Friend with a personality disorder
I have (maybe I should say had) a close platonic 23-year-old female friend of 3 years who recently "dumped" me. We were the sort of close friends that could listen to each with empathy and suggest advice, and honestly self-disclose. Recently, we worked together in a corporate office for about 8 months, at about 25 hours a week, and still found time to go out for drinks together occasionally, see a concert, go bowling, etc. She was also the only friend whose behavior could drive me up a wall on a nearly daily basis.
I am the kind of person who will look inside myself first, analyzing why I am annoyed rather than seeing it as her problem and asking her to adjust. For a long time, I thought it was a basic personality conflict. But then again, several friends would remark that the same actions irritated them too. For example, one thing she did quite frequently was vocalize her disgust quite loudly when anyone ate meat around her (she's a vegetarian), saying things like, "Omigod, that is so gross! How can you eat that?" Now I've known vegetarians for years, and none of them ever made comments like that. Sometimes it was the way she'd come into the office with longwinded, dramatic stories about some new boy she was dating this week (the actions were annoying to me because she'd tend to interrupt and sometimes wouldn't in turn listen to my stories). Another behavior was she would get quite "wound up" at work and be beset by silliness and giggling and making lots of cartoony voices. Eventually her antics would interrupt people. She started anti-anxiety medication to calm herself down. Once she got "so bored" she decided to do cartwheels in the office (we were generally unsupervised) to get out all of her frustrations. I thought that was a little inappropriate. On some days she'd pout and fuss and whine to her co-workers about why her job sucked because she was always so bored. Although she was at times amusing (she did do some funny voices), some days for me it got to the point where I was uncomfortable and I felt a bit embarrassed by it all. But all in all, she had some shining moments, and one takes the bad with the good. Overall, despite obnoxious behavior, I do like her.
In March, a manager decided that our group of clerks should take some online personality assessments. The first one I had taken before, the Keirsey Character Sorter. My result was INFP, hers was ENFP. The new one was the "Enneagram" or Riso-Hudson Type Indicator. My result was Type 5 "thinker". She was Type 7 "enthusiast". When reading our type descriptions, it mentioned that unhealthy individuals of each personality were susceptible to certain types of problems. For the type 5 it said typically schizotypal or schizoid personality disorders. Although I had a few psych courses in college, I couldn't remember what those were. So I did some research until I found some DSM-IV descriptions. It was interesting reading. Type 7 was supposedly susceptible to bipolar disorder and histrionic personality disorder. I knew what bipolar disorder was, but again I went and did some research because I didn't know what histrionic meant. When I read the DSM-IV description of histrionic personality disorder, I was shocked! 95% of the description sounded just like my friend's behavior. I had heard people talk about her for years and say she was "crazy". However, I always thought it was just an unfair label coming from conservative people because she was a little "wild" and ran around with the art design school/punk-rock crowd (I myself am in similar circles, that is after all how she and I met). I could go point-by-point and give lengthy descriptions based on 8 months of daily contact, but I'll spare the details.
I kept this new information to myself. But because I read this and had seen the behavior, I was concerned for her mental health. I don't think the anti-anxiety medication was the answer. But I wasn't (and still am not sure) what I could do, if anything at all. I mean how could I recommend that she get some professional help without sounding critical or completely out of my element? She was very sensitive to people who questioned her behavior. By late April she finally had it with the job and quit. We continued to talk on the phone and sent each other emails over the next few weeks, and then suddenly the responses stopped. I left messages on her answering machine, and didn't get any return calls. Eventually by early June I had heard through a mutual acquaintance that my friend had "burned the bridges" between us, and would appreciate if I stopped trying to contact her. I asked the acquaintance why. She said she'd rather not get into it, that it was for me and my friend to discuss, but in her opinion they were "dumb reasons" - things "she heard through the grapevine that you said to other people about her". Although I was disappointed and felt hurt and rejected, this was not something that completely surprised me. Plus, I had no chance to defend myself or admit guilt to the allegations, because I had no idea what they were. I had seen my friend do this to 2 people while we worked together, a former roommate of hers and also a college friend.
So what do I do now? On one hand, it's a bit of relief not hanging out with such a "high maintenance" person. On the other hand, part of me does miss her. I am sure, since she has these feelings of animosity, she doesn't want to hear me recommend she see a counselor. Any suggestions? Should I try to intervene someday and get her some help? Is she going to be okay, or is she descending a downward spiral? Should I try to become her friend again, or is it just a manipulative move (by leaving me in the dark about what she's upset about, it seems to be a game to me). I think I am better off without her, but is she better off without me? How does one suggest to a friend or a loved one that they might need to get professional help, without it sounding like an attack or criticism? Especially to someone who can be pretty sensitive at times!
You seem like a man in touch with your male and female sides. When I say you have a well developed female side, I mean that in the most complimentary way. Through your letter I thought I was listening to a woman. It seems to me you're the kind of man that women want to know and be close with.
On to your questions, this particular woman has made it clear that she doesn't want anything to do with you. She's been difficult for you and others around her. You may have correctly identified a diagnosis for a mental disorder that fits her. When you add the pluses and minuses, I wonder why you are wondering about becoming her friend again. This is most interesting, that "part of" you "misses her." Take a look and see if you have any history of going in for more rejection from people who reject you.
I'd say you're not in a good position to suggest she seek counseling. Can you imagine if there was someone you didn't want to run into and she came up and told you that you'd better get yourself some mental health care? You probably wouldn't be inclined to take her suggestion at face value if you felt fed up with her.
All the best,
Leya Aum, MA, MFCC
This question was answered by Leya Aum. She is California licensed marriage, family, child counselor certified in clinical hypnosis. She teaches Feldenkrais Method® of Neuromuscular Relearning, is practitioner of the Bowen Technique and Jin Shin Jyutsu®. She is also human resources consultant, writer and editor.