Allow me to apologise in advance for starting you off on a gross note. Today we discovered that our house cat has fleas. The poor thing has been scratching for weeks and we finally found out the reason why. Evidently, a few weeks ago a little colony of red-brown critters took residence in her fur. According to a website we checked out, Ginger is the “host” and they are parasites that need her to survive. Without her they would not live for long.
Getting rid of Ginger’s parasite won’t be hard, soon she’ll be rid of her troublesome guests. You, however, will have a more difficult job of getting rid of the parasite(s) in your life; that needy friend, the reason you are reading this post right now.
I don’t mean to be harsh, but what else do you call someone who is “living in or on another and benefiting at the expense of another”? That’s right, the dictionary calls that a parasite. I’ve had my share of needy relationships and it took me a while, but eventually I realised that I was the common denominator. That led to me reassessing my friendships and asking myself questions like: what is it about me that makes me an attractive host? And why am I drawn to needy people?
Your needy friend is not the evil one in this equation. You definitely have an attachment to them and that is why you are still in that relationship. Whether that attachment is healthy or not is another question, but you must realise that you are in that relationship on those terms because you choose to be. It could be that you’re making that choice unconsciously by choosing to go with the flow. Or maybe this issue is something that you’ve thought about deeply and your decision was deliberate.
Un fortunately, people aren’t like fleas, you can’t just get rid of them at will. And if that needy person is a relative then they’ll probably be with you for life! But you can Remove, Recognise and Restore. Here’s how:
1. Remove the log from your own eye.
The issue here is motives: identify the underlying reasons why you (not the other person) are still in that friendship. In my case, I realised that I had an unhealthy need to be needed. My heart was habitually drawn to people in crisis, weak people that I could be strong for. I stayed in those friendships because I was indispensable to that person; I felt useful, needed. Before I could resolve the outward problem of my needy friend, I had to change, I had to confront my inward issues. I also had to admit that I am partly to blame for the state of the relationship, simply because I allowed myself to be used.
2. Recognise the splinter in your friend’s eye.
Having confronted your own issues, it is necessary to confront your friend’s issue. But do it gracefully. Take responsibility for your part; choose forgiveness rather than offense; and speak the truth in love. Many of us have a deep fear of confrontation. We would rather stay in a place of frustration rather than risk hurting the other person, or worse, being rejected by them. Refusing to confront your needy friend isn’t helping you or your friend and in the long term it will cause great harm to the both of you.
3. Restore healthy boundaries.
Both of you need to develop a sense of identity that is not attached to the other person. This is what boundaries are about. Very often a bad friendship can be restored to health if proper boundaries are set in place. Practically, if your friend has a habit of asking you to do stuff that you know she should be doing herself, say no. Or if you feel emotionally exhausted every day because you spend all night counseling her, refer her to a counselor and put your phone on silent when you go to sleep. Boundaries are difficult to enforce in the beginning and you will probably feel a lot of guilt. But stay disciplined and remind yourself that your motivation is to restore the friendship.
There is no formula for resolving relational conflict but these are the steps that helped me through. What ways have you found to handle your needy friends?