Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

I keep running into the same issue with my best friend of five years. (She’s also my maid of honor at my upcoming wedding.) We’re both empaths—most of my friends are—and we’re both in therapy working on how to cope with that. I have severe anxiety that impacts my physical health, so one of the empath-related issues I’m working on is not following through with plans when I need to take time alone. My friend claims she understands this, but my actions severely impact her mood. Example: We’ll make tentative plans to get together; I’ll feel too sick to follow through, and then she’s in a negative emotional spiral for days. The final straw came when she called me late this past Friday night—just once, with no subsequent voice mail, text message or follow-up call. On Monday morning, I sent her a text message asking how her weekend was and got an icy reply. Evidently, something happened to her on Friday; she called me for support; and my failure to return her call left her feeling very upset. I apologized for the accidental trigger and tried to lay down some protocols for reaching out in an emergency situation (leave me a voice mail, and send a follow-up text) so I know it’s urgent. She hasn’t replied.

I’m really frustrated. She has a lot of baggage around being shamed for being emotional, so I try to be careful not to invalidate her feelings, but I don’t know if that’s even making a difference. We’ve had several conflicts over the last year, always triggered by something I did or said, almost always accidentally, that caused her to “take a step back.” She insists she understands I’m doing my best to be a good friend while also working through my own emotional shit. But that’s not the sense I’m getting. I’m feeling increasingly like it’s impossible to be a human being AND her friend. Until recently, I had zero emotional boundaries and made myself available to her at a moment’s notice to help shoulder her emotional burden. But now that I’m trying to be more conservative with my abundance and take better care of myself, it seems like all I do is hurt her.

What the fuck do I do? I’ve tried to be open-minded and patient with her dramatic mood swings, but she seems unable to give me the benefit of the doubt, which I always try to give her. This rocky ground between us is adding more stress to the whole wedding situation. (You’re supposed to be able to rely on your maid of honor, right?) This thing we have is not sustainable as it is, although I love her deeply. Help me figure this out?

Emotions Making Personal Affection Too Hard

Being so attuned to other people’s emotional states that you feel their pain—being an empath—sounds exhausting. But Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist in private practice, isn’t convinced your empath superpowers are the problem here.

“EMPATH’s moods seem overly dependent on what the other person does,” said Gottlieb. “That’s not being ‘an empath.’ Most people are empathetic, which isn’t the same as what these two are doing. They’re drowning in each other’s feelings. This is what pop culture might call codependency, and what in therapy we’d call an attachment issue.”

From your letter, EMPATH, it sounds like you might be ready to detach from your friend—you mentioned a final straw and described the relationship as not sustainable—and detaching would resolve this attachment issue.

“This feels less like a friendship and more like a psychodrama where they’re each playing out their respective issues,” said Gottlieb. “A friendship isn’t about solving another person’s emotional issues or being the container for them. It isn’t about being devastated by another person’s feelings or boundaries. It should be a mutually fulfilling relationship, not being co-therapists to each other. In a strong friendship, each person can handle her own emotions rather than relying on the friend to regulate them for her.”

Gottlieb started writing an advice column because, unlike psychotherapists, advice columnists are supposed to tell people what to do. I’m guessing your therapist mostly asks questions and gently nudges, EMPATH, but since Gottlieb has her advice-columnist hat on today and not her psychotherapist hat, I asked her to tell you what to do.

“She should act more like a friend than a therapist/caretaker,” said Gottlieb. “She shouldn’t treat her friend or herself as if they’re too fragile to handle basic communication or boundaries. And they should both be working out their issues with their respective therapists, not with each other.”

If you decide to keep this woman in your life (and your wedding party), EMPATH, you’ll both have to work on—sigh—your communication skills.

“Right now, they don’t seem to know how to communicate directly with each other,” said Gottlieb. “It’s either an icy text or complaining to outside parties about each other. But when it comes to how they interact with each other, they’re so careful, as if one or both might break if they simply said, ‘Hey, I really care about you, and I know sometimes you want to talk about stuff, but sometimes it feels like too much and maybe something you can talk to your therapist about.’”

Lori Gottlieb’s new book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, is a New York Times best seller. Follow her on Twitter @LoriGottlieb1.

I will be driving to New Orleans from Toronto. It’s almost impossible to drive from Ontario to Louisiana without stopping for fuel/food/hotel in Ohio, Georgia or Alabama. But I want to boycott Handmaid states during my trip. Even then, I feel I have to check the news every day to see what state is next.

Do you have any practical advice for me? Or should I just stay home until your democratic systems and your courts are fixed, and your Electoral College is abolished?

Canadian Avoids Nearing Terrible Georgia, Ohio …

Why head south, CANTGO? Even if you’ve lived in Canada all your life, you couldn’t possibly have explored every corner of your beautiful country. But if you absolutely, positively must board the Titanic—excuse me, if you must visit the United States—take a hard right after you cross the border and head west instead. Enjoy Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; check out some of those lakes they’re always talking about in Minnesota; speed through the Dakotas, Montana and the skinniest part of Idaho; and pretty soon, you’ll be in Washington state, where a woman’s right to choose is enshrined in the state Constitution. The summers are lovely; we’ve got hiking trails that will take you to mountain lakes; and Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, so you won’t have to check the news every day when you’re in Seattle.


Anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-sex bills have been rammed through Republican-controlled state legislatures in Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi and Alabama. “The new wave of anti-abortion laws suggests that a post-Roe America won’t look like the country did before 1973, when the court case was decided,” Michelle Goldberg wrote in The New York Times. “It will probably be worse.”

If these bills are declared constitutional—a real possibility now—doctors will be jailed; women who have miscarriages will be prosecuted; and many forms of birth control will be banned. If you’re as pissed off as I am—and anyone who isn’t can piss right off—please make sure you and all your friends are registered to vote so you can vote out anti-choice state legislators and governors in 2020.

To be clear: Right now, abortion remains legal in all 50 states. So you don’t have to wait until next November to send a “fuck you” to red-state Republicans pushing these laws. Make a donation to an organization that helps women obtain abortions in red states—like The Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama (, Gateway Women’s Access Fund in Missouri (, and Women Have Options in Ohio (

On the Lovecast, Dan chats with actor Maddie Corman:

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; @fakedansavage on Twitter;

Published in Savage Love

We hear the terms a lot: codependent, enabler, dysfunctional.

We’re used to applying those terms, perhaps lightly, to our friends who call with their recurring relationship dramas, and more seriously to those who are living in situations where violence or substance abuse is common. Sometimes, we can see it in others—but not in ourselves.

Codependency is a relatively recent label attached to certain feelings and behaviors, originally an outgrowth of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization. The AA 12-step program is well-known for its effectiveness with those who follow its recovery protocols. AA stays open to the reality that not everyone makes it through the first time they try. Their door is always open.

Al-Anon began as an AA support group for family members and friends of those addicted to alcohol, so they could share their struggles, shame, insights and coping mechanisms. Sometimes, kids just need to know there are others going through similar family situations. Meanwhile, Narcotics Anonymous began to specifically address drug abusers.

While some disdain the 12-step program’s reliance on the concept of a “higher power,” I have a friend who just celebrated 30 years clean and sober; his atheistic approach is Star Wars and “The Force.”

“It doesn’t matter how you get there,” he says. “It’s just about working the program.”

The psychological community has its own approach to codependency, focusing on those who associate with dysfunctional people. For example, Robert Rotunda writes that in 1941, German psychoanalyst Karen Horney suggested that some people adopt a “Moving Toward” personality style, drawn to others to gain “approval and affection, and unconsciously control them through their dependent style. They are unselfish, virtuous, martyr-like, faithful and turn the other cheek despite personal humiliation. Approval from others is more important than respecting themselves.”

All About Counseling acknowledges that the original definition was “the set of responses and behaviors people develop while living with a partner or family member who is an alcoholic,” but adds that codependency may develop in anyone living in a dysfunctional relationship or environment, regardless of whether there is substance abuse, even where someone has a chronic mental or physical illness.

Why is it important to recognize oneself as possibly codependent? Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry indicates concerns about the development of psychosomatic illnesses, self-defeating behaviors, the likelihood of attracting further abuse, being more likely to stay in a stressful job or relationship, and being less likely to seek medical attention when needed.

My first marriage was to an alcoholic, who was the son of an alcoholic father and grandfather. His brothers have all struggled with substance abuse of one kind or another. Our children have had to confront this inherited reality as well.

I was young, with twin babies. When my husband drank every night after work, I saw my role as keeping as much peace as possible in the household. “You’ll wake the babies,” I would say. And whatever was bothering him, I would engage and try to calm him down, or agree so as to avoid an argument, or cry at the hurtful things he would say.

I consulted a therapist, who kept telling me, “It’s not your problem,” but I didn’t get it. “I’m in the house with him when he’s ranting or storming around. Of course it’s my problem.”

You don’t get things until you get them. One night, with the usual scenario unfolding, I found myself sitting on the staircase that led to the upstairs, watching him as he stormed around the living room. And all of a sudden, I got it. What he was going through wasn’t my problem, and I couldn’t fix it. I sat there watching, saying nothing, refusing to be drawn in or to engage. It was like watching a movie as opposed to being in it.

He left that night. I had gone up to bed at some point, and when I woke up in the morning, he was gone. We divorced shortly thereafter.

The national group known as CoDA, Co-Dependents Anonymous, uses the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous principles to focus on what they describe as the journey of self-discovery—learning to love oneself. Through group sessions, people of all ages, races, backgrounds and experiences share their stories and their insights to help each other find the confidence to handle their individual situations. Resources include a checklist of behaviors and attitudes that help one to self-evaluate, categorizing symptomatic behaviors of denial, low self-esteem, compliance, control issues and avoidance patterns.

CoDA has several meetings throughout the Coachella Valley, from Desert Hot Springs to La Quinta and Borrego Springs. There are meetings every day of the week, at churches, meeting halls, even restaurants. Some groups are for women or men only, and programs may involve group discussion (one may just listen), studying the 12-steps, or such subjects as “Winners vs Whiners” and “Peeling the Onion.” You can get more information about the local groups and their calendar at On Friday, Sept. 25, the meeting at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert will include a special guest speaker. Meetings are open, welcoming places, and one can go alone and feel comfortable.

What I learned from my first marriage, and the realization that “It’s not your problem,” was what I now refer to as the Ping-Pong Theory. It can be applied to codependency situations, bullying, recurring relationship issues, and even interactions with your children: In a game of ping-pong, when someone hits the ball over the net, you always have the option of picking up the racket and hitting it back—or not. It’s your choice whether to play. Once you pick up the racket and hit the ball back, you’re in the game. Skillful players, especially those who know you really well, are adept at enticing you into a game. Just remember: You always have the choice not to play. Then, it’s truly not your problem.

I was struck by a comment made by one of the women at the CoDA orientation I attended at St. Margaret’s. She said, “I finally realized that no matter what he was doing, I was stuck on a drug of my own. Hope was my dope.”

There really is hope—but first, you have to recognize that the only person you can fix is yourself.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors