I have written before on Groupthink about my relationship with a certain close friend who is pretty needy. This relationship is important to me and so I want to maintain and improve it rather than just tossing it aside just because my friend is not a perfect person—which means I need to be vigilant about boundaries. This is not exactly a personal strength of mine, as I have a past history of being a "saver" in relationships, so I know I need to work on that. I have some thoughts about this to work out after reading the article that greenheart just posted about boundaries, and decided to make a separate post rather than just putting all my personal crap in greenheart's.
This particular friend has medical issues (including but not limited to anxiety/depression) which prevented her from moving out of her parents' house, going to college, learning to drive, or holding down a full-time job. We are now in our early twenties (I met her halfway through college, through a friend, so I didn't know her in high school), and her condition has improved to the extent that she is beginning to take steps in the direction of independence, starting out with modest steps like signing up for one class or working part-time, with the ultimate goal of moving out of her parents' home.
Her older brother, who has a good job and lives totally independently, recently told her that she was dumb because she didn't go to college and that she was being a burden on other people by not being able to drive herself and still living at home, and it sounds to me like he told her this in a really mean way that was more likely to make her feel bad about herself than to motivate her. I feel like obsessing with guilt over her inability to drive isn't helping anyone! Besides, if she moves into a more urban area (like where I live) once she can afford to, she won't even need a car. I feel like lots of people are afraid to drive, and that's not nearly as important as her getting some kind of education or job training past the high school level that will enable her to work for a livable amount of money. I don't anticipate being able to afford a car for many years, so maybe I am biased, but I just feel like if she can take public transit alone (and she can), she's fine on that score.
I know I cannot get an education or a job for her, and that even if I could it would be wrong to do it. I also know I cannot make her take the steps required to obtain those things. So far I have been trying to love her without judgment, make her feel accepted, and at the same time encourage her to take these steps forward. When she tells me about her brother calling her a burden, my first impulse is to comfort her. "How could he say that?" etc. But then I wonder—maybe he is being too harsh, but maybe I am being an enabler? Should I be showing her more "tough love"?
But since she doesn't live with me and I am not her mother, is it even my job to show tough love? I am trying to be the best possible friend without being a "saver," to do what is healthiest for both her and myself, and I am not sure what that means in practical terms. My impression of her family dynamic is that her mother is trying to protect her too much, and in the process keeping her a perpetual teenager. Her brother is trying to balance this out, but he is going too far and saying things that hurt her and send her into a paralyzing cycle of "I'm a horrible person, I'm a burden, I'm dumb," which isn't helpful at all. Faced with all this dysfunction, what is my role?
I will say that she seems to be taking more responsibility for herself these past couple of months, which is encouraging. I find it very hard to blame her much for her situation because she tried to work retail a few months ago and her medical problem, which her employer wouldn't accommodate, forced her to leave the job after a couple of months. I'm being vague about her medical issues because I don't think the exact details are really relevant; just trust me that her problems are real and valid, but not such as ought to prevent her from ever being independent.
Help me be less dysfunctional?