Social Question

Mariah's avatar

Is it moral to distance yourself from someone whose flaws were more than you could handle, if the flaws are not their fault?

Asked by Mariah (24649points) October 7th, 2011

For example, if you had a friend who was mentally ill and as a result tended to be very aggressive, and didn’t always direct his aggression towards the proper sources. You, as his friend, often receive the brunt of his aggression even though you don’t do anything to deserve it.

If it gets to be too much, is it ethically permissible to distance yourself from this friend? On the one hand, nobody should have to put up with abuse, on the other hand, it’s hard to feel okay about “punishing” people for things that aren’t their fault.

(Disclaimer: I don’t mean to imply that everyone with mental illness treats their friends badly.)

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48 Answers

mazingerz88's avatar

It’s not only moral, I think it’s pragmatic for people to keep away from each other, especially if they do have the choice and could afford to do so, if the friendship is getting too difficult. But this is not the same as saying kill the relationship for good. Complicated relationships do get sorted out sometimes.

Prosb's avatar

In this scenario, if the aggression is to the point where you feel like distancing yourself from them, mental handicap doesn’t come into play for me. You tell them they need to cool it in an easy to understand and tactful manner, or start cutting yourself off. When you are regularly forcing yourself to be near someone, then you’re not their friend anymore, you’re just tolerating them.

Coloma's avatar

Mentally ill or not, abuse is abuse.
Why do you need permission to remove yourself from the clutches of an abusive personality?

I just spoke of this in another question.
Yep, if you speak up to someone about how their behavior is effecting you and they don’t have the maturity or mental/emotional health to self examine and correct their stuff, then yes, let them go.

I let go of a manipulative ” friend” about 7 months ago, she couldn’t hear me and address the issues in our relationship and I chose to longer associate with her.

Life’s too short to “manage” screwed up people that have no desire to learn and grow and change their dysfunctional behaviors.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Mariah If the person knows they have a mental illness and are not actively making themselves well enough to be a good friend, then they are not a good choice to hang out with.

It’s not a friends job to be there for someone when they aren’t being honest with themself.

If the said friend was getting help, and needed or requested support, then that’s a different situation….but it’s still a choice.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Avoiding is punishing when you have an ulterior manipulative motive, passive aggressive shite. Avoiding in order to preserve your peace of mind and not get stirred up to the point of being nasty in return, that’s sound. It’s not your fault just like it’s not their fault they are mentally unbalanced to the point of being combative or nasty as a general demeanor.

wundayatta's avatar

Of course it’s moral. You are not required to take abuse just because someone can not help hurting you. How would that me moral? Does morality say you have to befriend someone? I don’t think so.

Are you being a good friend if you distance yourself? Maybe. You’re not being a bad friend by taking care of yourself. You’re doing what you have to do.

I don’t think you are under any requirement to take abuse just because someone else is sick. It might be nice if you try to help out, but it is not a requirement. I would only help out if there was something you could do to help your friend. If the only thing you can do is be a punching bag, then I’d bag it!

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is moral to distance yourself. The person considering putting the distance has their own mental health at stake. I would probably try to give the person a chance, explain how distressing it is to me, and hope the person with the mental illness take it seriously and maybe work on overcoming venting his aggression in such a way. If he is truly out of control, then the people who will stand by him will likely be people who can emotionally handle his aggession or have similar problems and can empathasize with his circumstance. And, of course hopefully very close family members. We can’t be all things for all people, we all need to discriminate to some extent who we spend our time with and how much we can tolerate in the name of love or obligation.

I believe we all have people who we relate too, and some we won’t or can’t.

CWOTUS's avatar

The primary moral impulse is to “save yourself”. If you feel threatened, intimidated or at risk because of a friend or associate, then it’s completely moral to remove yourself from the potential harm that can be done to you personally. That includes removing yourself from family members, if that’s the source of harm.

Once your own life is not in danger – or even if it is, but you choose to disregard that danger in pursuit of a “higher moral aim” – then your duty is to your family. You need to protect your family from harm; sometimes that means that you intentionally keep yourself in harm’s way. In case the danger here is from a family member, then you might choose to stay where you are to shield that person from repercussions from his acts, or to try to mollify him in some way. (Obviously, you can’t protect your family if you’re killed or incapacitated, so you still want to keep yourself alive and intact.)

After your family is taken care of – or again, if you elect to ignore the potential harm there and work at an even higher plane of morality – then your duty is to “associates and organizations that you choose to support”. In other words, you may choose to be loyal to school, company, friends, town, state or national groups that you ally yourself with.

Blackberry's avatar

It’s realistic, therefore, “moral”.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Not really, but it’s hard not to be human.

Londongirl's avatar

If he is a good friend then I will try to be there for him and help. But obviously, he needs professional help.

Sunny2's avatar

Mental illness is often treatable. If the person is not seeing someone to prescribe the medications to alleviate the symptoms, perhaps he/she should be urged to do so. You are under no obligation to put up with abuse. It might be helpful to tell your to-be-former-friend why.

ninjacolin's avatar

Technically, you have the ultimate excuse: If it’s not his fault that he became the way he is then it’s not your fault for becoming friend-averse.

He can petition you for assistance in dealing with his issue and you can take it on as a project if you like. In this context, you can setup a contract so to speak where he pays you $150/hr to provide him counselling and to help him through his rough patches. But it’s probably best that he gives that money to someone trained as a psychologist. Or perhaps someone who has been through it before who can coach him with experience.

There might be some moral questions about someone in that position abandoning him on whim where a specific contract is being broken. But friends kind of don’t have specific contracts. They’re only expected to do their best. And I think in some odd cases, distancing yourself from a friend is the best thing a person can do.

Londongirl's avatar

@ninjacolin I thought being good friends are to be there when needed. If every time I want to talk about guys then I need to pay £150/hr for a trained psychologist, then I will be bankrupt in no time and what happen to those who cannot afford for counselling?

Mariah's avatar

@Londongirl Talking about guys isn’t abusive behavior; I think he’s only recommending therapy for people who abuse their friends.

Just for the record, I’m not asking for advice here. The example is hypothetical, it’s just the principle I wanted to discuss.

I definitely agree with everybody about not being obliged to put up with abuse, it’s just so hard for me to rationalize judging someone based on characteristics outside their control. Maybe because I want people not to judge me based on my various neuroses. :P

Londongirl's avatar

@Mariah I think hypothetically speaking, if a friend of mine I care has mental issues, I will try my best to give my support and advice them to seek professional help. Trust me I was with an alcoholic partner for a few years and the relationship dragged me to depression (no medication but a few month counselling) myself at the time we broke up. So someone need to be mentally strong in order to be there for their friend who has mental issues.

marinelife's avatar

It is OK to distance yourself from anyone whose behavior is troubling to you no matter what the cause.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

It is ethically permissible to remove yourself when and where there is physical violence.

If there is even an implication of the word “Friend” or a committed relationship, I wouldn’t however leave behind a “friend” of mine or ever leave someone I loved and promised a life to, who was mentally ill if they needed help for any reason.

No, I would not do that. I’m not selfish… I would help them to get help and try to make it work not even so much only for them, but to as well, maintain and honor my own promises and integrity to them. I for one, still believe that words actually mean things.

I don’t walk away from people who need me, I don’t walk away from people who I love and I completely realize that yes, It has somewhat compromised my own life.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

*See number 23 down from the top

Londongirl's avatar

@GabrielsLamb I too don’t walk away from people who need me for those I love and care about either friends or family.

Mariah's avatar

That’s why I asked the question. It seems there’s a fine line between giving up on a friend that just needs a little help and getting yourself out of an abusive relationship. It sucks to have to make that judgement call, but sometimes ultimately you need to save yourself. In most situations, I try to stick with my friend.

My tendency is to want to support anyone who proves to be a “good” person, but sometimes good people do bad things.

SpatzieLover's avatar

For me, @Mariah, IRL, that line in the sand is help.

Is the person seeking help from a professional? Are they actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle?

If the answer to those two questions is no, then I decline to have them in my everyday life. If the answer is yes, but they are abusing the relationship or if they are abusive or aggressive, then I either set strict limits on my self and how/when I will visit or share time with them or will encourage them to seek further help.

Mariah's avatar

@SpatzieLover Wonderful answer.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Mariah Thank you. It’s taken a lifetime for me to learn how to handle myself around this type of person

GabrielsLamb's avatar

Mostly I feel that people who don’t or can’t genuinely care, or who aren’t truly invested in a relationship of course with the exception of physical violence, *which no one should tolerate under any circumstances.

I feel that many people knowing the issues, also use them as their excuse as well as their escape route when they are no longer personally gleaning any self gratituous benefit from the relationship. *Like a f*ck and toss for instance…

Even if they are violent… You still help as Saptzie said… If you love, if you truly care, you try… in the case of violence however you do it from a distance. You never abandon people even if it is you they are hurting when and where they honestly can’t help it. And their behavior torments them as well.

Many people do this to one another especially in relationships.

I had mental health issues throughout my last LTR and I did put him through some garbage. But I begged him to help, I begged him to come with me to get help for years I felt like I was being told “I love you, I love you.” but there wasn’t a damn thing attached to it. I was deeply depressed, extremely fruestrated with a situation that would have honestly broke any couple apart, and I was stressed, afraid, lonely, I felt left and abandoned long before he ever phsyically walked out.

My point is some people make themselves out to be victimized and martyers because they don’t have any outward manefestations that can be considered “extreme” but what they do that is negative, just because it is quiet, and stealth, doesn’t make it any less harmful to a relationship.

People all have different types of problems that add to and exacerbate to a bad situation, if you are begged, and you continously do nothing, make excuses and then say love, it is confusing, it is desperate and it is painful. Honestly maybe it was a lack of knowing what to do…

But when you are there for everyone, even when you can’t be, even when you don’t know how, you figure it out and because you are committed to them, and they can’t do the same… and then after 8 years not because you couldn’t put up with it anymore, but because something “better” came along and whispered in ears and talked, and shared and convinced TO THEIR OWN BENEFIT talking a man out of his own relationship, pumping his head full of notions of abuse when SHE was the ONLY reason it all of a sudden wasn’t good enough…

When everything was so irrepairable and everything was destroyed and screwed up so bad no one could salvage anything of it, and then to just leave someone with that…

Some people do that… They milk a relationship or situation for as long as it is convienient to them and then all of a sudden when something better comes along after 8 years, all of a sudden YOUR abusive and they need to go. When they never did ONE SINGLE THING to help. nothing.

stardust's avatar

GA @GabrielsLamb
I wouldn’t allow myself to remain in a relationship that was harmful to me. I agree that many people use their issues as an escape route/excuse to repeat destructive/negative behavioural patterns.
I might talk it through with the person, depending on the level of friendship. It’d be up to them then to decide whether to change their behaviour and in turn improve on future friendships.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@stardust You might, because YOU are a good person. That of course being internal, and having little to do with the circumstances. YOU do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do… Many do not and only concern themselves, with themselves, until they are done, and then they leave, with all of their needful excuses in tow.

With some people, it is merely a matter of convienience and loyalty to themselves. No matter the words they used to allude or assume the contrary.

basically it always takes two to tango. Always… The louder or more actively vocal of the two will usually be the one that takes all of the blame.

saint's avatar

Moral judgement is a judgement of the choice of action. It does not matter if there is some chemical problem or neurological cross wiring. If the choices are irrational, the moral judgement must be negative. We may assign mitigating factors as we render judgement, but it changes nothing about the behaviour.

Kardamom's avatar

Not at all. You are not punishing the person, you are protecting yourself. Your physical self, and your own sanity. It’s painful to watch a friend, or anyone else that has a mental illness like the one you are describing. The best you can do is to give that person or point that person towards the tools he needs to get the help he needs, but you are not obligated to suffer at his hands, whether it’s by him being physically agressive, or simply by his yelling at you or doing mean things (that he’s either unaware of or regrets later). It’s not your job as a friend to put up with that kind of treatment. And it’s not your responsibility to feel guilty for distancing yourself from him either. You may not be able to even get this fellow to seek help, and you certainly can’t force him to seek help, but you are not here to be his caretaker or his martyr.

Your job is to do the best you can, even if that means, not being around someone who has already, or is likely to cause you harm (physical or emotional).

Londongirl's avatar

@Kardamom Does mean things apply to patronizing other people?

spykenij's avatar

I would have to say yes; people only know their own pain. Are you sure the guy is taking this stuff out on you or is that just your perception? Are you or have you done what he does, in front of him, possibly making him feel like its ok to go there with you because you have been there yourself? I know it’s a drag to be around someone who is down, pissed or in an uproar all the time, but often times when people get to be like this, they don’t know it until its too late and they’ve already blown a head gasket. Let this person know how you feel when he does this, this and this. The more detailed you are, the more it might help him realize what he’s doing or see what’s going on, in that moment. Hell, if worse comes to worse come up with a safe word, where no matter what, this dude just needs to stop himself and check himself. What are his thoughts, are they accurate (verbiage wise), where did these thoughts come from, how does how he feels on the inside relate to how it feels on the outside…? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may be extremely useful to him. For example, does he FEEL like a horrible person? No, because horrible person is not a FEELING – its a thought. Ok, why does he THINK he’s a horrible person – has he killed anyone, been truly wicked…? Where did this thought come from – parents, an ex…? How does what he THINKS, relate to how he feels and how does that relate to his actions? Is there a more constructive way for him to release the energy?

I find that punching a car, as stupid or harmful as you may think it sounds, that WORKS for me. The car rolls and gets me from point A to point B regardless, so I really don’t care if I have some knuckle dents in it and it’s my choice as to what method works best for me. I have tried punching a bed, pillow, dummy, speed bag… My car, brick walls and bare knuckle punching a punching bag are what work for me. I know I will never throw a full punch or one I cannot handle when I do stuff like this and it will be my own fault if I end up with jacked up hands. Maybe one day that will teach me, but for now – it is my only real way to get that energy out. Isn’t it crazy that my mom cares more about what the neighbors think AND that she said, “Why don’t you just cut yourself or dig a hole and bury yourself?” I’m not trying to bleed out. What’s the difference between the pain associated with my hitting a brick wall and getting a piercing or tattoo?

I believe, IF you told him you would always be there, it would all be a lie/betrayal to walk away now. Sounds like this person needs some TLC, an ear, a shoulder and a warm body that doesn’t feel the need to fix his problems, which are not their’s top fix. You would be surprised at how much a gentle demeanor can soften that angriest or hardest of hearts, especially when consistant. That’s just how I feel about it.

Kardamom's avatar

@Londongirl I’m sorry if you feel like you have been patronized. I don’t think anyone has patronized or insulted you on Fluther. You’ve been given a lot of good,sound advice by all of the Jellies that have posted on your questions. Sometimes you have to go out of your comfort zone and try to see things from a different perspective, otherwise it’s hard to get out of a rut. You deserve to be happy and meet a decent guy, just like everybody else does.

What I meant by mean things in my comment to @Mariah is that she shouldn’t have to get yelled at or get called names, or get hit, or be forced to take responsibility for someone who is not her own child or her own family member, even though she probably cares deeply for this friend. I know for a fact that she has gone above and beyond the call of duty to be a good friend to this fellow. But she needs to care for herself too. And we’re here to care for her.

Mariah's avatar

Guys, this is hypothetical! There is no fellow!

Londongirl's avatar

@Kardamom I think you misunderstood me. I was simply asking you a question whether you think patronizing is mean. I find a few people here genuinely giving their views without prejudiced and I appreciate it, but a couple of them not and having all this attitude of patronizing.. That is all.

Kardamom's avatar

@Mariah Thank goodness. I was having these awful thoughts of some dude screetching at you. I worked with 2 guys, one an acquaintence and another one that I considered to be a friend that acted like you have described. Both of them ended up getting fired for causing all sorts of ruckus’s (is that the correct plural for that word?) and both of them sexually harrassed a couple of females, which was the thing that ultimately got them booted. All of us put up with a lot of crap from them both, but it was really hard with the one guy that was actually a friend. I don’t wish this kind of situation on anybody. We tried to get both of them to seek help, but because the meds for their particular conditions caused side effects that they didn’t like, they decided not to take the meds. It was really unfortunate for everybody involved.

@Londongirl Oh OK.

Hibernate's avatar

If I can help I stick around. If it’s something without a treatment I’d better focus myself on others. So yes. I’ll distance myself really fast if I see them as a “lost cause”.

spykenij's avatar

It seems like a lot of people are so willing to walk away from someone who is miserable. Why does someone else’s misery have to become your own and if it does, doesn’t that speak volumes about how in touch you are with that other person? If you can lock in so close on their misery and depression, why not also lock on to the good and decent qualities as well? How is it so easy to just drop someone at a rough point in their life? Are most of all your parents still together, just out of curiousity? People change, things are ever evolving… Why can’t a miserable person change eventually too? What if you walked away from the only person who would never walk out on you? Why were you ever friends to begin with and what happened to that? I suppose everyone has their deal breakers. I never really applied deal breakers to friends so much as I did and still do with spouses/partners…or have I? Hmmm… PC LOAD LETTER and smoke!

thesparrow's avatar

I’m not sure you should turn away from a friend because of that, or that it should bother you. They’re just your friend. It’s worse when it’s your spouse.

thesparrow's avatar

@spykenij Ya, I know what you mean. There is just a certain amount of emotional effort that you put into your friends vs your spouse; when the latter is giving you trouble it’s definitely more unsettling

spykenij's avatar

Going through something like this now after 6 yrs of rough roads we got through. She just isn’t willing to discuss any of that right now. So painful and the last thing I wanted or needed. I have to figure out what to do with all these remaining butterflies and feelings. She never got old to me. I still got butterflies after 6 yrs (would have been on Nov 15th).

wundayatta's avatar

I suspect that people don’t walk away from friends very easily. I think they probably stick it out as long as they can stand it, and only then would they even allow themselves to think about this question. Is it time to let them go? Can I stand it any more? Does my need for stability outweigh my guilt over abandoning my friend?

Eventually, it seems to me, we come to a point where we draw a boundary. For some it is sooner than others. It always depends on the circumstances. I know I would have drawn the line sooner in the past than I would now, knowing what I know about mental illness. Then again, it’s unlikely someone who is mentally ill would try to mess around with me like that. We know what is going on inside each other’s heads.

I know when you’re messing with me. I know why you are messing with me. I can address this directly with you because we both know bullshit won’t fly. You know exactly how far you can push me, and you know you have a choice at this moment. Push further, and I will leave. Stop pushing, and I will help you. I know you know exactly where that point it. I know that if you truly want to be alone, you will push. I know I am then relieved of any obligation towards you.

I don’t know if others can feel this point so clearly. But I, at least, don’t have to feel guilt when I let go. On the other hand, if I were the person pushing, I would know you would feel guilt. It would be hard for me because part of me would want you to feel guilt and another part of me would want you to forget me. It would mean I’d have to give you more pain before you let me truly go. Which means I have to face my self truly to see if I want to go, because once I go, I am gone. I have to truly want to die in order to push you to the point where you let me go.

If I really want to die, it will have nothing to do with you. I will just be too depressed to hold on any more. If you try to have me hospitalized, I will disappear. But that’s just me. I don’t know if others would be like that. If they are manipulating you, then they won’t die. They’ll move on, somehow and still try to manipulate you. But you can be sure if I push you away for good, then I’m gone for good. You will not see me alive again. Also, you will not want to see me alive again because I will have hurt you far worse than you could possibly imagine you could be hurt.

Believe me. I know how to do that. Believe me also that I never, ever want to be in a place where I could even consider that. It is the most awful place I have ever been in in my life and I am unbelievably lucky to have survived it.

spykenij's avatar

People walk away from lovers far too quickly than they walk away from people they thought were friends. At least once you are categorized you kinda know where you stand, and if you could ever come back or not. If someone in a romantic relationship leaves me, they will never see me alive again. I haven’t been able to walk away from too many people in my life, but I know I can do it if I need to. I will not ever speak with or see my dad again, unless he is dead. He denied my existance to the US Marines, so he could collect more money and get away with not ever paying child support. That was the wrong move. He will regret taking his anger for my mother, out on me.

thesparrow's avatar

@spykenij Why would they never see you alive?

spykenij's avatar

Just don’t ever stick around for people to see me again. They don’t deserve to once they’ve hurt me this much, all in such a short period of time. Scared to be her friend, in fear I will never accept this breakup.

AnonymousWoman's avatar

It is better for you to distance yourself than to act out in an abusive manner if it gets to be too much, even if it’s “self-defence”. There are times when there isn’t much you can do to help your friend.

If you are feeling too emotionally drained, you are feeling too emotionally drained. There is only so much a person can take. Your emotional health should not be neglected just because you are trying so hard to be your friend’s saviour. There are some people you can’t – and will never – save from their misery, no matter how hard you try or how much effort you put into them.

There are some people who will just drag you down with them if you are not good at dealing with situations like that, whether it’s intentional or not. These people may need the help of people who are able to handle those things better and won’t get as emotionally exhausted, if at all.

CaptainHarley's avatar

This brings to mind a sign a friend of mine kept on his desk:

“An emergency on your part does not necessarily mean an emergency on mine.”

Make an effort to distance yourself from people who change your mood negatively.

spykenij's avatar

@thesparrow – I meant over my dead body if I can prevent it.

@CaptainHarley – a programmer I used to work with had that on his desk. We worked for a home infusion software company and sometimes peoples’ jobs and lives were on the line. That programmer was one of the biggest assholes I’ve met to date. Just saying. I hate that phrase.

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