Outgrowing your “role”?

I am (nearly) 29 years old. I have worked in the same company since I was about 18. For about the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve had a friend at work, we will call her T.  T is older than me, she’s about 53.

A bit of background for T. She is single and has been for about 25 years. She has two children, a boy and a girl, who are 30 and 28.  She is very much a “motherly” character, you know, she was a scout leader, she is the one who brings all the goodies to work, she is the one with the plasters and sewing kit – the one who tells you off if you play on your phone in the canteen at lunch (more on that later…).

Now, when I met T, I was very young – about 20. This was before I had ever thought about needing counselling. I was in a relationship of about 5 years which was very on-off and not very good.  I was dating a guy who liked a lot of independence and I was very insecure and clingy and “needy” and used to really need someone to talk to about every aspect of my dramatic life.  I needed someone to tell me what to do and what to say and T was only too happy to be that crutch.  She clearly liked feeling needed and so I offered her that.  She offered me that motherly thing that I’ve been missing my whole life and so it was a friendship made in heaven… right?

Fast-forward 8 years to now and I am currently feeling very frustrated with T.

Over these years, an ongoing issue in our friendship has been that sometimes I like to do things in my lunch hour other than sit in the canteen with her (shocking, I know). I used to go to the gym a couple of days a week, some days I like to go to the shops, sit in the sun or lunch with my boyfriend. Problem is, when I tell her this, she acts out like a spoilt child.  She sulks, she strops, she ignores me, she closes down our “chat” online, she will tell me I am selfish, she will say things like “oh fine, don’t worry about me!” – all various things but the same idea.

And I’ve just about had enough of it.

Sometimes at lunch, we sit in the canteen, we eat the crap food that they serve and we chat about our evenings/weekends, normal stuff. If my phone vibrates I might pick it up to see what the notification is and she will act out again – I get told how rude I am, how dare I – last week I told her that she isn’t my mother and that it really winds me up that she keeps going on about it. I told her in future I won’t come to lunch with her just in case I need to look at my phone. She says “playing on your phone at the dinner table is extremely rude” I told her, it isn’t a “dinner table” – it’s the canteen and told her that we aren’t eating, we are not having a special meal and that I am not her daughter!!! She disapproves of this immensely as you can imagine.

The thing is, I think I’ve let it build up and up and now it’s making me furious.

I spoke to T about this a few weeks ago and she told me that it is making me angry because I am starting to see how controlling and possessive it is. I’ve broken away from my mother who is controlling in all sorts of ways, I’ve ended an old friendship of 8 years with someone who used to bully me and mess with my head in all sorts of ways, and stopped that abuse and now I am really noticing that she is another person I’ve attracted in my life that constantly tells me what to do and makes me feel like a child.

Similarly to what i said yesterday, I am so fed up of being that child. I am an adult and I can do what I want. I can go where I like at lunch time and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for that.  I should be able to come and go as I like, play on my phone as and when I like – and they are just very tiny examples.

The thing is, I can’t totally blame her. She hasn’t changed really.  She has been the same for this whole 8 years. It is me who has changed.  I think all this therapy has opened my eyes to so many things, it has helped me to change and develop and become healthier and with that, sadly, comes the end of some less healthy things ….. I’ve changed and that means I’ve now outgrown the role that she wants to keep me in…

Yesterday I told her on a group chat that I had plans for lunch and she left the chat instantly.  I messaged her separately and said have you got the ump with me and she replied to say that it wasn’t “all about me”.. we haven’t spoken since.  However, a friend of both of ours has just messaged me to say that she is really down and has lots going on and that she juts needed a friend yesterday that’s all – well how was I to know??

So now what?

How do I deal with this? What do I say to her? Will she even be able to understand what I am saying? Will it just come across as me being really nasty? ….

I have just had enough of worrying constantly about upsetting her at the expense of myself. That feels like a selfish thing to say, but I know deep down, it isn’t.

Any advice people? I’d appreciate it!

 

 

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29 thoughts on “Outgrowing your “role”?

  1. This almost sounds like a transference type of relationship you have with your therapist. You were needy, she was there, but there are boundaries too. Of course, she is jealous as your life is progressing in a positive way and hers isn’t, but that’s not up to you to have it hanging on your shoulders. It’s difficult when you work with each other, to go on no-speaking terms, but she has to get over this (she needs therapy) attachment with you. Maybe she feels you ‘led her on’ and now you are dumping her for other horizons.

    I feel bad for her, it must be difficult and she feels like she is slowly losing a close friendship and perhaps doesn’t realize that she’s controlling or becoming a pest. But you did hard work in therapy, perhaps use the tools you have learned. (BTW what are plasters). Hugs, Deb 🙂

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    1. Thank you Deb, I agree with what you have said. I feel bad for her too, I really do!!! but I don’t think she realises she is becoming irritating by being controlling – that is why I want to chat to her. I haven’t really learnt any tools as such, T just told me not to rise to it the other week, but that is easier said than done. I don’t want to be made to feel guilty every time I don’t do what she wants me to do, you know? Sorry, I meant plasters (as in, when you cut yourself) xx

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  2. It does sound like a mother daughter relationship has developed. Although she is being unreasonable and mother like it seems unfair to drop her because you don’t need her. I do feel bad for her despite her behaviour. She is almost being childlike at which my T would tell me to talk to her like an adult. I think that changing the status of the relationship may help. Turn it into more of a lighthearted rather than a deep, heavy one. Maybe returning the favour and listening to her offload. I don’t mean to take on her problems of course. Explain to her how much therapy is helping you and she might get the message that you’re not as needy as you were. Arrange to have lunch with her once a week or fortnight and the other lunchtimes are your own.
    It’s difficult and I don’t mean any of that harshly. A little gratitude for being a temporary T may ease the annoyance! x

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    1. Hiya, thank you for commenting. Just to make it clear, this change of relationship has been gradual – probably over the last 3 years that I’ve had therapy (I didn’t know if it sounded like I have just “suddenly” changed? It hasn’t been a “deep” relationship for at least the last 2/2.5 years and that is certainly what has upset her – I have no intention of dropping her, I completely agree that I also feel sad for her, that’s why I feel bad!! She often tells me how much I have changed and how much I am less needy etc but I think as her daughter lives far away, she had substituted me to that role and now I don’t want it (I don’t mean that nastily, just can’t think of a better way of wording it!). I have asked if she is free for a chat and drink tomorrow night but she has said she isn’t… so not sure what else to do. xx

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      1. I did wonder if there’s an empty nest thing going on. It sounds like she is projecting her feelings onto you about whatever else is going on which you don’t know about unless she tells you. I think you have done what you can really! Others may have some other suggestions though! x

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  3. Ahhhhh like reading about my own life again. Got a whole post in my head that will explain how I feel, I won’t write it all out here 😁. But remember I said about positive bombs? Already sounds like this is one of yours. And much like me you’re sailing to new waters, and not everyone will be ready to come with you, and that’s OK. But it is there choice to stay where they are, you are not leaving anyone behind xxx

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      1. I will I will 😁😁😁. It feels callous because that’s what you’ve (we’ve) been taught to believe, we’ve been taught to feel guilty when we’ve done nothing wrong. But if you look at your feelings towards her, you’ve still wanted to be kind and work together, she is the one choosing to shut it down. Xx

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  4. It sounds like you’ve evolved and she hasn’t. The problem with women who want to “mother” is often there’s a price attached to it, because very few women want to be someone’s mother unless it’s meeting a need within them (in my experience) and the price is the hassle you are now getting.
    About the phone thing, that’s a generational thing, most that age think it’s rude to bring your phone out while in conversation with someone else. Personally it’s a pet hate of mine too. Do you see her outside of work or just in the workplace? Because it sounds like she wants quality time with you and maybe if she had that then she wouldn’t feel so left behind. Maybe you could give her that time somewhere in your week?
    Either way a frank discussion is needed by both of you. Because none of you are happy with the way things are right now and the friendship needs to work for both. I think with some adult honest communication this could be worked out.

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    1. Don’t get me wrong, if we were out socialising in the pub after work, or in a restaurant etc, I would never play on my phone at all, but in the only hour of my day at work where I am allowed to check my messages etc, if something pops up and I am in the canteen with her (after we’ve all eaten of course) then tough, I am going to check it! My own mother wouldn’t tell me off for that, and even if she might tell her own daughter off for it, I am not her’s to tell off you know? I often ask her if she fancies a drink after work, but she isn’t very social and never wants to come…… it isn’t a lack of me trying. I agree that a frank discussion is needed, that is what I was hoping for tomorrow night, but she now said she can’t come and she didn’t give me an alternative date…. she was by my desk a few minutes ago doing something and did it in silence and without looking/speaking to me – she is so childish for a 53 year old woman. I have said hello to her whenever I’ve seen her.. aggh it is so stupid. xx

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  5. Yeah, sounds like she’s really not ready to come out her huff. And age doesn’t matter when it comes to attachment styles. She’s probably learned to mother people so that they don’t leave, she probably has a fear of abandonment. Right now it sounds like she’s in victim mode. Don’t let yourself be dragged into it, as infuriating as it is. Send her a text saying something like ” Clearly you’re not ready to talk about this yet and that’s okay. I’ll give you your space. I am available on these dates, if you want to meet up or offer an alternative time that suits you just let me know.” – that way it’s kept in a very adult place and you’re inviting her to be an adult too without running after her or placating her mood. If she can’t do that then maybe the relationship is over.

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    1. That’s a really good idea actually, I might do that… think I’ll talk to T tonight and get her opinion too.

      I’ve learnt about relationship triangles and so the whole victim, persecutor, rescuer thing is familiar to me and I agree she is in victim mode and she’s made me the persecutor….

      T usually tells me to step out of the triangle and not react… I am very stubborn and I feel like I would be “chasing” her by asking again but I guess that would be the adult thing to do.

      I do think she has a fear of abandonment. I’m convinced that’s why she’s stayed single for the last 25 years since her husband left (who she claims she wasn’t upset about and is still old friends with)…. you could be right. Thing is, she describes me as insecure and her as very secure…. projection? Xx

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  6. I found the book Emotional Blackmail by Susan Forward to be very helpful for this type of situation. You can skim the first parts. What I found most helpful was actually doing all the steps towards the end that take you through clarifying what you are and are not okay with and helping you figure out how to set clear boundaries.

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      1. Good luck! I hope it’s useful to you. It’s not easy to change these relationships but I can say from experience, it feels incredibly good when you do set a reasonable boundary and hold it, even if the other person pushes back for a bit.

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      2. My ex husband used to do that to me. I used to feel on the one hand awkward and uncomfortable and on the other hand, “phew, well at least he’s not criticizing me right now!”

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  7. I would advise you to let go of the friendship! It seems very unhealthy! But then again you have to work with her so that might not be so easy to do! Hopefully you can work something out. I empathise with you. xx

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