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Unhealthy Friend

Unhealthy Friend


Dear Rachel,

I have a friend whom I have known for years. However, since I moved to another city over a year ago, I have not seen her in person, and we have only spoken over the phone or through email.

I have never found her to be the easiest person to get along with. She will be great and easygoing one minute, and then suddenly shift and be impossible to deal with. More recently, however, she has been really depressed and non-responsive, and seems to blame everyone else for her problems.

It might be possible for someone who has only recently met her to believe that others are responsible for her situation. But knowing her for some time, I know that she really has created many of her own circumstances. I am concerned for her and fear that her recent behavior will really create major problems for her. But she is not open to any advice. If anything, she has completely turned against me and has really caused me a lot of pain with her irresponsible behavior. What should I do?



Dear E.S.,

You want your friend to know that she is loved I hear your pain and your desire to help, but unfortunately, it is quite difficult to help someone who doesn't recognize her problem, and even harder to help someone who doesn't want to help herself.

Being that you have known your friend for some time, you probably do know better than others who is really responsible for her pain. But often situations are not so clear cut. A person who is not stable emotionally is much more likely to become involved with people who are likely to cause her legitimate pain and further her unfortunate situation. I would bet that her current situation came about as a result of her own issues and skewed perception of reality along with circumstances caused by others..

The question of what you can do is tricky. And the fact that you live far away increases the difficulty.

I would suggest trying to track down other family members or friends that are care about her and are involved in her life. If possible, speak to them and see if they share your concerns. Let them know of the decisions she has made that worry you and see if they likewise feel that she is in a troubled state and doing things against her own best interest.

If they do agree with you, perhaps they are in a situation to actually do something about it. If there is any concern that she is an actual danger to herself or others, then even if she is not interested in the help, it might need to be forced upon her. If enough people who are concerned do an intervention — which would mean literally sitting with her and explaining that she is not stable and needs help (either medical, psychological, or even being institutionalized in extreme cases) — that could force her to at least start proper treatment, even if she doesn't yet recognize that she needs help.

If her situation is not so extreme and she is merely making poor decisions and turning away her friends and those who care about her, unfortunately, she might really need to get even worse before she will recognize the problems she is causing.

Chassidic philosophy teaches us that we have two arms for a reason. One arm we use to draw others close, and one we use to push away. You want your friend to know that she is loved and that you are always willing to help her and welcome her if she wants. And yet, there is the other arm that might need to be pushing her away right now to let her know that you will not accept destructive behavior or poor treatment from her.

Let her know that you will not accept destructive behavior or poor treatmentYou sound like a good friend who has done everything you can to be there for her and offer her help. Right now it does not seem she is willing to take it and rather will most likely continue to hurt you.

So for now, I would first and foremost try to determine how severe her situation is. If she is really in an unsafe situation, see who can get involved to get her the help she needs. If she is stable but merely in a bad place, you might just need to wait this out. Let her know that you are more than willing to help and be there for her, but first she must recognize that she is in a bad place and needs help. And until she is willing to do that, perhaps you need to take a step back. You can try to help her behind the scenes, but not in a way that you allow her to continue to hurt you.

I wish you much strength in what is clearly a difficult situation, and I hope your friend soon recognizes that she needs to get help and take care of herself, because ultimately no one can help her if she absolutely refuses.

Take care,


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous Tinton Falls, nj November 2, 2017

It sounds like this person has Borderline Personality Disorder which is a very challenging diagnosis for a psychotherapist to work with, let alone for the average person. Keep the relationship light, non-confrontive, and agreeable. Do not try to "therapize" her. For the professional mental health care worker, best treatment is an intensive psychotherapeutic environment ideally companioned with antipsychotic medication to reduce the client's impulses and angry outbursts. Social skills training especially with videotape play back is helpful to enable patient to see how their actions affect others and to improve their interpersonal behavior, including reducing their sensitivity to criticism and rejection. Reply

מבאל February 21, 2017

Giving advice to a suffering person I have read the book of Job. When Job was in deep trouble his friends tried to help him with their advices. Maybe their advices were not bad in them selves, but they were not spoken right (maybe not in due time, maybe not right in facts, maybe not with respect and right motives). It seems like his friends believed that the cause of his problems where Jobs own way of living and thinking. They blamed him for beeing righteous in his own eyes. Job in his great suffering would feel their condemnation, and found their advices unusefull. I think the book of Job is interesting reading, both when in the position as a helping friend and as comfort when in possition of the one suffering. Reply

Frances Los Angeles, Calif December 1, 2011

Pray with them Pray with them. Every time they give you a problem. Pray with them. Move on an call her from time to time. Always show love Reply

Penny Dallas, TX/USA August 19, 2011

Stepping Away Although I agree that there might be something wrong, I don't think anyone should jump to on the bipolar bandwagon so quickly.

As a single mom who was diagnosed as bipolar several years ago, I can tell you that yes, it is difficult but a lot of my symptoms were situational - that is, they got better when my environment changed.

Recently, however, one of my friends became somewhat toxic. Her husband committed suicide in front of her, leaving her alone with 3 kids (1 his), and a lot of her decisions both before and after him have come back to bite her. She's throwing a pity party every day and doesn't seem willing to change. She verbalizes it but doesn't do it.

As much as it pains me, stepping away from her is something I have to do for me. It doesn't mean I don't care, I just know I can't "fix" anything for her no matter how much I want to.

Sometimes it's best to step back and just pray. He knows what's best for all involved. Reply

Isabel Ocoee, FL, USA April 3, 2011

Your friend may suffer from a condition called bipolar-disorder which causes her to feel happy at times or depressed the other minute. You have to understand that living with this disorder is very difficult. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 22, 2011

Unhealthy Friend I went through the same thing. I had a friend who seemed okay but later turned toxic. It became harder and harder to talk to her:

1. She constantly cut me off when I talked.

2. She constantly repeated herself like a "broken record".

3. She had money and health problems, but refused all advice I gave her.

I'm not one to remain involved with people I can't get through to, so I decided not to talk to her anymore - you might have to do the same thing! Reply

Hinda Schryber jerusalem, israel February 9, 2010

I wish you luck Nice answer on this one. but sounds to me like this woman needs specific assessment and treatment by a mental health professional. I am not a doctor but having been in the field for 30 years this smacks of either bipolar behavior as well as a personality disorder. At worse it could also be the onset of schizophrenia. She does need immediate help, but the problem is reasoning with someone in that situation is nearly impossible. Often family are the last to be able to help- as the person has distanced themselves from the family or vice versa. Sometimes, if there is some insight then a direct but gentle confrontation might be the answer followed with an appointment for treatment. however, i would not isolate them - people like this are ill, and just as we dont isolate diabetics or epileptics we dont isolate the mentally ill. We realize what we can do for them and what needs to be done by others and try to facilitate that. When you cant do anything else - just LOVE! Reply

Edith Brown Silver Spring, MD February 8, 2010

Perception Sara Esther I feel with all due respect you have bitten off more than you can chew.

I have a problem being assertive. An intervention would please them to no end. I need the exact opposite & so do alot of folks who are struggling.

I have well meaning friends bombarding me with their ideas of how to fix me & getting offended when I can't breathe & get angry & tell them to back off. People have a need to fix. I am not a loose screw that needs to be tightened. I can not be a project. I need to find my own way & with G-d's help I will.

I am learning I can't take care of anyone right now. I stink at relationships right now. But notice I say right now, not forever.

Remember Sara Esther people act in ways we don't expect when they have fears. Those fears may be from pain, hurt, insecurities - try to be understanding. I know you are. I wish I knew how to give the benefit of the doubt. How to think before I anger. Maybe one day.

All The Best Reply

Anonymous brooklyn, NY February 8, 2010

unhealthy friend-friendship I dont think its apropriate for you to give advise to a one sided story. I also dont think you should tell someone a course of treatment based on a story someone wrote. Some peoples life´s are more difficult than others and real friends wont judge you so harshly. Some times the person defaming the other may be the one with the serious problem. Its not for you to deside without personally meeting with these people and performing a proper psychological analysis by someone who is competent. It could also very well be that people are harming this girl, and instead of helping her you are victimizing her further. think carefully before you answere these types of questions, since you dont know what impact your words may have. Reply

Peggy Kight pascagoula, Ms / USA February 8, 2010

About Unhealthy Friend i found out the hard way that so many times some people are unhealthy for you. can pull you down and work on the self esteem. been there, done that. by the time you listen to many problems and situations going on, and etc you feel drained and really do not feel strong enough to help someone that really needs it. i believe in loving people and being there for them. a true friend will not burden you down with JUST their problems a true friend will be there to encourage you and will root you on. we need to be around positive people. i believe it's intended that some people be in our lives for a season, then it's time to cut the strings. some people may just be friends for life and that's wonderful. i've had so many people come and go. but G-d knows what he's doing. if the person is good for me he knows, if their not, he knows it. if they leave well, it be might G-d's hand in it. if a person is not good for me, i don't need that person as a friend. Reply

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