Foul Weather Friends – We often talk about “deficit focusing” in the context of school and the 2e learner. It’s when parents or teachers address someone’s challenges or learning differences before ever noticing or celebrating someone’s strengths. This pattern also occurs in the social emotional realm for gifted and 2e people. 2e children and adults may sometimes find themselves embroiled in relationships that depend on their deficits for the other person to feel comfortable. Have you ever had this pattern occur in your friendship? As a gifted/2e person, you experience wild success in some areas, demonstrating the uncanny ability to do certain things at certain times. Yet you find some people can’t show up for you to acknowledge your successes. These same people only show up when things are hard, or they are present only when certain aspects of your life become difficult. Because gifted and 2e humans often swing high and low in their abilities and challenges, there are certain “friends” who seem to only celebrate when things get tough. I call these “Foul-Weather Friends.”
You know since practically birth that there are some things you can do that way outshine your peers, your siblings, and in some cases, your parents. People react in one of two ways – awe and respect, or jealousy and judgment. What is this pattern? Why does it happen? And what can you do about it? I’ve been contemplating these questions on behalf of my 2e adult clients, and in some cases on behalf of my parent clients’ 2e kids who experience jealousy and resentment because of their incredible abilities.
What is this pattern?
I tried every which way to Google this behavior. I tried describing the friend or family member who only reacts or shows up when things go sour or the friend or family member who avoids celebrations or recognition of accomplishments. It’s hard to reduce this pattern into a Google search because it’s such a complicated ball of symptoms and dysfunction. We know that the assumptions and expectations of those who are gifted and 2e are often magnified into inappropriately high or low expectations. We know that gifted and 2e people tend to be deep empaths. So, when someone reacts to our abilities or disabilities in a way that feels they are celebrating struggles and resent successes – it’s hard to figure out or comprehend their behavior.
Sure, it’s great when a friend or family member shows up when you are in need, but if they only show up when things are tough, and they refuse to show up when things are going well – that begs the question, why? (Of course, if a relationship was once healthy and has since gone sour, it is important to make sure that you haven’t offended someone in some way. It’s important to give the other person a chance to communicate why they are behaving this way. But, in many instances, the pattern my clients share is a deep resentment they receive from others about their naturally high abilities.)
Why the pattern?
Those who react with awe and respect for your successes, I would argue, are those who truly love you, and more importantly, love themselves. If you love yourself, you aren’t threatened by others’ abilities and successes. But if you are disappointed in yourself, if you feel you don’t meet your own or others’ expectations, you can downward spiral into only feeling good or useful in a relationship when your usually successful peer or sibling is in a crisis or when things don’t go well. Giftedness and 2e are genetic, so if you see this pattern in your family, if a parent of sibling only pays attention to when things are difficult – their own asynchrony is probably coming into play. Likely the negative self-talk they endure daily is at a fever pitch and reflecting on your successes only turns the volume louder on that voice in their head. It’s only when you suffer something challenging that they feel they can look you in the eye or show up or demonstrate interest in your life.
What can you do about it?
You’re an empath. You try to figure out what is going on and why, for the person who is, quite frankly, emotionally abusing you. Their unhealthy behavior is masquerading as care and concern, so it makes it doubly difficult to reject their advances. You feel like you look ungrateful or ungracious. But ignoring someone who wants to amplify your suffering, someone who refuses to show up when things are good, is an important means of self-care. Silence is your armor against their attempts at turning up the volume on your despair. If this is happening with a friend, take a break. Administer a tincture of time. Do what you need to do to address the challenge that is occurring in your life and remember all the strengths and abilities you’ve demonstrated before so you can apply them to your current challenge.
If the dysfunctional relationship is with a family member – that is more difficult. As holidays start rolling in, how much do you have to see this person? Can you work hard to calm yourself before you see them? Can you set an alarm on your phone to go off every ten to fifteen minutes so you can step away if you have to be somewhere with them? Is there a mantra or a poem that will help keep you grounded that you keep in your pocket or on your phone so you can look at it from time to time? Just before and just after an encounter with this person can you talk to a friend or family member who sees you and celebrates you for exactly who you are? If the person is particularly toxic to you, perhaps you can avoid encounters with them until you are able to address the challenge occurring in your life.
The issue with this foul-weather friend pattern is that the person’s jealousy over who you are authentically aims to chip away at your organic self-concept. Hold on tightly to who you know you are and release them and their toxic approach into the universe. Welcome into your heart what you know about yourself. Remember, their self-loathing is what triggers their behavior. Depend on your own self love to move beyond their venomous attacks. You got this. After all, you are the most magnificent you ever formed. Hang on to yourself and be yourself so you don’t lose yourself to their warped perspective.