The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Judging Character

How can I choose between my two friends who hate each other?












































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Here’s a question about friendships and you know we all are put in a bind. Sometimes you have to choose between one friend or another and it seems like you can’t have the friendship with both friends because it’s a volatile relationship between the two of them. “Hi Dr. Kenner. I have to choose between two friends and it’s driving me nuts. My two friends had recently been dating one another, Abigail and Frank. But Abby was very emotional and physically abusive to Frank, pretty badly abusive. He broke up with her because of it. I had to decide whether to remain friends with Abby and I decided to do so. Frank was furious with me. He demanded that I have nothing to do with her and told me that I would be a hypocrite if I continued, since I know how abusive she’d been. Does Frank have a right to demand that I never speak to Abby? If I think Abby is improving, don’t I have a right to stay friends with her and help her through this? How do I handle my conflict? Tom.”


Okay, Tom, I think it gets messy when you have this type of a problem because there are actually at least two separate problems that you have. So I’m going to answer your first one – number one, can Frank demand that you not be friends with Abby? Frank can’t force you to do anything. But, he can make his friendship contingent or conditional upon your choice. And he’s evaluating you – you are in the spotlight and he is saying, “Do I want to be friends with someone who is befriending my enemy? He used to be my friend and he knows what this woman has done to me, and yet he wants to befriend her and, what, become her therapist? I don’t admire that in his character.” So Frank can stand back and evaluate you and can feel very betrayed by you. 


My favorite author, Ayn Rand, had a quote, I don’t have it exactly here, but it’s when you ally yourself with the abuse, a pity for the abuser, is treason to the person who is abused. That’s my paraphrasing of it. But when you side with the perpetrator, what are you doing to the victim? You’re betraying the victim. You want to look back at the bigger picture, which I don’t have obviously, and ask yourself, what is my relationship with Frank? Were we really good friends? Is there something about Frank that makes me not like him? Is there something that would make me think that, well, Frank played a role in the abuse? If that’s not the case, if Frank has a clean record, then what is it that I’m missing about Frank? Do I miss him? Is there something I need to know about myself? That’s the first point.


The second point is your choice. What attracts you to Abby? Is she making genuine changes? People can get better. That’s what therapy is all about. Is she grasping what she did wrong or just giving it lip service? Take a close look at your relationship with Abby. Is she learning, for example, new communication skills and introspective skills and feeling very remorseful for what she did for Frank? Or is she just talking a good game? They’ll do that with therapists too – people who don’t want to change but maybe are court ordered into therapy, they know how to work a therapists. They know how to talk a good game and make it look like they’re progressing in therapy when they have no intention of changing and they’re just pulling the wool over your eyes. 


So take a close look at this woman, Abby, who was abusive to your friend Frank, and you can ask, what is her motive? Is she just wooing me? Is she trying to get a foot in the door only to abuse me at some future date? Is she using me? Does she want to get back at Frank for breaking up with her and so she’s trying to befriend me to try to break up my friendship with Frank, kind of as, “Ha, ha, got you back Frank.”


The third thing you can look at is what is your relationship with yourself? Tom, you really want to understand, why am I attracted to Abby? Why am I playing therapist? Is there something in my past with my own family? Was I playing therapist with Mom? Did she bring out characteristics of Mom? Do I find her sexy and I’m just ignoring the negative parts of her and I really want to date her? You want to ask yourself, can I learn from this experience? Why am I siding with the abusive party? What do I know about myself and are there any extenuating circumstances which make this important? That’s a little bit on evaluating character. You definitely want to judge yourself, you want to judge other people. Not in a nasty judgmental way, but in an evaluative way so you can grow, so you can enjoy your life, so you can improve your own character and really make the most of your own life.