DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who contacts me only when he needs something. He is charismatic and charming, so I usually find myself agreeing to do whatever he suggests, but it makes me mad. When I need him to do something for me, I often cannot get him on the phone. He disappears for days, weeks, sometimes months on end, only to resurface with an urgent request. If I don’t respond right away, he gets indignant. How can I manage these dynamics better? I’m beginning to feel used. -- Selfish Friend, Lake City, Iowa
DEAR SELFISH FRIEND: For whatever reason, you have allowed your friend to manipulate you -- or at least to be selfish. You do have control over this, or how to respond to him, anyway.
The next time your friend calls asking for something, stop him mid-sentence and tell him that you need to talk to him about something. Explain that you have begun to feel uncomfortable because he has established a pattern of calling only when he needs something while not reciprocating when you need his support. Tell him that this hurts your feelings and makes you feel that the friendship is one-sided. Point out that you drop everything and do your best to accommodate his requests, and you wish he would do the same for you. Remind him that you love him and appreciate his friendship, but you have been feeling used.
Chances are, he will balk at your commentary. People who are charming and charismatic are often self-centered and don’t realize that they choose to design a world that revolves around them. You may have to train him to be more thoughtful by not responding so readily to him for a while. If he notices the disconnection, he may be more inclined to slow down and check in on you without other objectives.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been in competition with my older sister since we were kids. Now that we are middle-aged, you would think that we could bury the hatchet, but it seems like it will never happen. Almost every time we talk, she finds a way to get under my skin, needling me about something. Her specialty is making herself look like the smartest person and finding things that I have said or done that show my weaknesses. Somehow, I haven’t figured out how to avoid falling into her trap. After each conversation, I feel beat up because she is so skillful at getting to me. How can I disconnect from those childhood games and just be an adult around her? -- Sibling Rivalry, Seattle
DEAR SIBLING RIVALRY: You need to remind yourself of who you are, what strengths you possess and that your sister does not have control over you. You are an adult. When you talk to her and she begins to go in on you, end the conversation. You can be abrupt, if needed, and say that you don’t want to talk to her when she decides it’s time to make you feel bad. Say goodbye and hang up. If you are in her presence and she chastises you, walk away. If you absolutely refuse to engage her when she is rude to you, you can break the spell.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)