Q. My friend recently got back together with a terrible, terrible ex, who has repeatedly used her and broken her heart. She never seems to learn from her romantic experiences and, while I have been supportive in the past, I no longer feel able to do so. As a result, I have been avoiding her.
We were an odd pairing to begin with, with little in common other than our tendency to think too deeply. I have thought about writing to her to explain how I feel, but I don’t want to upset her. I don’t want to cut off all contact either; friends have done these things to me in the past, and it took years for me to get over it. I find conflict terribly difficult to deal with and have great anxiety about it.
I can’t see a way out without hurting her – which I don’t want to do – and I don’t know where to go from here. Name supplied
A. Sometimes, we don’t quite know how we are feeling until we say the words out loud, write them down, or recognise them in someone else.
Perhaps you believe something like, ‘If I take care of this person for long enough, then sooner or later they will take care of me in return’? I have to say that this can be a trap for me, too. We can’t fix things for other people and they can’t fix us. It’s a pattern of behaviour where we act as if our needs don’t matter and it’s all about the other person.
If you are interested in background theory about the role of a ‘rescuer’ and how to transform it into something more useful, then look at the Karpman Drama Triangle and the Winner’s Triangle. Please take it from me that you have total permission to limit your contact with anyone who drains your goodwill. I have faith that this mini-crisis will help you learn a lot about setting limits, in the best possible way.
Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.