Over-Protectiveness

I’ve commented here a lot about how close I am with my friends, and that there is very little I would not do for them. It’s true, which is why I keep saying it, but sometimes my feelings for my friends can get a little annoying. Thus the title of this entry. I have also mentioned how protective I am of my friends; in some cases I am literally acting like a bodyguard, even when I have no good reason to think they need one and they never asked for it. This is the story of how I take that too far.

Recently I have mentioned that I have a friend who has been contemplating suicide. I have mentioned that it makes me feel powerless, but I also have been trying to talk to her every day just to make sure she’s still around. The degree to which I have thrown myself into this in an attempt, however futile from this far away, to keep her around has been noted by several people around me – like my therapist and one of my close friends. She has taken it upon herself (my friend, not my therapist) to try to act as a reality check to keep me from getting so involved in my other friend’s life that if she goes, I go too. Now, I haven’t contemplated suicide since January, but I can see why people would be concerned.

I also tend to get very worried when my friends are clearly upset and yet don’t feel like talking. Now, I know that I can’t make my friends talk to me; even as close as we are, sometimes people just want to digest things by themselves and not have to share. But when I know a friend is upset, my protective impulses kick in and I start trying to imagine what is wrong and how I can fix it. At least now I’ve become a little better at noticing it, so when a friend does decide to come to me and talk to me, I can think to myself “Dammit, you idiot, your friend wants you to listen, not try to fix things! If they want you to try to fix things, they’ll ask! Shut that crap down, tell them you understand, and just listen!”

This goes into overdrive when I haven’t talked to a friend in a while and I can’t figure out how to reach them. I start wondering if something has gone wrong, I check newspapers online for mentions of their name, and start trying to figure out how I can get to where they are to see if they need help. Crazy, right? I have a friend who I met at Menninger; she got there only a few weeks before I left, but we became good friends. She’s out now, and though I’ve tried to get in touch with her, I haven’t been able to get her to respond to me. Part of me is screaming that I need to go see if she’s alright, while the rest of me is yelling back that if I do that, I stop being a friend and start being a stalker. Not like John Cusack in Say Anything, either, just the regular old creepy kind of stalker.

I think a lot of this is that I am just terrified to face the possibility of people who are such an important part of my life leaving. So, in a frantic effort to keep them from having to have anything happen which might make them leave me, I try to do anything for them that I can; my therapist actually said to me earlier that when he looks at me, knowing how I feel about my friends, he says “Man, he would carry them through life if he could.” That’s probably not far from the truth. Obviously, there’s a large potential for this behavior to backfire, because even if I could carry my friends through life, I can’t be everywhere for everyone, and protecting friends from things they can handle themselves, rather than just helping them work through it without standing in the way of the metaphorical bullet, is bad for both them and me. It takes a lot of effort for me to back off from those impulses, and I know I probably don’t do as well as I should. It’s a work in progress. 

To those of my friends who are reading this, you’ve probably noticed this; I am more than willing to throw myself into harm’s way for a friend, metaphorical or not. If you think I’m going overboard, let me know. I am trying to notice when it happens, but I am far from perfect, and my self-awareness only goes so far. I don’t want to get in the way of you living your life, but however well-meaning I am, this behavior will probably end up with everyone being hurt. I’m making an effort, but I could use your help.

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3 comments on “Over-Protectiveness

  1. Laurel says:

    Do you think this blog entry has a relationship to the entry on listening vs solution.

    I will be like you sometimes-but I think our similar behavior has different etiology.
    Mine might be more codependent or actually
    something more than that I think it is actually true.

    Then we are back at listen vs try to fix.
    New problem : how much fixing is ok, and what is real helping vs pathological fixing.

    I think part of the answer lies in if the other person can do it for themselves. Then I shouldn’t . If they can’t, then I don’t.

    • I don’t really know if there’s an answer to listening vs. fixing. Different people want different things, and figuring that out is part of getting to know people. Different people have different lines to cross. It’s all confusing, but I think it is ultimately worth it.

      • AV says:

        Laurel might be on to something there; Do you over-protect because you assume someone needs protecting? And, if so, are you trying to solve a problem that they may not believe they have?

        As a friend, I appreciate your _willingness_ to protect, but 99% of the time I don’t need any actions associated with that. What I need (a word that makes me sound rather selfish) is a friend. An equal. Just be with me, hang out, and be you. If danger rears its ugly head, let’s deal with it then, and together.

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