Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My roommate, who is also a relative, is one of those people who always seem to have something going wrong for them. Every week is a new thing. She has had mental and physical health problems, job problems, financial problems (I lent her money, she hasn’t paid it back), relationship problems, etc. Some of them are completely legitimate, others seem manufactured or blown out of proportion. This pattern has been going on for years and I have been a main confidant.
In the beginning I had a lot of sympathy for what she was going through, but now I feel myself internally rolling my eyes most of the time. I can’t trust myself to say the right thing, in the right tone, so I mostly stay silent and make noncommittal noises. I think she has noticed. It’s gotten to the point that she won’t speak to me directly anymore about her issues. What she does is come into the room I am in and start telling the dog her newest saga. I just want to shake her and say that her issues are not special snowflakes, everyone has all sorts of difficulties, and she needs to lose the attitude that she is a broken person that the world has treated wrong from the beginning of time.
I don’t think she is going to be open to my opinion, and she is a pretty defensive person. Do I say something to her or continue to remain silent?
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She stage-monologues to the dog! If she were a sitcom character, then she’d be eye-rolled for not being credible.
And that is your audience for whatever rational argument you come up with for her to rethink her view of herself as a victim.
I wish I could suggest some concrete course of action, like a gentle phrasing of your special-snowflake point that would carry the “You’re just as burdened as the rest of us, only louder and more defeatist about it” message without triggering her defenses. The problem is, someone who thinks that the whole world is stacked against her and that no one understands how she suffers, and who expects attention for this in unlimited supplies, will immediately see your well-intentioned remark as proof that she’s right.
I can’t even suggest that you suggest counseling, because, see above, and because someone with this worldview who isn’t fully prepared to take ownership of her serial issues can use counseling to hash and rehash this victimhood until money for copays runs out.
I can offer one complaint-stream standby – “This is obviously bothering you – what do you plan to do about it?” – or another, “Are you asking my opinion, or are you just talking?” – but these might mean engaging more than you care to at this point.
Moving out presumably is not an option you need the help of a third party to figure out. I also assume you have your reasons for sticking around. However, it does sound like it’s time to give those reasons another look.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.