Q: What’s going on when a stranger befriends you (a very lonely, depressed person) and explicitly invites you to share all your problems, does their best to help you (because they had been helped in their own depression) ,and seems to acknowledge your efforts to reciprocate by insisting that you are a wonderful friend and you’ll have even more to give when you find yourself but later they decide it’s too much and that YOU sucked them into your dark world, so they disappear from your life without explaining or giving you a chance to defend and redeem yourself?

A: “What’s going on” is a good question, and I sure don’t know for sure what the answer is in your specific situation.

What’s usually going on, however, is that the person who offers to help to such a great degree is someone who ignores their own feelings and lives off of the accolades they get from the other person. This person is called the “Rescuer.”

The other person (you, in this case?) is usually someone who is very much in touch with their own feelings but not very much in touch with other people’s feelings, so they keep asking for more and more without being able to pick up the clues that the other person needs them to tone down for a while. This person is called the “Victim.”

Eventually, when the Rescuer feels they can’t escape the demands of the Victim, they turn verbally mean and rejecting. At this point they are called the “Persecutor.”

In these relationships, people often switch roles. The person who is usually the Rescuer becomes the Victim, and the person who is usually the Victim becomes the Rescuer or the Persecutor, etc.

I said all that because you asked “what’s going on”… but I don’t expect what I’ve said so far to be of much real help for you. Maybe you’ll recognize these patterns in this relationship and maybe even in others, but it won’t help much to just recognize them.

What will help, however, is having a therapist who “invites you to share all your problems, and does their best to help you.” In this culture, therapists are the only people assigned to serve such a role. Friends can be supportive and helpful on a hit-and-miss basis, but they can’t be counted on to be available regularly enough, or to be well-trained enough to be able to offer sound advice about these things.

Please find a good therapist and use your friends as “playmates” who only occasionally talk about your emotional pain or their own. The rest of the time (95%?), friends and relatives are there simply to be enjoyed. They are not supposed to be “helpers” in any meaningful way.

If you can’t afford therapy, you can check with your local Mental Health Association or call your local Family Therapy Agency. They offer therapy on a “sliding scale based on ability to pay.” If you can afford therapy, and you find the therapist who is right for you, it’s the best investment you can make.

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