Why you can't save your friend who is now your foe's ally
When your friend is your foe's shiny new object
You have a history with a person and it’s not a good one. You’ve seen people come in and out of their life after a series of dramas that resulted in ghosting, unfriending and abruptly cutting people off, one by one. You remained friends with this person throughout it all and believed that your relationship was stable and strong enough to outlast any conflict, and that all the other ex-friends were truly problematic. So imagine your surprise when you became the feature of conflict instead of the observer, and your enmeshment in the karmic tango had prevented you from anticipating the demise of the relationship. Even with the greatest intentions to resolve the conflict, the relationship ended badly, repeating the history of so many others who came before you.
Time passes, wounds heal and you discover that a friend you’ve known for a while becomes connected to that old adversary and this friend enters into a personal or professional relationship with them.
You know too much and fear the worst but also don’t want to interfere in your friend’s life. A number of questions accompany this new dilemma and you don’t know where to start!
Frequently asked questions (to yourself) about this dilemma
Q: What happens when they tell you about this new connection?
A: Your reaction and level of anxiety is dependent on how close you are with your friend. A very close friend who was involved in supporting you while you were going through a tough times with the foe is unlikely to become connected. If it’s a newer, more casual friend you know from various social circles mentioning this new connection with someone who happens to be your foe, you’ll probably try to play it cool while containing your curiosity about what your friend knows…while freaking out inside.
You might have a low key ‘cool’ or ‘that’s interesting’ response or let them continue talking and respond to the topic rather than about the person they met.
If you wanted to test the water, you might ask ‘Where did you meet?’. Regardless about the level of detail they share, you can return to the ‘cool’ or ‘interesting’ or ‘small world’ response.
Q: How do you approach the topic with your friend?
A: You’re conflicted because you want to warn them of impending danger and you’re worried that they will push back because of what you’re telling them. The way you approach this disclosure is dependent on the likelihood you’re going to interact with your foe because of their new connection with your friend. You also want to be guarded about what you tell this friend knowing that they’re potentially compromised and can easily let anything you say slip out with the foe. There’s a lot that’s going through your mind about how to even bring up that you two have a past that it might be a better idea to leave the past suspended for a little while until your friend raises it.
A few things you can do to raise the topic with your friend is to ask about what made your friend want to connect: “You mentioned a new connection. What is it about them that got you interested in getting to know them/starting a project with them?”
Or, you might nonchalantly disclose “I know who they are. We met ‘x time frame’ ago.”
This second strategy might pique your friend’s curiosity and they might ask about your history with this person, so you would need to be prepared to give enough of a response that would satisfy their curiosity to avoid pursuing the question further. Because this carries a risk to opening something up that may have downstream negative consequences for you.
Q: What do you say to your friend if they find out about your past connection connection with the foe?
A: Of course you’ll want to know EVERYTHING that the foe told your friend about you. Who wouldn’t! You’ll be tempted to be completely honest about your experience with the foe to provide you with some relief and a dose of revenge. But without considering the consequences, speaking your truth can backfire. The suggestion is to disclose your past history with neutrality:
“Yes, I have a history with the person and we are no longer in contact.”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“My experience with that person will be different to an experience you will have with that person. I don’t want to influence your relationship with this person, which is why I haven’t talked about it until you mentioned it because it wasn’t relevant until now.”
“I also ask that you leave me out of conversations with them too.”
“If they ask you about me, and you feel put on the spot, it’s ok to say you prefer to keep whatever is between the two of you out of your new friendship.”
Your friend will be curious and want more information, just as you will. You might name that up as “we’re both going to have curiosities about the past and the story from our different perspectives. It’s important to me to leave that behind and not reopen anything that can affect my wellbeing and our relationship.”
You’ll find out soon enough if your friend respected your wishes or if they let their curiosity take over (spoiler alert: your friend didn’t respect your wishes - keep reading!).
Q: What if the foe speaks poorly about you to your friend (which you may or may not find out about?)
A: That’s totally out of your control and your friend’s reaction and response to the foe’s disclosure is also out of your control. This is why you asked them to avoid talking about you. I’m not going to lie - you’re going to feel a combination of anxiety, hurt, frustration and angst about a wound potentially being reopened and the possibility of letting go of this friend to preserve your wellbeing. If this foe is vindictive, you already suspect that they will use their influence to negatively impact your relationship with this friend.
What would stop a person from listening to you, a trusted friend, to pursue a relationship with your foe (whether they’re aware of the past connection or not)?
Your friend would have a reason for wanting to connect with your foe. They have something to gain from this new connection that they’re both looking for. Your friend will have just had a setback or have undergone a change somewhere in their life that has left instability or a void that is yearning to be filled. If your foe initiated interest in your friend (as you suspect), your friend will be hooked on the products of lovebombing that provided them with:
Significance. Feeling important, valued and useful to the other person.
Privilege. The’ve been given a position of status with the foe in exchange for the attention that your friend is giving them.
Opportunities. They now have opportunities to grow, learn or experience something they’ve been looking for that your foe has convinced them they need or that they can provide.
Validation. The foe has provided reassurance and validation to your friend about their personal suffering or professional ambitions, or both. This foe is effective at convincing people of their own importance, affluence, social currency or aptitude in an area of shared interest, sending a message to your friend that connection with them will be beneficial. Your friend will take their words at face value.
Your friend doesn’t have the sharply tuned narcissism detector that you developed by going through your own painful experiences. Knowing this is going on between your friend and your foe, you will need to fight the temptation to warn, intervene or save your friend from your foe.
You will need to sit on your hands and witness the inevitable to avoid participating as your friend’s rescuer in the dreaded drama triangle with your friend and foe.
This is what will actually go down…
Once you know your friend is firmly connected to your foe, you have a hard time staying as close with this person because now you’re restricted in what you can tell them about you.
As if placed under a spell, you notice a gradual change in their personality as they start to adopt some of the mannerisms, personality quirks, beliefs and sayings of your foe. They are being assimilated!
They also seem less interested in your life and disengaged from a number of different friends or prior interests. They might not be treating you the same way and only want to talk to you about themselves and the exciting things that they’re discovering and doing. When you try to talk about yourself, they seem disengaged or distracted, or they end the conversation.
You feel like you can no longer trust them because of their lapsed judgement. At the same time you still seek out remnants of the friend that you once knew during your less frequent interactions. You’re in denial about the change and convince yourself this is temporary because your friendship is really important to each of you.
You want them to SEE what you see about your foe so badly. You look for signs that conflict is brewing between your friend and foe. But they won’t see what you see even if conflict is present. At least not yet.
You will now be faced with the need to re-evaluate this friendship and consider if it’s something you need to let go, downgrade or keep as is because the possibility of them being your foe’s flying monkey is real. You will decide to take a step back and be there on the periphery as an observer. This might involve you realising they need to live their life and learn what they need to learn, and it has nothing to do with you. You might cling to hope that they will eventually see what you see, and the awareness that hope is also keeping you stuck in the past.
As much as you’d like to believe you’re still important to them, you will not be able to influence their experience of your foe because they’re unable to listen to and take on board information that is different to their current perception of your foe and their relationship. You can’t save someone who doesn’t need to be saved.
Thank you for reading, sharing, subscribing and for your comments,
Nathalie Martinek, PhD
The Narcissism Hacker
A big shout out to Katie Gridley for suggesting the addition of the FAQ section. I encourage all my wonderful readers and supporters to send me suggestions that prompt my next pieces. What’s tripping you up about your relationships? Let me know!
Great piece Nathalie that helped me identify why a colleague slipped so readily into my shoes when I was bullied out. Love bombing had conned me so why not her? Despite having no experience or qualifications she got the job over a man with 30 years expertise.... I wondered why, but of course now I realise he couldn't be so easily manipulated.