Our agony aunt tack­les your is­sues

Red - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy CAMERON MCNEE

Q I would like to dis­tance my­self from an old friend with­out caus­ing hurt, up­set or of­fence. We met at univer­sity and have had lots of good times over the past 20 years, so I don’t want to sever con­tact, but I al­ways feel drained af­ter see­ing her. She and her part­ner of­ten in­vite them­selves for the week­end, and

I’ve come to dread these vis­its. I feel she leaves with her ego bol­stered at the ex­pense of mine. It’s as if she has set up some weird point-scor­ing com­pe­ti­tion – about any­thing from face cream brands to shoes, to work – all un­der the guise of hav­ing a laugh. I have hinted that I’d like to limit their vis­its to just one night, but it hasn’t worked. I have sorted out most ar­eas of my pre­vi­ously messy life with the aid of ther­apy, self-help books and ad­vice col­umns, so I know I have out­grown this friend­ship as it is, but don’t know how to change it. A It would be lovely if we could get what we want with­out caus­ing hurt, up­set and of­fence, but that is not al­ways pos­si­ble. We are not good at telling oth­ers how we feel about them if it isn’t 100% pos­i­tive.

We are a na­tion of ‘hin­ters’, and

I’m not sure it al­ways works!

She may or may not be com­pet­i­tive. But that’s how you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing her and the way this af­fects you is threat­en­ing your friend­ship. Some of us re­ally hate giv­ing other peo­ple feed­back about how they af­fect us, but re­mem­ber – and point this out to her, too – how you are af­fected by her is about you. It is your re­ac­tion and will be rooted in your past ex­pe­ri­ences. Sib­ling ri­valry? Or a com­pet­i­tive dad? Or a school sys­tem that num­bered pupils in the class from one down­wards?

Such ex­pe­ri­ences can ex­ag­ger­ate feel­ings we have in the present be­cause they are trig­gered by the past. Most of the time we aren’t in the habit of trac­ing a feel­ing we have back to when we first had it, but it can be use­ful in mak­ing more sense of a re­ac­tion we are hav­ing now.

But you still have to talk to her about how you feel, oth­er­wise you are go­ing to stay stuck. The great rule for giv­ing feed­back in any sit­u­a­tion is to de­scribe and de­fine your­self and not the other per­son. We can get de­fen­sive if some­one tells us what we are like, but if some­one tells us how they feel in re­ac­tion to us, then they are defin­ing them­selves, which makes it some­what eas­ier to hear.

So, this is how I imag­ine your next con­ver­sa­tion might go.

Her: ‘Hur­rah! We can come and stay with you next week­end.’

You: ‘Be­fore you do, we need to have a con­ver­sa­tion. I value our long friend­ship, and whether you mean to be or not (and I don’t ex­pect you do), I ex­pe­ri­ence you as be­ing com­pet­i­tive with me. I love the fun we can have, but be­cause I have this re­ac­tion I can find a whole week­end very drain­ing. For ex­am­ple, last time when you said… I felt… and this is a com­mon thing I get when I’m with you. Be­cause I don’t want to jeop­ar­dise our friend­ship, I haven’t talked about it and it’s got big­ger and big­ger for me and I’m afraid it’s reached the point where I am not as ex­cited about you com­ing to stay as I was. I feel that we need to re-think how and when we see each other.’

Dare you do this? You may jeop­ar­dise your friend­ship for ever; she may write you off as a bad per­son and never speak to you again – there are no guar­an­tees – but if I was in your po­si­tion, I might take that risk.

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