DEAR CAROLYN: I have a friend who greatly exaggerates her accomplishments. She says she was president of a large charity (she wasn't), ran two corporations (she didn't), sings solo in her choir (she doesn't). Her claims are demonstrably false. Of course I feel completely co-opted: She boasts and I say nothing. This self-aggrandizing is getting me down as I am a very self-effacing person. I need help in how to handle my friend. She lies to everyone, not just me.
Just a Wimp
JUST A WIMP: I see acquaintances here, not friends. Friends share. You two are lying to each other — she to you about imaginary accomplishments, and you to her by omission, in concealing that you're on to her.
Her problem sounds serious. Yours I suspect can be fixed by a quick relabeling, from "friend" to "someone I know." I'd say otherwise if I had any inkling you were close — a true friend would hold her kindly to account, and ask what's up — but I sense you'd first have to become close to be the close friend she needs. Impossible and unappealing, given the circumstances.
As for you: How are you a "wimp"? How are you any less valuable — or more, for that matter — against a backdrop of her fiction? She triggers some self-image problems in you — insecurities and competitiveness, I'm guessing — which you can work on. But she's a straight mess. I hope her reckoning comes gently and soon.
DEAR CAROLYN: My best friend's daughter has a terminal illness, bravely fought but coming to an end. I've been with my friend throughout, sharing tears, trying to help with practical things like housecleaning and groceries, sometimes getting her to do things that take her mind off the situation. Mostly just listening. Is there anything at all I could say or do to ease some of the sorrow that is coming? I've nearly gotten to the point where I dread seeing her. Not because I am tired of listening but have nothing new to ease her pain.
ANONYMOUS: I am so sorry. No one can ease the pain that is coming.
All you can do, all any of us can do, is make sure no one goes through it alone — except when people request that, of course, which some do.
Clearly you understand this, having already done so much to minimize her suffering. You're a good friend.
What you may have underestimated are your own needs. It is mentally exhausting to be the ever-patient listener. Tears are exhausting for sure. Just managing one's own "practical things" is exhausting on top of everything else, and you've shouldered at least part of the load for another. And no doubt you know a best-friend's daughter well enough to be grieving her imminent loss yourself.
That is so much to carry by yourself. So please make sure you aren't alone in this, either.
Your best friend won't have the capacity to help you, that's a given — but maybe another friend outside this inner circle can be your supportive listener? A therapist, if that's feasible right now, can give you both some restorative guidance and a safe place to unburden. Grief support is appropriate here as well, to help you with your own feelings and to give you new insight on helping your friend.