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Best Friends: No Way Out?

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QUESTION

Dear Irene:

My "best" friend and I have been friends since last year. Sometimes I feel like I love her; other times, she's my worst enemy. She comes from a controlling and abusive family and I was always there for her to get through it.

I just turned 18, and I realize more and more that she's doing the same things to me that her mom did to her. I've watched her lie and manipulate older men and she's only 17. She brought me into these situations to help her be more convincing. It made me feel guilty but I couldn't do anything about it. I've lost almost all of my old friends because of her telling me they talk bad about me behind my back. She's changed me into becoming more promiscuous and she gets me to meet new guys to "make me feel more confident." She says I can't do it on my own because I'm too shy. Then she finds something bad about them to make me from stop talking to them if I start spending more time with one of them and not her.

She even said something about my parents not caring about me. She "jokingly" calls me stupid and puts me down. Other times, she tries to make me feel better about myself. She found me a job with her but if I do something wrong, she makes me feel like a bad friend because she throws it in my face about how she got me the job and all the other great things she's done for me.

I wish I had an escape but I'm still in high school and I happen to live a street away from her and she knows almost everything about me, even that I may have an STD because of a guy she hooked me up with.

Signed,
Heather

ANSWER

Dear Heather:

As a woman and as a mom, my heart goes out to you because it sounds like you are in a particularly painful situation for someone your age. Even if you desperately want to, it's hard to escape from a girlfriend who lives near you, goes to school with you, has some of the same friends as you, and works with you.

It's great that you have insight and recognize that this relationship is toxic. Your friend has you hooked on the excitement she provides but the costs are too great. She undermines your self-confidence -- and tries to manipulate and control you.

You were brave to tell me about your worries and that you want to make positive changes. Although it will be difficult, you need to find a way to back off from this friendship. If you don't feel comfortable talking to one of your parents, I suggest that you talk to another trusted adult, perhaps a counselor at your high school, who can provide support to help you find a way to end this risky relationship. Also, make an appointment with a physician so you can reassure yourself about your health and can cross an STD off your worry list.

My best,
Irene

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships that will be published by Overlook Press in 2009 and recently co-authored Schizophrenia for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). She also blogs about female friendships at The Friendship Blog.

Have a question about female friendships? Email me at: irene@fracturedfriendships.com

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