I Try to Talk About HIV and You Run Away — Is That Really What Friends Do?

Coping with HIV sometimes means dealing with runaway friends when you need them the most.

BY Gary McClain

April 22 2014 10:26 AM ET UPDATED: April 22 2014 10:26 AM ET

“She just doesn’t get what I’m dealing with — and doesn’t seem to be all that anxious to try,” I heard from one HIV-positive client. Sound familiar?

What about you?  Do you have people in your life who can sit and talk with you about anything?  Even HIV?  Or do you have people who can talk with you about anything except HIV?  

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to “get” what someone else is going through. And what it takes. Some of my clients are fortunate enough to have friends who try to understand how they are thinking and feeling, who are ready and able to listen, and even to anticipate when they need some support.

So often my clients describe how their communication with their friends begins and ends with “you just don’t understand.” If they even get that far. The walls go up.  

The harsh reality is that other friends may need some extra help. Or just don’t have what it takes. Or won’t try.   Sad and unfair as it is, even people who are loving and caring in so many ways often seem to shut down when their loved needs to talk about their HIV status.   

If you have friends who seem to be dancing around – or running away from – your HIV status, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:  

Take a look at your expectations.  What I have learned from clients, and in my own experiences in life, is that people can only give as much as they can give, and some can give a whole lot more than others.  Including being understanding and compassionate.  But accepting the possibility that other people may be limited is another step toward accepting life on life’s terms.  There is only so much another person can or will understand about what it’s like to live with HIV.  So the starting place is to decide not to beat your head against what feels like a pretty thick wall.  

Not “getting” your HIV status doesn’t mean you aren’t loved.  While it may feel like the other person is withholding their support, or being outright insensitive, it may be the best they can do, at least at this moment.  While it hurts a lot to feel like a friend can’t talk about HIV with you, try not to jump to conclusions about whether you are cared for or loved.  Remind yourself: I can’t read anybody else’s mind.   

Helplessness can lead to avoidance. One of the crazier aspects of human nature is the belief that, if someone you care about is in need, you should be able to somehow “fix” it for them.  Some of your friends may be living with this belief. As a result, if they don’t know what to do or say that might make you feel better, they end up feeling helpless. And when faced with helpless feelings, their reaction may be to run away. Or to pretend whatever it is they fix for you doesn’t actually exist.  In other words, denial.  Or they may be afraid to admit to themselves, or to you, that your HIV status is scary to them.  

So keep this in mind.  You’re not the problem here.  And neither is your HIV.  Chalk it up to human nature.  

And hang in there.  I’ll be following up with a few more ideas to help you deal with your runaway friends.  

 

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