This is a draft of a very, very, very long letter that I am thinking of giving to work friend about recent events. Any comments would be really welcomed – am I too harsh? Is it too long?
Thanks in advance for any feedback! xx
I have done a lot of thinking about our friendship over the last week or so and a lot of things have now become inherently clear to me. The purpose of this letter isn’t to blame, but to make you aware of how I see things so that perhaps it helps you to understand my point of view.
I have shown you “The Drama Triangle” before, something that Fran has taught me about dysfunctional relationships and so you will be familiar with this. However in the past I have never been consciously aware that this was something our friendship resolved around. It is now however blatantly clear to me that it does and always has.
When you joined [firm] I was young and as you have often told me many times, I was “needy and vulnerable“. I don’t deny that. Clearly I was struggling in life from the effects of my childhood. I was clearly feeling like a victim that needed rescuing and you came along only too happy to help. You are, and were, a rescuer. This is where the triangle began.
Drama triangles are beneficial to both parties. Both parties gain something from their roles – whether that is conscious or not. I believe in both our cases, this was unconscious.
The whole reason the triangle is able to endure is that each participant gets their own psychological needs met. Each feels justified in their role and doesn’t realise the dysfunction and harm that occurs because of it.
Your Role as Rescuer
I believe your role as rescuer benefited you in that it made you feel wanted and needed. It helped with your own self-esteem. I think this particularly true as your children had or were shortly about to leave home and leave you with a feeling of “empty nest”. The Rescuer enjoys having someone feel dependant on them and trusting them and so act in a way that seems to be trying to help. I believe I filled a role for you that would have otherwise been vacant and that is what you got out of it.
For a rescuer, rescuing needy people is an addiction to feel valued. There is no better way to feel valued than to be a savior!
Feeling used are common feelings for a rescuer. Common phrases are “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get?”. A rescuer’s greatest fear is that they will end up alone because they believe their value comes from how much they do for others. They scramble to make themselves indispensable in order to avoid abandonment.
My Role as Victim
Victims also have core beliefs that set them up for their starting position in the triangle. Victims believe they cannot take care of themselves. They see themselves as consistently unable to handle life. They even rescue from a one-down position, saying things to their potential rescuer like “You’re the only one who can help me.” These are words that any rescuer longs to hear!
The victim is vulnerable and needy. They believe they are powerless and defective. This relegates them to a lifetime of dependency on primary relationships. They believe they are weak and fragile and so their anxiety forces them to be on the lookout for someone stronger or more capable to help them.
Clearly what I got out of it was that you were deemed as the capable, powerful adult that was able to help me and you did just that.
When this stops working
As long as both people remain in their roles and nothing changes, each person’s needs continue to be met (dysfunctionally). However normally what happens is that one person no longer wants to remain in that role and tries to leave the triangle.
Sometimes the rescuer gets tired of feeling they do it all and feels unappreciated. The rescuer gets fed up and suddenly blows up over something minor. The rescuer feels they deserve it, look! he says to himself “after all I’ve done for them!”. The feeling of “unfair” is strong.
Usually when this happens the victim gets scared and moves to the rescuing position. He tries to calm the waters and apologises, or he agrees to whatever the rescuer is demanding to keep the peace. Then they both stabilize and go back to their original positions.
The other thing that happens is that the victim outgrows their victim status and decides to change. He gets tired of the rescuer effectively saying “if it wasn’t for me..” and keeping the victim in a low position. The victim gets angry and moves to the persecutor role. Like the rescuer, the victim gets angry and blows up or acts out.
In my view this needs no explanation for how this applies to us as I feel it is blatantly clear, however in case you do not see this I will go on to explain how I feel this has been playing out.
I will tell you that I am not coming to lunch with you. This could be because I want to go to the gym, see Paul or meet another friend. You are hurt by this and feel instantly angry because you feel “how dare she leave me on my own” and the classic “after all I’ve done for her” (as above).
In the past you have been used to assuming and expecting that we will eat lunch together every single day unless one of us is not in the office or there is a good enough reason such as a team event. You have on many occasions “acted out” when I have chosen to go to lunch without you and this used to result in me backing down, apologising, trying to smooth things over afterwards or simply inviting you along or not going myself (see explanation above about how the victim tries to smooth the waters so not to upset the rescuer).
Things improved when [friend] joined the firm because it meant there was then two of us you could spend your lunch times with, rather than just me, and so if I didn’t join you for lunch you didn’t mind half as much – after all you were not then left alone. I felt like the weight was lifted off of me.
If however, both me and [friend] couldn’t come to lunch, it would be me that got the stick for that and not [friend]. You never responded to her like you did with me and it is painfully obvious that the reason for that is that you knew I would take it more than she would. You knew [friend] would tell you that you were being unfair and childish, whereas I was much more likely to just feel guilt and try to repair things. After all, you had years of that being the case.
[Friend] then went on mat leave and so you were back to expecting us to have lunch together every day again. The same old pattern commenced where I would dread having to tell you I had other plans – I would have to prepare myself for the backlash of you either leaving the instant chats instantly without responding and gong offline, ignoring me and sulking obviously for hours or days or making digs, sometimes dressed as “jokes” along the lines of how selfish I was or you would say things like “don’t worry about me” or “lunch for one then“. That, I hope you can see, is very passive aggressive and also is emotional blackmail. You (consciously or not) knew that I cared what you thought about me and that I didn’t want to jeopardise our friendship and so I would not make this a regular thing.
This conversation has been had countless times over the years and you usually claim that you do not mind at all – but your actions have and continue to say differently.
Because of this, I started to feel a bit trapped. I began to feel like I was obligated to have lunch with you or pay the price. I do not enjoy conflict and neither do I enjoy being emotionally punished in the way of sulking, being ignored or being told I am selfish. This started to get me down.
You’ve said yourself many times over the years that I have changed a lot because of counselling and I have. I have changed a hell of a lot and for the better. I now care about how I feel instead of only caring about other people. I want to make myself happy and not just others. I am learning not to be a people pleaser which was a dynamic I was used to for my entire life.
Unfortunately for you I guess, this has meant that these days I am not so easy to manipulate into doing what you want me to (again, consciously or not) and to be honest with you – and there is no easy way of saying this – it has left a very bad taste in my mouth. Each time since I’ve been aware of this dynamic that it has played out, it has made me feel more and more resentful.
I began to make plans occasionally to do other things and just “take” whatever punishment came my way. I can now ignore your comments or sulks because I know and believe it is your issue and not mine. However it is tiring and it isn’t the type of friendship that I want now that I have got healthier. I realise now that I do not need to just put up with your aggressiveness whether passive or obvious. That is not what friendships are based on.
You then upset and annoyed me last week by forwarding my personal email to you onto [colleague]. You say you don’t see the problem and I am not quite sure whether you really mean that, or whether you are being defensive because you know you’ve done wrong and just don’t want to accept any wrongdoing or blame – because you don’t want to apologise.
I think it is clear that whether intentional or not, you caused trouble for me at work and obviously that would upset me. I can only imagine the fallout if I had done that to you. You then saw the email exchange between myself and [colleague] which I purposely CCd you in and so you cannot pretend you didn’t think it caused any issue – because it did and you have therefore caused a fee earner that I have to work with to think badly of me. This could have been resolved if you had just apologised. I cannot help but feel you sent it to her on purpose. The fact you have not apologised about this just heightens that belief to be honest because if the shoe was on the other foot, I would have been devastated that I had caused you any trouble with a fee earner and upset you. You do not appear to care much for my feelings on the matter.
The following day I told you I could not have lunch with you and you said neither could you. I was relieved because that is a rather rare and mature response to an email like that from you, however in my opinion, it was passive aggressive and actually because you were in a sulk with me (for what reason I cannot fathom given you had upset me and not the other way around!) but there we go… I know you very well and have a nearly 10 years of experience of the way you react in certain situations. Again, I have no way to know for sure but I do believe that it was your way of sulking about the email situation and then the lunch situation. It suited me – I’ll be honest.
The following day you had the dentist and then called in sick but you called [colleague] instead of me. You knew you should have told me as I was acting TC. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the reason you didn’t was part of the feud above. It is my belief that you didn’t want to text me and were being stubborn and immature. I also think there is another issue whereby you don’t like to “answer to me” because of my age – only you will know the true answer to that. Either way it feels unfair and disrespectful particularly because we are friends. If you managed to phone [colleague], you could have text me, simple as.
Every time I saw you around the floor last week I acknowledged you. You seemed to grunt back at me in a way that seemed as though you would have rather not have (and you never acknowledged me first) and so after I had the weekend to think, I decided to stop bothering. I felt that until you could be mature enough to ask to speak to me and for us to speak about all of this – I couldn’t be bothered and didn’t see the point.
Monday comes and I decide not to speak to you when I see you from a distance and you sigh and grunt (loudly) and make a comment out loud for others to hear – I just don’t think you understand how inappropriate and childish that is to do at all yet alone at work where it is very unprofessional. You need to separate our private disagreements from work and this is one of my main bugbear at the moment.
You don’t seem to care who hears you slamming and bashing around, sighing, tutting, making comments – it is so unnecessary. In the past I’ve just brushed this off as something that you do – part of your personality – but now I have decided it is a boundary that I will not allow to be violated any longer. You need to stop doing that. It is very aggressive and clearly you know it would make me feel awkward at work which is, in my opinion, exactly why you do it. I want to make it clear that if we manage to salvage anything from our friendship after all of this is said and done, I won’t tolerate that.
Moving on, Monday morning you then decide to “reply all” to an email including various fee earners and all of the PA’s to ask me who was covering [colleague]. Why would you do that? Yet again it feels like another attempt to paint a bad picture of me, to make me look incompetent. Why would you not just ask me? You could have spoken to me, phoned me or emailed me – there was no need for that and it looked, again, very passive aggressive. Needless to say, I did not appreciate that at all and I believe you knew that. You’ve told me and [friend] on various occasions in the past that you’ve “replied all” to annoy [colleague] or [colleague] and so I do not think this was any different. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that had we not had been in an argument, you wouldn’t have sent that.
A few hours after you did this, I went to lunch with [friend and friend]. You decide to get your own lunch and sit at the very nearest table to us on your own. After 5 or so minutes you clearly let your anger get the better of you and decided to throw your chair out causing as much noise as possible and drawing attention to yourself, slammed your things on your tray and stormed off past us (when you would never go that way normally anyway) in order to make your point. You then proceeded to shout at me in front of not only [friends] but the entirety of the work canteen. That is not on and is actually just abusive. I would not tolerate that from anyone in my life, yet alone a so-called friend. Again, it is childish and unprofessional.
I imagine you sat right next to our table to make it clear you were there and that you were on your own. However – and sorry for the bluntness – if I had wanted to have lunch with you, I would have asked. I didn’t want to and so I didn’t ask and so I find it very odd that you would put yourself right in front of my face like that hoping I would feel obligated and guilted into inviting you. I have thought about this many times since and still find it very strange. I would never do that – if someone hasn’t invited me to lunch with them, I wouldn’t WANT them to feel obligated or guilted into inviting me. What’s more, why on earth would I want to have lunch with you when we are not speaking? The answer I come up with to that question is this: as per previous spats that we’ve had, normally about the same things, you like to sulk and/or ignore me for days or even a week and then like to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that nothing has happened. I used to go along with this for the sake of keeping work more comfortable and defusing any tension but this time I have not done that and it feels to me that you’ve upped the ante in the hope that eventually, I will be forced into speaking to you to resolve things. Yet again, you have been completely unable to approach me and ask what is going on – to ask me if we can speak and resolve things – to apologise. I feel you’ve played upon my fear and unease and that tactic has not worked this time because I have now understood that this is actually emotional blackmail. Again, I will not tolerate that in a friendship anymore.
Shouting at me like that is not acceptable at all in any situation, but I wish to make it clear that if I wish to spend my lunch hour with other people, I am perfectly entitled to do so. I do not have to invite you just because we are friends and I won’t allow you to make me feel bad for that OR to effectively push yourself into that lunch by doing things like you did on Monday. I need you to understand that.
I know that you feel that is punishing, bullying and excluding you – but it actually isn’t. People are allowed to spend time with others without inviting you and that not be any of those things.
In summary, from my perspective I need you to respect my boundaries and start treating me like an equal adult who is not indebted to you in any way. Who does not owe you anything. I need you to stop the passive (or not so passive) aggression in response to things that you may not like. I need you to act professionally when we are work and not try to make me feel uncomfortable. I need you to acknowledge when you have upset me (on purpose or not) and be able to take your share of the responsibility and apologise when necessary without being overly defensive. In short, I need you to respect me much more than I feel you have done before.
Naturally a friendship shifting as much as this isn’t easy and I appreciate that I’ve had a lot longer than you have to understand the dynamic behind our friendship and I have the added luxury of counselling which helps me to process my thoughts and feelings around this which you do not have (although you could have should you wish). Perhaps you will need some time to think about this before responding or perhaps you will feel as though my boundaries are not things you can agree to and therefore you may decide the friendship cannot continue. I will leave the ball in your court.
As always I will be happy to talk about this with you – but not in work. It is important to me that this is kept out of work and that we remain professional with one another regardless.