Monday 2 March 2020

How Do You Put Up With Me?

No one wants to be a burden to those we care about and who care about us. As we recount in our book High Tide Low Tide, Fran once told me she didn’t understand how I could stay with her when she was so unwell:

Fran is neither a drain on me nor a burden — although she doubts this on occasion. She said to me one day, “I don’t get it. Why are you still here?” I told her no matter what is going on, whether she is having a good day or a bad day, whether I am having a good day or a bad day, I never don’t want to be here.

My answer stands to this day; not only with regard to Fran but other friends too. If I care about you, you are not a burden and I never don’t want to be here for you. That said, it is possible to overwhelm people if we share unthinkingly and without due regard to boundaries. This is what BrenĂ© Brown calls floodlighting (not to be confused with gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse and manipulation).

It doesn’t happen often but I occasionally become overwhelmed if I have a lot going on for me. When that happens I may be unable to hold space effectively for someone who wishes to share with me or ask for support. I always feel I’m failing as a friend but it’s important to be honest with myself and the other person so we both know what’s happening. They can then choose to find someone else to help or check back when I may be more able to give them the focus they need and deserve.

Likewise, it’s important for me to remember that those who love and care about me may not always be able to support me when and how I want them to. They have their own lives to live, their own things going on, and their own boundaries to observe.

It’s about being realistic and honest. If we expect any one person — friend, partner, family member, or professional — to always be there and meet all our needs for contact, company, counsel, and support, we’re likely to be disappointed. No matter how much we’d like to we cannot be all things at all times to everyone we care about.

A friend messaged me the other day. She said “Marty, you help me so much. I ask so much of you and I get really insecure about it because I never want you to feel used. I’m looking forward talking with you tomorrow if I haven’t overwhelmed you this morning.” I replied, “You haven’t overwhelmed me and I never feel used.” It’s true, although we recognise we cannot always be fully there for each other. A week or so ago we were both struggling. We kept in touch and supported each other as best we could, but we knew we could only do so much until at least one of us was feeling more stable.

I discussed this with another friend last week. We’ve known each other a while. We’ve had some issues but we’re honest about them and committed to our friendship. I value the fact that I can be myself with her. I can be open about my hang-ups and issues and she will listen without judging me. I hope she feels the same way. But that doesn’t mean I get to take her for granted or act disrespectfully towards her. She won’t hesitate to call me out if I’m being an asshole! That kind of honesty is important, and I think quite rare. Is it always easy? Heck, no! No one enjoys being called out for behaving poorly or hurting someone we care about. It’s necessary, though, if we are to have genuine, mutually supportive connections.

I asked one of my closest friends how she puts up with me. Her reply sums it up perfectly for me:

“Friendship goes two ways. You help, support and put up with me and I help, support and put up with you. In the journey, we find common threads and things we both like and discuss and explore the differences. It strengthens us as friends. Sometimes one or other of us needs support, and sometimes we prop each other up with mutual ‘leaning’ when we both need support. There needs to be honesty and acceptance in a friendship that things are constantly ebbing and flowing.”

I will always be grateful to those who put up with me. If you’re one of them, thank you! When I’m too much, or not enough, or getting it wrong, or you’re just not in a place where you can handle me right now, please tell me. I may not want to hear but I will listen and we’ll work with it or round it. Whatever it takes.


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