Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Is Friendship Magic?

Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Check out Raffles Press’ new column, Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset, and our resident Aunties and Uncles will be glad to help you with your Rafflesian troubles! Submit your confessions to tinyurl.com/rafflesadvicecolumn and we’ll give them our best shot.

I’m a really nice dude but some people think that the people I hang out with aren’t, and by association I’m not. What should I do? I am myself too … and I think I’m really nice.

– Baby Bento

Dear Baby Bento,

To start off, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are, truly, a lovely and kind person. Perhaps what you should do first is examine why people don’t like the friends you hang out with. Do they behave in a way that is deserving of such a reputation? Do they just participate in immature joking, or actual, hurtful actions?

If it’s more of the former, I think it’s safe to assume that “some people” are just easily offended and/or like to spread rumours, thus it doesn’t provide sufficient grounds to really examine your friendships. After all, a “bad rep” doesn’t necessarily equate to being a bad person. However, if it is more of the latter, I feel you should to take it one step further and really think about what kind of friends you’re “hanging out” with, and whether or not they truly have the most suitable doses of personality to complement your social circles.

While you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to turn the mirror on yourself as well. You are indeed yourself – but honestly speaking, if you’re really so nice, why do people automatically associate you with just your friends? Do you unwittingly participate (or act as a bystander) to some of their “not nice” actions –– and by extension, seem like you’re condoning them?

Perhaps, if you want to differentiate yourself from your friends, you could try to exhibit more of your personal qualities . Don’t always hang around school in a clique; try to do some activities alone or go with different groups of people. This will establish your identity as you, and not some part of a collective whole.

There’s this Chinese saying called “近朱者赤,近墨者黑”. Translated, it means “when you get close to vermilion [good], you get dyed red; when you get close to ink [bad], you get dyed black”. It is extremely over-used in Chinese compositions but very relevant to life and your current situation. I hope you have a good think about it, and good luck!

How do you help friends who are struggling, or know what they need? I’m really bad at talking about feelings, and these friends don’t tell me about their problems, but signs of dysfunction/issues are definitely prominent/noticeable. :-( I don’t want to cramp their styles but also want to be there for them so I usually turn to giving them sweets and notes and Concerned Looks (which – do they really do anything?). How do I know how far to probe/how much support to shower/if I’m the right friend? [As the occasional Struggling Friend I’ve pushed away people’s help I was in desperate need of for fear of being a burden, hurt by some other’s seeming uncaringness, but also felt suffocated by other’s attempts to help. I also didn’t ask for things (e.g. hugs, time spent together) that could really help] so how do I know my friends will express what they need? What if when I try to help by maybe asking to spend time together they agree just to humor me but it really adds more stress/unhappiness etc.!

– Floop

Dear Floop,

I can see that you are a very observant person, and also someone who genuinely cares about your friends’ problems. By expressing your concern and wanting to improve the situation, you are already being a better friend than most. I do understand and have experienced what you’re describing, and hence I’ll try to express some of the lessons that I’ve learned.

The unfortunate truth is, none of us humans can learn how to discover an imaginary Magical Meter to measure the extent to which one should “to probe/support/shower”, or to gauge if they’re being the “right” friend. You cannot be a “right” friend; there is no rubric for these sorts of things, and being yourself is far more useful than trying to fit into a nonexistent mold of a “friend”. With your sweets, notes, and concerned looks, you are already telling your friend that you care –– whether they choose to take you up on further advice/shoulder-leaning is entirely their choice — and if they choose not to, it is not your fault. Some people prefer to lean on friends, some people prefer to deal with problems themselves, and that is entirely their prerogative. If you offer help, be assured that most times, it is far from the wrong thing to do.

You can’t help people who don’t want to help themselves –– I suppose you’ve already heard others say that before. From your experience as a Struggling Friend, the reason you know that you could have used the hugs and caring is because you pushed it away in the first place. That is something your friends need to learn (by themselves) as well. Sometimes, all people need is a listening ear for them to vent out their emotions, because talking it out loud is better than keeping it all circling inside your head. For moments like these and depending on the person, sometimes just being a willing listener is significant help.

However, don’t stop telling people you care, because the closest your decisions can get to resemble the aforesaid Magical Meter is if you do it by trial-and-error. Some friends will not respond in kind, but maybe some will. When they do, stay earnest and sincere, and use that same skill of observation to see when they’re getting uncomfortable with the prodding. If you don’t feel the most comfortable with face-to-face talks, or if you felt that after the talk there were things you wanted to articulate, then write it in a letter. You could also ask them honestly if they want you to actively do things to help them, but anyway, I’m sure s/he will appreciate your help very much.

All the best, and don’t forget to take care of yourself as well!

Throughout my entire childhood and teenage years, I have many friends. However, I don’t feel close to them at all. I don’t trust my friends. Somehow, there’s no feeling of connection between me and my friends. I thus see them as an acquaintance, since I am not ready to award the title of “friend” to my “acquaintance” just yet. As a result, I often feel aloof and distant from people. I am pretty sure many of my “acquaintance” think I am weird since I am often quiet. I am not ready to trust my “acquaintance”, because of many reasons. Some are trivial, some are more serious, but I take it to heart nevertheless. I am weary and tried to protect myself from the outside world, but for so long, I do not have anyone to share a deep and meaningful conversation with. I have no one to confide in. I feel uneasy to be stuck in an awkward situation, where I want to speak my mind to someone so bad, yet is afraid that the same person I trust betrays me.

Recently, I found out I am an INFJ. It’s one of the 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I can relate to the many articles on the internet about INFJ. It’s one of the rarest personality types (which does not make it the best), with about only 1-2% of world’s population being classified as such.

Being an INFJ has its downsides. I tend to overthink, and am highly sensitive. I view many common acts as betrayal of trust. That could be one of the reasons why I do not have any “friends”.

I am truly quite desperate for people whom I can call “friends”, instead of an “acquaintance”. I need someone to confide in, someone who understands, someone who can be trusted.

This might sound simple, but how do I make a “friend”? How can I trust a “friend”? How can I make sure I trust the right person? What do I do should the person betrays my trust? What if he gets too bored? What if he doesn’t understand? …

– The 1%

Dear The 1%,

You have presented a very difficult and multi-layered situation, and I will try my best to offer some pieces of advice and answer all the questions you have asked. But firstly, you should know this Aunt is an INFJ as well! In fact, most of the Aunts and Uncles here are. A coincidence? I think not, for the universe is rarely so lazy.

Firstly, I am relieved you say that being the “rarest” personality type does not make it the best. Although discovering your MBTI type can be life changing, it is not the only determinant of a person’s personality, or his/her future. It is thus dangerous to confuse “rare” with “best” and develop a sense of hubris.

I think your problem lies with trust – not for your friends, but for yourself. You made statements like “I am pretty sure [so-and-so] thinks …” or “How can I make sure? …”, but the thing is: you cannot control everything in this world, and what others think of you is one of those things. Sure, your intuition may let you glean certain insights into behaviour, but since humans can’t read each other’s minds, you cannot be absolutely sure of another person’s intentions unless you ask said person directly.

The only person you can trust, then, is yourself. But I feel that you don’t trust your own judgement. When you speak of befriending someone, your thought process turns from the process of “making a friend”, to immediately preparing for a future outcome where s/he betrays you. Why do you not trust that the people you select to be your friends will be just that –– your friends?

It could be that you have been hurt by people you’ve trusted before, as evidenced by your “many reasons” and “common acts [of betrayal].” This may have had two consequences: a) you lost the ability to trust people easily; b) you set the bar for a “friend” too high, which resulted in a reduction in the amount of friends you have. However, I would like to point out (and you yourself have said) that some of these reasons could have been “trivial”, since you are self-admittedly “highly sensitive”.

Being aware of that character trait –– hypersensitivity –– is one thing, but acting upon it is another. Hypersensitivity often leads to circular thoughts, and “overthinking” (as you are wont to do) almost always creates a mountain out of a molehill that wasn’t even there. As an INFJ myself, I would very strongly encourage you to cease this and start practicing directness with your acquaintances. When you find yourself hurt over his/her perceived “betrayal”, don’t bottle it in! Please, please, tell that person that you were hurt, and you might find that s/he really had no intention of doing so. Conversely, if you decide to go the normal route –– distancing yourself –– you will not only end up hurting yourself, but the other person as well, since s/he most likely has zero clue to what s/he has done. This is what the MBTI community calls the “INFJ doorslam”, as INFJs seem to have a certain affinity of coldly cutting someone out of their lives while inwardly feeling much suppressed anguish over it.

You might be aware on some subconscious level that you protecting yourself from the “outside world” has only led to loneliness. That is because you both desire companionship and fear the risks it entails. Nevertheless, being lonely is never a good thing. As you’ve said so yourself, you have no one to confide to and no one to trust and speak your mind with. Without confidants and their intellectual debates, the mind and heart grows weak –– and there might be another consequence, which is when you do find someone who seems utterly trustworthy, all the suppressed emotions may well up and cause you to start being over-dependent on him/her.

While I have said that being lonely is never a good thing, being alone — which is different from loneliness — is. You have to be your first and foremost friend, and believe that you are a truly unique individual. Eat lunch alone, without questioning why no one is with you. Write in a diary for as long as you want, and befriend your own thoughts. Trusting a friend takes time, but it can never happen if you don’t trust in the strength of your own heart. If the person ends up bored or does not understand the thoughts you share, then s/he probably won’t benefit from being your friend and vice versa –– but s/he will most definitely become bored if you lock yourself away and give no sign of your inner world. Being your own friend will also protect yourself if you end up being betrayed, because then you will be mentally strong enough to weather it and move on.

Remember to keep calm and carry on. The Aunts and Uncles here all have your back!

Sincerely,
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

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