This is the 22nd installment of Barren Advice. You can ask questions that are fertility or non-fertility related.
Barren Advice is posted each Tuesday-ish. If you have your own question for Barren Advice, click here to learn how to submit. Please weigh in with your own thoughts in the comment section and indicate which question you're addressing if there are multiple questions in the post.
How do you deal with a friend who needs more emotional support than you can give? I have a close friend, who I adore. She's always needed quite a lot of emotional support, and I am more than happy to be there for her.
However, in the wake of my miscarriage, she doesn't seem to recognize the fact that I don't necessarily have that excess emotional energy to spare. In fact, last week, when I was doing a little better, she commented on that fact, and how great I was doing, and how fantastic that was because we'd need all our emotional energy for our next pregnancy. Needless to say, we are not doing so great.
I know she's trying to be supportive in her own way, but it's just really not working with our grieving process. I've pointed her at posts about loss and reactions to it; she knows about loss (though not miscarriage) from her own experience. I've told her that I don't have the emotional energy to support and reassure her right now -- and she insisted that she wasn't asking for support or reassurance. Yet every time we talk, it's the same thing over and over again.
I don't want to cut her out of my life, or upset her, as she is someone that I adore when I have the energy to deal with other people *at all*, but I can't keep doing this, and my attempts to get her to understand that have just forced her further into her own cave. How can I be good to myself, while still being a good friend?
This is a problem with the limits of language more than the limits of your own patience or good-nature. You've described her as a "friend" which makes sense if the only three options are non-friend, acquaintance, or friend. But friend by its very definition requires a give-and-take with both parties having a "personal regard" for one another (thanks, Random House Dictionary). So your friend is not really a friend. She is a completely different, unnamed category. Therefore, I release you from applying the rules of friendship to your relationship.
It is expected in all relationships that people will take turns having their needs met. There are times when you simply can't be there for other people. I always liken being in crisis emotionally to a body being in crisis physically. When the body experiences hypothermia, it goes into safety mode which means that it redirects blood away from your limbs and to the vital organs. Emotionally, I think the same thing happens where we tunnel down into ourselves as a protective measure, redirect our energy away from limb-like elements such as friends, work, and hobbies and move our resources to the vital level--simply functioning and grieving and making it through the day.
I think it's healthy to do this and natural to do this and it sounds like you are in a state of centering your energy right now. Just like the body that doesn't get the message and keeps the blood pumping through those outer limbs, you stand a chance of suffering internal damage (or, in your case, emotional damage) that will require attention down the road. Taking this time for yourself may be the thing that saves you. Of course, you cannot stay in this state perpetually or your limbs will be lost (and by limbs in the emotional sense, I mean friends and work), but few people want to stay in this place indefinitely. I think our natural tendency is to move towards adapting through grieving. The timetable is unique to each person.
When I say that this state of emotional hypothermia saves you, I am also highlighting the difference between your state and your friend's state. It sounds like she is operating in pseudo-emotional hypothermia. Meaning, the problem is that there isn't necessarily a true problem but instead the problem is the fact that there is a created problem and a sense of comfort of being in a state of continuous emotional hypothermia. I liken this to a person who keeps walking on frozen lakes despite the fact they fall in from time to time. Yes, there is obviously a problem, but that problem is also somewhat of their own making which is a bigger problem than the problem itself.
It sounds like your friend likes being in a permanent state of emotional hypothermia not because she likes feeling those emotions, but because she likes whatever attention she receives from others due to her emotional fragility. Since you didn't name her crisis in the post, I am going to assume that her "emotional hypothermia" is more akin to skinned knees in terms of direness. In turn, she needs to rush you through your healing process in order to have your attention and help returned to her problems, her needs, and her thoughts.
So what you really have on your hands is one person with hypothermia (you) and one person with some scraped knees (her) and the person with the superficial injuries telling the person in crisis to hurry up with those warming blankets because it is all about the state of her knee caps vs. your internal organs.
See, not really a friend.
But a person you love nonetheless. And who probably gives you love back when you're not in a state of need (because when you're focusing on her, she feels your love and can give it back to you). Who is great for a trip to the movies or a dinner party; who is your favourite person when it's time to go shoe shopping. Which is why she needs a new title instead of "friend" because you do have a relationship, even if it isn't a true friendship with give-and-take and support built into the definition.
Let's call her a "mend"--a movie-friend--which will be easy to remember because she is also someone who doesn't like it when you have a need to mend.
So now you have non-friends, acquaintances, mends, and friends. And just as you apply different rules to how you treat and what you give your acquaintances vs. friends, you need to come up with a set of guidelines that feel comfortable to you in regards to your mends. Perhaps you need to allow your body to fully enter that emotional hypothermic state and doing so means holding all acquaintances and mends at arm distance for a bit. Without guilt because doing so is about protecting you and honouring your process.
And the fact is, mends have a chance to become friends just as acquaintances do. It is contingent on many factors, but also the energy they invest in the relationship. Not all mends have the desire or ability to raise themselves up to that next level--but that is not the focus right now. You can't help other people navigate friendships when you are grieving just as your body cannot take care of your limbs when you're in crisis. Allow yourself to reframe this relationship for what it is in this moment with a promise to deal with turning the mend into a friend when blood is free to flow again.
No really, the beauty of a blog advice column is that you get to weigh in with your two cents too. Let the questioner know if you support the advice, add to the response, or dispute it completely.
Leave a comment in the reaction box below--only keep in mind that conflicting advice is embraced and rudeness is not. Want to ask your own question? Click here to see what you need to send in order to be included in a future Tuesday's installment of Barren Advice.