Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 30, 2011
Kim, forty-five, a friend of my patient Rebecca, also forty-five, is getting under Rebecca’s skin. By Rebecca’s account, Kim is always telling her to change her life in some way, like changing her clothing style, changing her relationships, changing how she spends her time. Rebecca keeps at it, Kim says, as she describes this relentless bossiness. “She sounds like a scab-picker,” I say, trying to explain that some people, likely based on their experience as children, take a weak point in someone they are close to, and then they keep bringing the conversation back to that issue. Sometimes it is subtle, and sometimes it only happens when the person, Kim in this case, is under stress. “I can’t confront her,” Rebecca says, “because she thinks she is being a good friend.” “Maybe you can gently change the subject,” I suggest, encouraging the art of conversation which can protect the friendship, without the adverse consequences of direct confrontation. “I can do that,” Rebecca says, but she still really gets on my nerves. “Well, then, maybe you do have to gently confront her, and tell her that you appreciate her concern, but that you are fine with the way things are for now,” I say, trying to be directive so that she has the words to use with Kim. “Understanding that this scab-picking trait is really about Kim, and that it is likely to be about how Kim was treated by her mom, might help,” I say. “No, that does not really help,” Rebecca says immediately. “She still hurts me when she picks at my scab,” Rebecca says, taking my metaphor and running with it.