Jillian and I became fast friends in 2016 because we worked together at the Parks and Recreation Day Camp of our town. We became fast friends, in part because we were both willing to be honest with each other and express our opinions and thoughts. The summer of 2008 was different. Our relationship, which had been fluid the summer prior, was now strained by personality and communicational differences. At first, I was confused as I had thought I understood my friendship. I was initially confused because, although we were friends, the year had passed without us seeing each other. She had started a romantic relationship over the summer. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the effects it had throughout the schoolyear.
When I came home and started to hang out with her, I noticed some subtle differences. Her personality was different; she seemed more irritable. She also asked me less about my problems. Our conversations became dominated by this topic, and I grew increasingly frustrated. I’m the kind of person who likes to talk about a problem to try to solve it. Jillian did not mean to do this. She only wanted to vent about her frustrations with someone and, hopefully, have her actions validated. Asymmetrical communication can occur when two people communicate using different information. I started having problems when Jillian’s significant other and I would both predictably repeat the same behaviors that created conflict. I asked Jillian to think about the relationship’s overall health when things started to get tense. Since I returned home, her health and self care had declined. She started to abuse prescription drugs, a subject that became very emotional.Since the beginning of this course, I have tentatively concluded that Jillian is a possible narcissist. The definition of narcissism includes “having a sense of exaggerated self-importance and a focus of oneself on the other” (G.A.A. 68). She was a good person who was kind and caring. In fact, her first choice of career was nursing. She is beautiful, but she’s also been known to attract people who adore her. She uses dating applications and other communication methods to constantly try to gain this kind of admiration. Her long-term partner Matt was not very good at communicating over long distances. Jillian, on the other hand, was always attentive to her phone. She was expecting him to be responsive because people in her generation are usually very responsive. She was disappointed when he didn’t respond to her text messages as she expected. When she was unable to get his attention, she pursued other options. Women would be infatuated by her and she would feed off their compliments. She was in line to the idea that narcissists look for people who can provide immediate approval rather than long term mutual like. We discussed this openly because I believe she was looking for validation of her behavior. I was careful not to criticize her, as she was highly sensitive to my judgment and I didn’t wish to alienate or make her bad about herself. It is my opinion that there were a number of instances in which we misunderstood each other. As a result, she felt criticized or accused.
Let me give you an example of a conversation that we had in the middle of summer. It was a time of difficulty in my life, and I apologized for sometimes not understanding the explanations she gave. The conversation quickly heated up:
You: “I’d like you to do a bit more for me.” You need to reach out when I’m struggling because I have trouble communicating.
Jillian said: “You had better have told sooner.” I’m sorry to be such a snobby friend.
Me: “It’s okay. We all have our moments of being snobby friends.
Jillian raised her voice in a harsher tone and said: “Wow. Sorry, I’m a piece of absolute shit. Thank you for that.”
Here I pause and consider what to say next. She takes this to mean that I agree with her and becomes even more angry.
You: “That’s what I didn’t say.”
This interaction left me a little confused, as you can imagine. Jillian’s behavior was unacceptable, and I didn’t mean to justify it. She was a friend who had been rather unresponsive to my needs, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to discuss how we can both become better friends. I thought we’d both come away from the conversation with an improved understanding of one another and our needs. She misinterpreted my words as well as my silence and reacted violently. The dialogue continued for around 20 minutes, even though I had shortened it. After I apologized for my mistakes and explained what I meant, she became even angrier. I could not figure out how to change my negative pattern of behavior and felt stuck. I had not given enough thought to Jillian’s reactions, and sometimes I even regretted my own words.
A narcissist is someone who has a low level of self-esteem. They seek out self-esteem boosts. (GAA, 68) This describes her perfectly. She has admitted that low self esteem is something with which she and I can identify, but that she actively searches for self esteem boosts in order to feel better. I mentioned that it is better to boost your own self-esteem than to rely on opinions or words from others. If we do rely on other people, then they should be close friends or loved ones who are familiar with us and can give true meaning to their words. She became very defensive after I brought this topic up only a few times. As you may have guessed, we developed a pattern whereby she would confess to behavior that I deemed to be detrimental to her self-esteem or mood improvement. Slowly and surely, the gap between us began to widen. It was harder to open up about my shortcomings because we spent so much time discussing her problems. Our interactions became centered on her struggles. Making me seem less flawed than she was. I also tend to feel the need to help and offer advice, something I should work on. Together, these factors created tension in our relationship where she felt that I was judging her and looking down on her. She felt I had committed many social crimes, as I failed to act in a relationship-appropriate manner and engaged instead in rude or critical behavior. As you might imagine, it was a major setback to our friendship.
Our friendship is slowly recovering. To reorient, we took a one-month break from seeing eachother. Jillian had to learn to expect new reactions from me, as I did for her. She has been asking me more frequently about my health and has increased our communication frequency. To both our benefits, I’ve also made an effort to be more open and to share my shortcomings. Jillian needs breaks, but she is a good friend.