Have you ever had a friend just snap and completely lose it? Did you think it was somehow your fault, or were you just mystified and never saw it coming?
Trish* and Shelby said that they were all just hanging out when Tara flipped out and started screaming, swearing, stomping fresh-baked cupcakes into the rug and chasing the other girls around the room.
They were covered in bruises and completely freaked out.
I got involved in the drama when they ran up to me while I was at work and asked to use my phone to call 911. They had already called the police, but then left their house and wanted to let the officer know they were behind the police station waiting for him. I made the call, and while we waited for the officer and one of their parents, I gave them icepacks for their facial bruises and listened to them talk it out and calm down. The girls told me all about their “friend” and things they claimed she had done; lying, stealing, gossiping, smoking (marijuana and tobacco) and they said she had hit them on several other occasions. After listening for awhile, I finally asked them why they keep going back to this friend, if this is all true?
The answer? One of the girls told me that Tara was nice “sometimes”, and that she listened to their problems.
These were fairly young teens, but what do you think? Would you have continued being friends with someone like that?
Everyone has different limits, but we all have our ‘Nope, I’m out’ moment, hopefully before any real damage is done. Sad to say, there are a lot of people with anger issues out there, and keeping your eyes open to warning signs and paying attention to your gut instinct can help keep you safe. So can learning how best to handle sudden freak-outs. I know how scary it can be, I’ve been there more than once.
One of the scariest times it happened to me was when I was in my early twenties and starting out in a new town. I made some friends, and started a side business with another girl fixing and selling used furniture. Her dad owned a store that carried new and used furniture, and found out I enjoyed garage saling and fixing things (and had a truck) and suggested it. I liked the flexibility and independence of the job and making deals with people. We got along pretty well, I’m pretty easy going, and although she was a little volatile I figured she was just acting like the redhead she was. Finally I realized she was getting out of hand, and I was feeling more uncomfortable not only in her behavior, but also in the business. More and more I found myself doing the majority of the work using my tools and truck, but we were still splitting profit 50/50.
Then one day as we were working up some sales fliers and chatting she suddenly jumped up and screamed ‘You take that back!”. I apparently had said something she didn’t agree with, and she’d gone from happy go lucky to red-faced, screaming and shaking her fists at me. My heart froze in my chest, but I did my best to stay outwardly very calm and quiet, apologized for what I said, told her it was ok, and whatever else it took to calm the situation and not get punched out. I kept my body language very non-confrontational and slow. The most important thing that I did not do was argue with or insult her. Thankfully it was enough to defuse the situation.
But we weren’t done yet, we had to finish the day’s work and I had to drive her home. I have no idea now why I went ahead and did that. I don’t know if I would, today.
She was sullen and prickly at first, but soon was happily prattling away, saying that she could tell we were going to be great friends, since obviously I could handle ‘her temper’. I stayed quiet, but inside I was thinking, ‘Fat chance, kiddo’.
I spun my tires out of that driveway like the devil was chasing me, and never went back. Yes, I lost some money on the deal, but to me it was worth it. I don’t give up friends easily, but that day I saw a pattern in our relationship that showed me that I was becoming a victim of an unhealthy situation. I didn’t regret walking away.
You cannot have a friendship where there is no trust. It’s ok to get angry, disagreements happen and are healthy, but threats of physical violence are not.
What do you do if you feel threatened?
What if you find yourself in a similar situation? Remain calm, keep your voice low, apologize if you need to, and use calming body- language, but most importantly put distance between yourself and the threat. If you think the situation is going to escalate, leave. Do not argue, or get in their face right back. If you feel the situation warrants it, call 911.
Being right is not as important as being safe.
But do you stay friends?
That’s up to you. Even if they apologize, it may happen again. Are you prepared for that?
Usually people who are physically violent only get worse, or it could have been a situation that was completely out of character for them because of something they’re going through. They could also have been on a medication, or drinking or using recreational drugs. I’ve known people whose personalities totally changed on pain meds or with alcohol. One fellow I used to know was perfectly nice when he drank beer, but hard liquor made him pick fights, even with women. Don’t try to reason things out at the time, because they’re in no condition to be reasonable. You can try talking it out later, when things are calmer, or just let it go.
Looking back, I was getting all the signs that all was not well, but I kept telling myself she wasn’t all bad, and that’s where the danger lies. No one likes to think they were fooled or taken advantage of, but it happens to the best of us. Bad people can be very charming, but charming isn’t the same as good.
If your new friend doesn’t seem to have many other friends, be cautious. There may be good reason. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only one who understands them. It’s possible everyone else understands them entirely too well, and you either haven’t seen their bad side, or you haven’t taken it seriously enough. It happens a lot in romantic relationships.
But back to the girls. What did they do right? They left. They called 911 for help, and went to a safe place where they could get support, putting distance between themselves and the aggressor. And the friendship? Their parents ended the relationship between the girls and their abusive friend after having her arrested for assault, and she is no longer welcome in their home.
So how do you deal with people who are getting aggressive or nasty with you?
- Names were changed.