My friend is obsessed with supposedly distasteful aspects of his appearance (which no one on the planet would even notice). He has self-diagnosed this obsession but is not seeking counseling. His insecurities lead him to compulsive and stress-inducing behavior. My problem is that he continually dumps this anxiety about his appearance on me. No matter how much I affirm that he looks fine, he obsesses about his perceived imperfections and railroads me with diatribes of frustration without asking to do so. I’ve debated talking to him about how this affects me, but I’m afraid of offending him or making him feel like I don’t care. I feel horrible for not wanting to listen. I don’t have many body-image issues myself, so I have a hard time relating to his struggle. Suggestions?
Respect yourself. You are clear that you don’t wish to listen to your friend’s litany of exaggerations, fears and lies about his body. Yet, you hesitate to establish the boundary required to create a criticism-free zone, because you don’t wish to offend. My question, then, is: What is friendship? Is it a shelter of illusion that we use to protect each other from reality? Or is it a form of intimacy through which we are challenged to become our best selves—truthful, trustworthy, commitment-capable, loving, compassionate, healthy and fun-loving? I know a lot of people, but my closest friends are those who have the chutzpah to be truthful with me when I’m off the mark and who guide me, gently, back into integrity. They do not concern themselves with whether my feelings will be hurt. They are wise enough to know that, if they are operating from a healthy ego and are compassionate in their interaction with me, they are not the source of my hurt feelings. My debilitated ego created that hurt as a response to being seen as imperfect. Feeling hurt often means I am ready to begin the process of healing. I may not like it at the time, but I am nearly always grateful later.
You and your friend share something important; you both suffer from a lack of confidence. He channels his insecurity into attacks on his body. You direct your discomfort into seeing yourself as a victim of his obsession with his body. He “railroads” you and “dumps” on you. You say nothing because you fear offending him. You are expressing the shadow side of the martyr archetype. Hopefully, this awareness will inspire your compassion so you can understand your friend’s struggle. When you live a healthier life, you can support him in doing so, too.
When my boyfriend and I are apart, I think of him constantly. I wonder what he is doing and whether he is thinking of me. I cannot wait for us to be together again. But when we are together, we fight. We have very different views about things, but something keeps pulling me back to him. I think I am in love, but I am not sure.
Desire and clingy attachment are aspects of infatuation, not love. As the Dalai Lama pointed out, “Desire and attachment are sometimes mistaken for compassion and love. Compassion and love are not dependent on someone appearing beautiful or behaving nice. [They] are based on the knowledge that the other person is fundamentally like oneself. Compassion and love are based on reason, not just an emotional feeling.”
The next time your mind drifts away from what you are doing and into your boyfriend’s business, bring it back. Stay focused on the present moment. Doing so strengthens your sense of self. When you are less needy, you can rationally determine whether this relationship is right for you.