DEAR AMY: A group of three girls and myself have been close friends since junior high. As we attended different colleges in different nearby cities, the four of us did not have as much time to spend together. Everyone understood this was normal, except for “Jenny.” She grew increasingly frustrated that we were not responsive enough and often critical about how we conducted the friendship. Any time we hung out, she would blame us for not staying in closer contact. She would plan ridiculously complicated outings or events and then complain that whatever we ended up doing wasn’t good enough. Jenny will ask if we’re home and then just show up, even when we tell her we are out/at school/sick/or have a family dinner that’s been planned for weeks. Then she’ll be angry that we didn’t make time for her. If we bring this up with her, she calls us bad friends. We all walk on eggshells with Jenny when she’s like this in order to avoid fights. I no longer believe that this is healthy. We’d like to have some sort of intervention, but how can we approach her in a way that doesn’t seem threatening or critical? We are all easy-going people. Where do boundaries start and how can we stick to them without alienating Jenny?
DEAR UPSET: You start building a healthy boundary brick by brick, and you do this by reacting proportionally — not walking on eggshells — when someone bullies or manipulates you.
Some of the behavior you describe sounds outside the norm. Showing up at your house when you’ve said you’re otherwise engaged and then blaming you for not being available is irrational.
Before resorting to a group intervention, you should start by responding naturally to any given situation. If she rails at you and calls you a “bad friend,” you say, “I’m not a bad friend. But I can’t be the kind of friend you want me to be.” Resolve to take back some of your power by staying calm and always reacting honestly.
If your friend’s behavior grows more pronounced, it would be appropriate for your group to tell her, “We’re worried about you. You seem very unhappy and angry.” Urge her to see a counselor. Offer to do some research to help her find one, if she will let you.
DEAR AMY: Recently, I took an elderly relative to have a cancerous growth removed from her face. I was grateful that the doctor allowed me to be with my relative during the procedure, but I was appalled that the doctor and his staff chatted to each other throughout the procedure. Occasionally, they would tell my aunt what they were doing, but by far most of their conversation was about their weekends and other ordinary details of their lives. My aunt was fully conscious the whole time, and after the procedure she told me that this made her uncomfortable. I thought it was incredibly disrespectful for medical professionals to treat their patient almost as if she wasn’t there, even while they undertook the procedure, but I didn’t say anything. What’s the best way for patients — and patients’ advocates — to remind medical professionals to keep their conversations professional and to keep their focus on their patients?
DEAR APPALLED: I shared your question with Patricia McTiernan, a spokesperson for the National Patient Safety Foundation in Boston.
Here is her response:
“Many people find it hard to speak up during encounters with health professionals, but it is especially important to speak up if you think something is wrong or if you are uncomfortable.
In this situation, the family member could have said: ‘I know that you all do this every day, but this is a new experience for us. Would you mind if we limit conversation to my aunt’s care?’
Alternatively, the relative could have asked to speak privately with a member of the health care team, who could then convey the message to the others.
It is vitally important for patient safety that patients and family members be engaged in their care and are recognized as members of the team.”
DEAR AMY: “Upset in Upland” was a husband looking for a solution to his wife cooking dinner every night for his grown stepdaughter and two grandchildren. What are the grandchildren (ages 20 and 15) doing to help out? Perhaps Upset’s wife should be including them in the cooking process. It’s about time someone in that family learned how to cook!
DEAR BEEN THERE: Many readers thought I had left these capable young people out of the equation, and I agree.