Social Question

Mariah's avatar

Is it ever better to be mean?

Asked by Mariah (19103 points ) December 26th, 2012

I have this friend who has very poor self esteem and a fixation on the negative side of all situations. He talks to me a lot about the problematic feelings he is coping with, and while I have begged and pleaded with him to go to therapy, he won’t. It would do him a world of good, so I’m pretty frustrated.

I have recently realized that I am his outlet. Recently when he comes to me, I haven’t been very nice. It’s partially my frustration showing through, and it’s partially “tough love.” I am noticing that this tactic seems to be working better on him than showing empathy.

When I show empathy, to him it’s like I’m putting a stamp of approval upon his mindset and telling him it’s normal. When I get tough with him, he comes closer to realizing that the way he feels is not okay and needs to change. I also feel I am providing less of the emotional help he wants, which is starting to make him more open to the idea of therapy. He no longer has a satisfactory outlet. By being his outlet I was sort of “enabling” him to continue refusing the therapy he needs.

I never thought anything could be accomplished by being mean, but now I kind of do. Do you have a story where you or someone else had productive results from being mean?

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16 Answers

Coloma's avatar

You cannot allow this persons issues to effect you, which, they obviously are.
Giving advice does not mean another has to take it, but….if you have shared your insights with somebody and they still choose to endlessly complain inspite of your words of wisdom, time to protect yourself from their negativity. I am in the same situation with a friend/aquaintance and have been avoiding her for a few weeks. All she does is recycle the same ol’, same ol’, list of complaints about all of her relationships but refuses to take any action.

I am fully prepared to tell her the next time we speak that I have nothing else to say about these ongoing issues. It’s all been talked into the ground and I am not interested.
I did give her a warning about 6 months ago and let her know the time would come where I could no longer listen. Nothing wrong with that, you are NOT a puke bowl for this guys problems.

KNOWITALL's avatar

My bro-in-law sounds a lot like your friend. We are now trying the ‘tough love’ approach because if we’re nice to him and listen to his ‘stories’ of ‘mistreatment’ by the world in general, he thinks we are condoning his outlandish lies and stories that aren’t true.

We try not to feel bad but it’s very difficult as we’re not mean people, especially with our family, but in the case of our brother, we have no other alternatives at this point. He kept calling this weekend asking us to take him out and pay his way, after he’s spent thousands on crap he didn’t need this year, like a new tv, rifles, etc…

As far as your situation goes, I personally feel that we can’t always support people who bring negativity to our lives. It is far healthier for us to say “I have a lot going on in my life too, so to keep my spirits up, I am afraid I just can’t participate in negativity from anyone right now. When you are able to be positive around me, I’m happy to re-establish our connection.”

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t think it is being mean. Rather, it is establishing boundaries. We have to distinguish between saying no to someone and being mean. Saying no is not being mean. It’s just telling them where you don’t want to go. No, I won’t listen to you any more. No, I won’t agree with you about your view of the world. You are not required to say yes to friends and family just because they are friends and family. Saying no—I’ll say it again—is not being mean. It is establishing appropriate boundaries.

marinelife's avatar

It is never the first choice, but sometimes mean is the only thing that works. Or rather firmness. My mother used to dump all of her emotional baggage on me. I finally had to tell her that certain topics were off limits or I wouldn’t talk to her at all. She got much better about it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

You know the term “enabler”?
The other side of the coin is “tough love”.

Meanness has nothing to do with it.

gailcalled's avatar

Agree that “mean’ is an unuseful word.

First, he is in therapy, with you, except that you are not being paid.

And second, you can, as of course, you know, tell him that you will chat about any acceptable topic, his mental health not being on the list.

(The verb is affect, which means “to have an effect on.”)

nikipedia's avatar

Agree with everybody above. Setting boundaries and being firm isn’t mean; often it’s the kindest thing you can do. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

ucme's avatar

English actors playing villains in thrillers have made vast amount of cash this way, so yeah…sounds like it could be better.

Shippy's avatar

I suffer a lot of what you describe and I reckon get tough with him.

It works like a self draining circle, I moan and complain about the negative things in my life, the listener agrees, and so it goes on. (I do this to one particular person). I don’t plan to, its just that he cares enough to listen. But it is not getting either of us anywhere. ( I cant afford therapy or I would be the first person there). I dislike drawing him into this circle of negativity although admittedly most of it is real tragedies that have happened over a period of time.

Still, no excuse. I want to leave the circle, so how do I do it? It has to be broken, its like a pattern, or habit. Toughness though can be done in a firm and kind way.

I had a friend once whom I really admired. She would listen to your boy friend woes a few times, then say “Well it seems like it is not working out?” The person would reply, no it was not. So she would say, basically that’s OK. If you choose to keep on seeing this person, I wont judge you. But do not complain to me about it. I am still your friend,but that discussion then is off limits. I thought that was quite clever, as it really made you sit and think. And make changes.

Sunny2's avatar

Being overly sympathetic after a period of self indulgent bemoaning of the situation is not helpful to you or your friend. You get bored and the friend doesn’t feel any better. Talking straight in a straight forward, but not mean, way is more productive in helping the person get beyond the depression he is feeling. Speaking of positive things and not reacting to the negative things, may help him get over this phase of grief. That’s not being mean.

Unbroken's avatar

I didn’t read the previous comments sorry.

My thoughts are it is not being mean it is caring. It is tough love. It is hard to do. And the mentor situation means not pandering to people not treat them as a child to be sheltered. Help validate good actions. If you want to. It does take time and energy and these relationships especially if they are one sided can be a huge drain.

Also you can’t fix people. Nuff said on that topic.

kitszu's avatar

I think tough love is the way of describing what you seem to be doing. Tough Love is about making it clear that certain behaviors are not acceptable combined with the assurance that you are still behind them but as a support team, not as a crutch.

Mariah's avatar

Hey everyone, thanks for the comments. So when I said I was being mean I wasn’t just being modest. It’s not just that I’m refusing to hear him when he wants to talk about stuff. I agree that wouldn’t be mean but would just be me preserving my sanity. I’m actually being kind of a jerk sometimes, like one time when I really lost my temper I started mocking him a little bit because he was being over the top ridiculous with his tendency to view everything as a catastrophe. He was saying he worries he is unlovable because the only girlfriend who ever got to know the “real him” broke up with him. I said “yes, every failed relationship is an indication that one involved member is unlovable.” I was being kind of an asshole. But I needed him to see how ridiculous his mindset was. It actually kind of worked.

I am working on distancing myself a little more because I am obviously not enjoying these discussions. I want to be a good friend and “be there” for him, but considering my reaction is to be mean, I’m not really being a good friend anyhow. I am hoping that with some distance, he will feel a need for more support in his life than what I provide, and will finally seek therapy.

wundayatta's avatar

There are many ways of achieving a goal. Some have long term consequences that others don’t. If you are being mean, you may kick him in the ass and get him going, but you may lose his friendship in the process.

My father kicked me out when I was 21, during a recession. He motivated me to make it on my own. But I also never felt like I could trust him after that. As a result, he does not get to see his grandchildren without supervision. Now there are many other reasons for this, too, but I am distilling it to these focal points because that is what people tend to look at when they tell a story.

I don’t know what the long term consequences will be, but they will probably be different than if you had used kinder methods in your feedback.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

Sometimes I think it can be, especially if the person it’s directed at just can’t take a hint. I’ve had to do that a few times with different people who refused to accept what I was saying in a polite way. So I changed tactics and it worked.

kitszu's avatar

@Mariah Ok, so you’ve been an actual jerk, not, just the kind of jerk that says harsh things because they are the truth. I’ve been there, both with having a too needy friend and with being so frustrated with their behavior and not having the heart to literally abandon them and becoming mean because of it.

Being ‘mean’ won’t help your friend, but neither will being their accomplice. You will have to tell your friend things he won’t want to hear but from the right place (the place you are in that wants to help him and not the one that’s frustrated enough to passively- aggressively lash out.)

Understand though, that in the end it is their choice. If you have done every thing you could to help them and they refuse every hand offered, you are not to blame. There is a point in which we must all assume responsibility for ourselves. (Extenuating cirmstances given their due concideration of course.)

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