Blackmailed into a friendship

My ‘friend’ has sucked all the happiness out of my life — but he uses emotional blackmail to keep me around.

Our elder has some advice on how to pull away from a toxic friendship without generating a ton of drama.

Dear EWC

I made a friend when I was moved to a different section and this friend has since then sucked out all of the happiness in my life. He follows me to my classes and calls me up whenever I’m free. He throws tantrums whenever I don’t comply with his demands. He does not allow me to interact with any of my other friends, and if I do that, he starts to get mad over it. He makes me watch stupid wrestling videos that I’m not even interested in, tells me stories that I’m never interested in. And I would honestly have broken away from this toxic relationship so long ago, but he uses his mental health to justify everything. Once I had a biology test, and so I decided to use the free lesson I have before my biology class to study for it because I was consistently scoring low in the subject. He got mad at me for wasting the time we could have spent talking and hanging out with each other. Later, when I confronted him about making my own decisions and that it shouldn’t affect him, he said, “I look forward to these free lessons to get away from all that is bad in my life,” and such. I am terrified because, at this point in our friendship, I cannot confront him about anything that I want him to change. I cannot even be defensive about my personal space or anything because he gets all emotional about it. Whenever I try to break the friendship, he becomes all obsessive and says, “Please don’t do this to me. You mean the whole world to me. I won’t be able to live without you”.

I have till now, forgiven him at every point because he says he will ‘change himself’ but he never does. His obsessive behavior never changes. He insults and jeers at me every now and then. One more thing that has made me feel really low about myself is his open jealousy at any and all achievements of mine. At this point, he has become extremely toxic. He once asked me to remove my WhatsApp display picture of an award that I got just so he wouldn’t feel envious. Whenever I score higher than him in every subject, he throws this tantrum about how he’ll “never be better than me in any subject”. It’s extremely painful when your best friend reacts to your achievements in such a negative way, and instead of celebrating or being happy about yourself, you have to console him. Throughout the year, he’s made me feel really low about myself. A lot of my friends don’t even talk to me because they think I’m ignoring them when the fact is that he doesn’t let me talk to them (under the threat of his mental health). I’ve done so much for him. I’ve written him paragraphs to console him whenever his life has been at the low. It just hurts me that he has never ever responded to me the way I have to him. My resolve is as unshakable as ever. I want to cut all ties with this person because he has made my life miserable. He has drained on every last bit of sanity that I have. And he expects me to do more and more — I am never good enough for him. The only thing that’s holding me back is his mental health. What should I do? Prioritize me and give myself the freedom and the happiness that he has taken away from my life. Or to consider his mental health problems and live in this extremely toxic relationship that gives me nothing but depression each and every day.

PicklesMarie replies

Reread what you wrote. I think you will see both blackmail and control on his part — and, as importantly, that you consistently give in to him. Blackmail and control aren’t signs of mental illness — they are signs of a desire to get others to do what he wants them to do. Do not lump them in with his illness.

Do follow your impulse to prioritize yourself and give yourself the freedom and happiness he has taken away. This relationship with him is toxic to you and, I’d point out, to him too. He’s learning to think that others ought to give in to him because of his mental issues. That won’t help him… or you. Giving in to him because he cites ‘mental health issues’ is making him weaker and more sickly, in fact.

Do not give in to his (perceived) mental health problems. You, yourself, are not making his mental health better by giving in to him — you teach him, instead, that he ought to be given in to and pampered. Do some research to give him the number of a suicide prevention helpline. Then tell him that for your own sanity you need to back away from him and his manipulations. Be prepared for all hell to break loose. He may accuse you of terrible things and threaten suicide or get emotional. Stand your ground — and be as firm and kind to him at the same time. Tricky, but, not impossible.

This is not a friendship. He is using you, and that’s not what friendship is about. Despite what he says, you are not the one standing between him and sanity. He is learning that other people can be controlled and are responsible for him. He is responsible for himself. If he is mentally ill, he needs professional help. You cannot help by repeatedly giving in to his demands and paying attention to his ‘fits’. He will be able to live without you — if he chooses.

You could formally end the friendship, but that might invite too much drama. It might be easier to do a few things: 1. Wander off to do other things with other people (ignoring his ‘fits’). And 2. firmly stand up for your right not to do everything with him. Ignore any drama. (It will get easier to ignore in time.) 3. Spend less and less time with him. He will be angry but will probably latch onto someone else. Hopefully he will get some qualified adult help!

Be prepared, as you try to break away, he may try all manner of terrible things. He may try forms of blackmail, slander, or self harm. Find out who where you live can help him. Direct him to those people. (You tried to help, but, obeyed and believed his demands. He needs a stronger hand.) It may be, sadly, that he will try suicide. If he does, this is in no way, shape, or form your fault. It will be his decision.

To repeat: Allowing him to control you doesn’t help him — and it, of course, doesn’t help you. When I worked with the mentally ill, they, too, had to learn how to treat others. This young man’s treatment of you makes him sicker not, as he probably implies, better.

Look for help for yourself. You have swallowed his lie that you are responsible for his happiness. You are not. Mentally ill or not, he is responsible for himself. You might talk to someone at a suicide prevention helpline to find guidance on how to handle this difficult demanding person in your life.

This standing up for yourself will be difficult initially. Envision it as an important learning lesson for yourself. If you can’t stand up for yourself, others will take advantage of you — and you will have an unhappy and unfree life. It is time now to figure out how to protect yourself!

I hope I’ve helped. Please don’t hesitate to write EWC again anytime! Good luck as you break away from this mutually damaging ‘friendship’!

Letter #: 440219
Category: Friendship

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