Dear Dr. Yael,
I have a very difficult friend that is emotionally dependent on me. I am, Baruch Hashem, married, with children and grandchildren. My friend, who was married, lost her husband recently, and she has one child who is devoted to her. That child has a large family, and my friend has a lot of nachas from that child and her married grandchildren. She has been my friend for years; however she is very critical and difficult. My husband does not like this friend and will sometimes tell me to distance myself from her. I am reluctant to abandon her since I am her only close friend. I try to be positive with this friend. Her daughter is a very special person, and is very grateful to me for being her friend. I have many friends, so I do not let her negative attitude affect me most of the time. I know that being friends with her is important, but this negativity is starting to weigh me down at times. Do you have any ideas of how to deal with this difficult friend?
Kudos to you for maintaining a friendship that can be challenging at times. It is hard to do what you are doing, but as long as you can maintain your own positivity, you are doing the right thing. It is very important for you to build yourself up and not allow this friend’s negative attitude to affect you. You may need to do extra self care (exercising, massage, going for coffee with a friend or whatever else fuels you) in order to maintain this friendship. It is crucial that you make sure you are taking care of yourself so that you can be there for your friend and for others. This type of friendship can be very draining, so it is extremely important that you are refueling more often.
A great technique I recommend to people who deal with difficult people is to answer a negative with a positive. It is possible that your friend is an insecure person who feels better about herself when she is critical of others. Perhaps when she says something negative, you can respond with a positive remark that will make her feel good. People who are critical are generally surprised when they get a positive response to a negative comment. It likely will stop the negativity, at least for that moment. You can also compliment your friend on her successful daughter. Maybe this will put a more positive spin on your conversations with your friend.
How close are you to this friend? Have you ever had a deep meaningful conversation and talked about her negative attitude? Do you know anything about her childhood and how she was raised? She may have been brought up in a negative home, which may make it harder for her to break out of this negative cycle. It is also possible that she is depressed. Has she become more negative after her husband passed away or is this always how she was? Depression can make some people very negative, so if this is the case, maybe you can gently encourage your friend to get professional help to assist her in dealing with her difficult situation.
If this isn’t recent or due to depression, it is possible that your friend is just more of a negative person. Negative people are usually stuck in a cycle where they cannot see positive things in their life. They often isolate themselves from others by their negativity. People stay away from individuals who are not able to see the bright lights in their life and in other people’s lives. This may make your friend’s life even harder and may be contributing to the negative cycle.
You mentioned that your husband is asking you to distance yourself. Is this friendship affecting your marriage? If so, can you possibly separate this friendship from your husband? Maybe you can take this friend for lunch instead of bringing her into your home. Of course if she needs Shabbos meals, it will be important to discuss with your husband when and how you can take care of your friend in this way as well. However, you cannot allow this friendship to encroach on your marriage. It may be helpful to have a loving conversation with your husband about why you feel you need to help your friend and how you can best do so. Your friend also may benefit from seeking professional help.
It would be prudent to find a caring and sensitive manner to bring this idea up for her. Perhaps your friend is stuck and needs professional help to grow and become a more positive person.
I wish you hatzlacha in this challenging situation and may Hashem grant you many brachos for taking care of His children!