By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
I am at a crossroads with my friend Gitty. I met Gitty a few years back and we have become good friends. I hate to think this, but I believe her to be jealous of me. It is very important that you understand that I am not one to feel that people are jealous of me. As a matter of fact, I probably suffer slightly from low self-esteem. I’m always apologizing for everything I do, whether it’s when I serve a Shabbos meal to company, when I’m at work, or with my family. My husband can’t stand it when I apologize for the chicken being too dry. I never feel that I am up to par, in many ways. So you can imagine my surprise when I began to notice that Gitty has been exhibiting some jealousy toward me.
For the past few years or so—well, actually, since I’ve known her—if I ever get something or my child does something noteworthy, she immediately is condescending but in a very roundabout way. When she says it, I mostly do not notice it right away but begin to question her and myself afterward. My husband bought me a special necklace for our 15th anniversary, and Gitty asked to see it. I showed it to her and she told me that she would have picked out something different. When I told her how well my son did in the sixth grade, she was quick to inform me that seventh grade is much more difficult.
I am always doubting myself in my interactions, so I wanted to get my husband’s opinion. I was surprised to hear that he thinks Gitty has always been like this but I am just noticing it now. He thinks I am being too sensitive and should just let it roll off my shoulders. So I am left questioning my friendship with Gitty, her intentions, and why I don’t have a thicker skin or more confidence. Should I stop sharing my simchas with her? Do you think she may feel that I have shown off in any way? Should I even be worried about this, or is it very trivial and silly?
Gitty’s insensitive remarks are of concern to you, enough for you to write me. This tells me the issue is neither trivial nor silly, and we are all certainly entitled to our worries, whatever they may be. You mention that you are an overly apologetic person and feel you suffer from low self-esteem. Am I off base to feel that asking if your worries are trivial stems from that insecure, anxious place of self-doubt? I think many readers, especially girls and women, can relate to you.
Many of us have found ourselves in a relationship where we allow another to consistently berate us, no matter how minor or insignificant the nature of the comment. The question is why we allow it. I will give you my opinion of Gitty’s remarks, but more importantly I want to address the person who allows the remarks.
I don’t know anything about Gitty other than what you have presented. Hopefully she is a lovely human being in many other ways that you have not mentioned, and that is why you choose to give her the gift of your friendship. From the way you describe Gitty, it seems to me that there are two insecure people in this relationship.
Your insecurities manifest internally. You experience doubt, worrying about your part in interactions and whom you may have offended. Gitty’s insecurities manifest externally via jealousy, rude comments, and the need to “one up” you. As hard as it may be for a sensitive, caring person like you to understand this, people who consistently give “zugs” (below-the-belt comments) feel just fine afterward; they may even feel the release of pent-up insecurity of which they are unaware.
Gitty places her own insecurities on you and feels better for the moment. For example, imagine the following conversation between you and Gitty.
Chavi: “I just got these new shoes at Loehmann’s for a great steal!”
Gitty: “I love those shoes! But I’m not a bargain shopper.”
In this imaginary conversation, if Gitty weren’t jealous or insecure she would be able to tell you how much she loves your shoes, period, without including that last comment about herself. She did that to you in both the necklace and sixth/seventh-grade scenarios. Finally, Gitty may be completely unaware that she has offended you in the slightest and might deny having ever made those comments to you in the first place.
And now, Chavi, the spotlight is on you. We all want to feel acknowledged in our relationships and, dare I say it, made to feel special. If Gitty does the opposite and is depleting you, then perhaps you may want to ask yourself what you are gaining from this relationship. What is it that has kept you from speaking up in the past? What is it that allows you to tolerate her behavior? I encourage you to speak up and find your voice with her. Tell her you don’t like her comments, ask her to stop, and then see if she does. Next time she jabs, kindly but firmly call her out on it.
She may completely surprise you and stop this negative behavior altogether. Give her a chance to be a better friend, if you desire. At the same time, be prepared that she may not live up to the challenge. And then the choice is yours as to whether you want to go on with the status quo or get out of the relationship. You may feel fearful that she won’t live up and you will lose a friend. That is a very scary and uncomfortable possibility, one over which you have no control.
You mentioned that you are overly apologetic, and I feel this is important to address as it directly relates to the issues in your relationship with Chavi. “Sorry, the chicken is dry.” “Sorry, I didn’t have a chance to clean the bathroom.” “Sorry, I can’t stay for three hours of unpaid overtime.” “Sorry, I can’t take you to your fourth playdate this week.”
You can’t control if your guests like your food or whether they will talk about your dry chicken on the walk home. You can’t control if your children are disappointed or think you are the worst mother in the world (assuming you aren’t). By apologizing to everyone and not verbalizing your true feelings to Gitty, you have lost yourself, the only one over whom you have any real control.
So, take the reins and change things up and speak up! It’s your choice, but if you let it fester and never address the issue, I have a sneaking suspicion the Gittys of the world won’t be done with you. The universe has a way of teaching us a lesson, and the relationships we are in and the encounters we have are never coincidental and often feel familiar. This is no easy task and there is no quick fix. It will take time and practice. While a good friend should be your biggest supporter, you have to be your own number-one fan.
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. In addition, she cohosts “Talk to Me with Jen and Becky” on www.syrealradio.com, Wednesdays, 9:00 p.m. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.