Are you helping her because she is your friend or because walking away will make you feel guilty? How often your depressed friend ever used words like suicide, divorce etc. when you are not able to meet her? Why are you mentally drained after every interaction, is she charging her batteries through you? Where to draw a line? How come of the 100 persons in her life, you are the only one left to share her burden? Through FoG (Fear, obligation or guilt) you are slowly giving up control of your life and becoming a marionette.
Some people like to wallow in their sorrows and no matter what you do can pull them out of their comfort zone. Depression as a ruse of some lonely souls to emotionally manipulate others. They abuse your sympathy and take advantage out of you to con you out of a few hours of uninterrupted companionship. Con-artists and pretenders go for monetary gains which makes it spot entrapment. Emotional manipulation on the other hand feeds on your own kindness to trick you over and over again. Even after years of support, one is confused if they were manipulated or they genuinely made a difference. Why?
Humans are biologically wired to respond to a distress call. Call me shallow, but there are not many things that are more satisfying & fulfilling than helping a fellow human being in need. Naturally if someone confines in you privately their vulnerability, fears, problems or conditions, your hormones will force you to go out of your way to help it. During evolution, it helps strengthen the bonds of kinship in tribes and improve the chances to survive a disaster.
Here are a few lessons I have learned the hard way:
- Meeting venue, timing & duration should be closely watched. Is it more as per your convenience or hers? If the meeting was abruptly over or rescheduled because she found something more intriguing then know your pecking order in her life.
- They will take calls, check messages in the middle of the session, but will get angry if you did the same. Also unlike a dialogue where both parties share their experiences, the meetings are mostly unidirectional. They control the context, situation, what points to discuss and for how long. Although throughout the dialogue you will feel you are the sage giving advice, but in reality they are just humoring you.
- If you spend hours analyzing the situation, root causing the problem, thinking of all the pitfalls/scenarios to come up with the perfect solution…. Just to realize she has not bothered to even consider it… then don’t be a fool and repeat your folly again. Your undivided attention is valuable and reserved for friends and family only.
- Manipulators are completely unreachable when the times are good and will hog your every second when they are lonely and have nothing else to do. Then you are like that doll that big girls play with when they have nothing else to do. In fact you are never part of their happy memories because she has different set of friends for good moods and sob moods. You are probably a sponge with the sole purpose to wiper her tears.
- Manipulators are victims in everything. Life sometimes deal us with a bad hand in cards, but if your work, marriage, friendship and everything around you are falling apart that it is probably a fictitious projections or payback of their past deeds. Are you being overwhelmed by red-taps, unnecessary dependencies and complications then probably it is a figment of her imagination. How come there is only bad news, negative surprises in a person’s life?
- Cribbing about marital discord is normal but if someone uses the word divorce or suicide twice, call in the experts. Anyways you did not help the last time. Our life is a sum of all out decisions, her’s is in a rut and she expect the same fate for you.
- Try introducing them to a religious group, social group or a hobby/activity. If the person is not making even a slightest step to recover on their own then surely all they are doing is feeding on your emotional availability.
- Be watchful if you are being used as a Guinee pig to hone her story telling skills. Is there a consistency in the sequence of events? It is normal to repeat a dramatic incident, but not ok to make it more intense. Emotional vampire will jump from one drama to another. No matter how bad your day was, she has been through worse.
- Even though you are not really close, does she project you to be the only sane thing in her life? Her relationship with spouse, boss, colleagues, parents, kids, in-laws is always a mess and you are the only person who has supported her? Chances are she is manipulating you. If you have common friends, try to cross check her story (without betraying the confidence) you might find multiple centers of the universe.
- Manipulators like salespersons often do general probing to understand your thought process, establish your baseline and understand your bias, weakness and soft spots. Be wary of this hidden agenda and manipulation esp. if the incidents in your life are being twisted and rubbed on your face.
- Don’t force a depressed person into doing something against their own will. They will deliberately screw the opportunity and hold you accountable for their losses. They will start new things (often many at the same time) but never see it through. Then they will hold everybody else responsible for the fate.
- Some will even go to the lengths of creating a honey trap for you… an opening which allows you to personally take advantage of the person. Even if you did it out of pity, it will be a hole from which you can never come out off. FOG (fear, obligation & guilt) are the key words.
Everyone goes through phases of depression and without the support of friends and family recovery will be hard. However, you need to decide if it is chronic or a temporary phase. Is the person and your relationship worth the time & energy you are investing? If your attention is not yielding results and you are not qualified to be a psychiatrist then don’t play as one. Allowing someone to feed off your emotions, time and friendship only helps the manipulator hone their skills and tighten their grip on you.