Dear Virginia, I have a very old friend and we meet up about once a fortnight.
The problem is that she always says something that makes me feel uncomfortable. Recently, she described how blissfully happy my ex-husband appeared when she met him at a party and last week, she said she’d taken my side when another friend was attacking me. I return home feeling wretched. I feel these remarks are too trivial to challenge, but I dread seeing her again. Yours sincerely, Eileen
There's no question that these remarks are designed to hurt. But has she done it deliberately or consciously, I wonder?
I half suspect that her aggression is channelled so acutely, that it's possible she doesn't even realise what she's doing.
She is, in effect, two people. One, the loyal friend who you get on with and who is, one imagines, fond of you. And alongside her, but working invisibly, is this other malevolent creature who, for some reason, wishes to hurt you.
So, when you do speak to her about it you should imagine you are talking to the malevolent one, not the reasonable one.
Say: “I don't know why you do it. It is very hurtful. I am perfectly aware that you want to damage me. Your behaviour is ruining our friendship.” But as you speak, you must aim your words at that hidden aggressor.
I suspect that although she will deny everything, the hidden aggressor will hear what you've said, and will shut up. If you find she continues, then stop seeing her. These sort of poisoned darts are far more cruel than the kind of direct hits from which you can, at least, defend yourself.
Agree with her
Your friend is trying to bring you down to make herself feel better. You could avoid her, but better still, laugh and agree with her negative comments while laying on thick how good your life is.
You can bask in your superiority and it will drive her nuts.
She may be right
My hunch is that this is all about your split from your husband and your current feelings of insecurity. You probably have negative feelings towards him and would hope that your friends feel the same.
However, it riles you to hear from one of them that he seems happy — the opposite of what you are. What was the other friend attacking you for — your bitter attitude towards your ex, perhaps?
By all means talk over these problems with the people concerned. But be prepared to hear some unpalatable truths about yourself, too.
Stephen, by email
It's just jealousy
Has it ever occurred to you that your friend is jealous of you? Not everyone is like you, with deep feelings of loyalty.
The different ways your lives have taken you over the years can very easily foster jealousy.
I'm afraid your “friend” is one of those people who wants to give the impression that they are being a nice person, when in fact they're having a dig at you (“he's obviously far happier without you”; “other people don't like you”).
It's not nice to have to acknowledge this in someone you're fond of, but you need to drastically cut down on your contact with her.