Help, My Friend is SO Needy!
One of our friends in our friend group is "too much." Very emotionally needy, talks about himself a lot, asks for advice but never takes it, and dates the wrong people. We don’t want to ”unfriend” him, but he’s driving us crazy! What should we do?
I think we all have that friend who is a little extra, and sometimes frustrating.
First, you have to understand that your friend is probably not really looking for advice or solutions. More likely, he’s looking for attention and someone to listen to him and validate his feelings. He doesn’t really want someone to solve his problems, because if you solve his problem he no longer receives the attention that he craves. It’s really about feeling seen and heard.
The key is to find other ways to offer positive attention within boundaries of what’s appropriate and manageable for you. I suggest the following five steps:
1. Be direct, yet kind.
Designate two people in your friend group to go to him and gently tell him how he’s coming across and that it’s making your friend group feel overwhelmed and unable to help, which is frustrating for them. Suggest that he actually take their advice once in a while. Limit his sharing to one issue per get-together. You don’t want to make him feel bad, but you can do it in a loving but direct way. That’s what good friends do – speak the truth with love (Ephesians 4:15).
I suggest using the “Sandwich” method: Affirmation/Complaint/Affirmation.
Affirm something positive about him (e.g. a character trait, his positive intentions, his willingness to be transparent, everyone’s so glad he’s in your friend group).
State your complaint. Be direct, but kind.
Re-affirm something positive about him.
2. Set boundaries in your own mind for the amount of time and attention you can offer.
(Even trained therapists set time limits with their clients!) Screen his calls if necessary. Let him know you have 15 minutes to talk, etc. Recognize you are not a trained professional and shouldn’t serve as one.
3. Stop offering advice.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting a different outcome.” It’s time to stop the insanity and simply validate his experience with phrases like, “Wow, that sounds frustrating” or “It seems like that really hurt you”.
4. Redirect the Conversation
Elect someone in your group who’s really good at social intelligence to change the topic. For example, after your friend shares for a short time, one of you needs to redirect the conversation by saying, “Let’s hear from ________ (someone else in the group) for a minute because we haven’t heard from them.” It sounds like, “Hey Steve, thank you for sharing. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’d like to hear from Mike about his new job…” It’s like clicking out of a video that constantly loops, and going onto a new topic.
5. Suggest professional help.
If your friend is truly struggling, and it feels like it’s above your pay grade to help, the kindest thing is to suggest he set an appointment with one of the CMR’s trained professionals for Free Relationship Advice or for a referral to a good Christian therapist.
If done properly and consistently, these steps will acknowledge your friend’s needs in a loving but manageable way for all of you, while getting him the help he may truly need.
Alisa Grace ('92) serves as the co-director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships where she also co-teaches a class called "Christian Perspectives on Marriage and Relationships." While she speaks and blogs regularly on topics such as dating relationships, marriage, and love, she also loves mentoring younger women and newly married couples, speaking at retreats and providing premarital counseling. Alisa and her husband, Chris, have been married over 30 years and have three wonderful children: Drew and his wife Julia, Natalie and her husband Neil, and their youngest blessing, Caroline.