Question: Dear Luise: I have a question for how to keep my roommate. We are frequent project partners. However, she is often-times sad, and I don’t know how to maker her feel better. J says that sometimes she feels that if she died tomorrow, no one would notice. As a high school student, she says she felt mostly invisible. She also has said that she is jealous that I perform better grade-wise. I’ve dealt with this sort of jealousy before, and I protect myself by pretending to be below-average in other ways. Unfortunately, she has recently begun using this to put me down, repeatedly, publicly, and condescendingly. However, she seems more cheerful and confident in those moments, so maybe it’s better for her mental health. It’s just that these small things she says build up hurtfully: “I don’t approve of your decisions” “You work too much” “You don’t understand the concept of socializing.” I have consciously prevented myself from calling her out on it. It’s not great for my mental health: I’ve relapsed as a self-injurer. I would like to keep her as a friend. I’ve had problems making good friends that don’t keep a running tab of various comparisons, and I’m not sure if that’s a side effect of going to a more cutthroat university or my own inability. I’m a college senior, but I still miss the supportive network I had in high school, where people didn’t treat me differently based on academic performance, and especially didn’t use me as a benchmark for their own goals. I want to be able to act like myself again. What should I do? Thanks, J.
Answer: Dear J.: Please see a counselor immediately and don’t settle for anything but the best. My take is that you are in a destructive relationship with your roommate but I have no formal training…as stated on this Website. I draw from my life experience when I answer questions. Please show your counselor this response if you wish and go with what she tells you if she doesn’t agree with me. My job is just to get you to think…and to get you to her.
College is hard for most of us. We leave the familiar and the protection it offers and are pretty much set adrift. Your roommate has issues she needs to work through but not with you. Your job is to work with what is on your own plate. Cutting is a serious symptom and needs to be addressed right away with a professional. Verbal abuse (that’s what deliberate put downs are to my way of thinking) is just as harmful as any other kind of abuse. You are trying to figure out what to do to make her feel better and she is successfully making you feel worse. Look closely at that, please.
Being an outstanding student can be a bear to try to live down. The problems others have with it is about them, not you…but their attitude can affect you and your sense of self worth and identity.
I don’t know how you are going to extricate yourself from your living arrangement or the projects you share with your roommate but you matter way too much to stay in your present circumstances. Your job is not to take care of her or to wait for her to change. Your job is to get help, pick up the pieces, set boundaries and heal. You deserve so much better than what you are getting and you are going to have to be the one to make it happen even if it means switching schools. That’s not necessarily my suggestion, I just want you to realize the gravity of what you’re up against and be open to resolution. No matter how difficult taking action is, I see where you are as potentially worse. Blessings, Luise