our lives (except false friends) and we are blest in the differences of these relationships.  We are not made to walk alone.  It’s okay to admit that we need others.  But one of the most important keys to friendship is understanding and accepting the limits of expectations.  Good friends accept you and love you and respect your boundaries.  They don’t have high expectations of you.  There is something about you they love and you might never really know what it is (nor, perhaps, do they), but you feel that love.

Let’s talk more about friendship this week!  What are your thoughts on this list?

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Smarter now?

Well, at least we are smarter now, right?  We know better than to trust people.  We won’t be stupid again and open our hearts for others to see.  We will just keep to ourselves and not give others a chance to hurt us.  Who needs friends anyway?

Truth?  I do.  Yeah, I know I’m a guy and I don’t have the kind of friendships women often do.  And I know a lot of people and I am with people a lot.  And I am a Christian and I have Jesus.  So I’m set, right?  But really, I need friends—and so do you. 

What we don’t need are fake friends.  We don’t need people who pretend to be our friends and then turn against us or use the things we have shared to hurt us.  Frankly, we don’t need the kind of friends legalists seem to be.

It isn’t just legalists who become fake friends.  I was thinking about calling this post “Frenemies.”  There are all kinds of people who will use you and abuse you under the guise of friendship.  Friendship is a marketing tool for those who see you as a sale, or a servant, or a step on the ladder.  People in relationships like these aren’t friends.

We live in a culture that is more lonely, more separate, and more surrounded by people than ever.  People are afraid and wide open at the same time.  It is amazing to hear what people share on Facebook or in groups or on TV.  Yet, with all this sharing, there are fewer heart connections, less trust, and less friendship.

So what do we do when we need friends, but live in a culture that doesn’t seem to understand what friendships are?  What do we do when we are surrounded by people but there are very few we trust?  Here are a few ideas:

    • Greatly value the one or two real friends you have.
    • Don’t throw your heart out there to see if anyone will be kind to it.  Remember that the world is filled with broken people who use and abuse and don’t give them opportunity.
    • Instead, be patient and kind.  Listen to others as they share.  Once in a while there will be one who will care about you and you will recognize their hearts.
    • I know this isn’t what you normally hear, but mistrust first and be safe.  Then, when someone rises to the top, you can begin to trust.  This is not an unhealthy way to look at life.
    • Never forget that even good friends can fail.  They struggle with fear and brokenness just like you do.  Imperfect relationships are the only kind available.  You might fail, too.

There is a difference between a real friend and a user.  Your goal is not to hide in the cave because you can’t see the difference.  Your goal is to seek to understand the difference.  Don’t deny yourself the friendship you need.  Just be careful. 

Being careful is what you have learned.

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