Excerpt from BIFF written by Bill Eddy

February 5, 2012


B.I.F.F.s for Family, Friend and Ex’s

Everyone seems to have a few high-conflict people in their extended family and among their friends. Most people also have some HCPs in their past – whether ex-spouses, former friends, or family members they avoid – who seem to never go away or re-surface from time to time. You can use B.I.F.F.s with all of them.

This chapter includes a B.I.F.F. between a brother and sister who is managing the relationship, between two friends who are reducing their friendship, and between an ex-wife and ex-husband dealing with parenting after a divorce with minimal contact.

Oh, Brother!

Many families worldwide have an HCP who still depends on other family members as an adult to solve their routine personal problems – and angrily blames them when they don’t do it the way the HCP wants. I’m not talking about helping out a family member with a temporary financial or relationship problem. I’m talking about an HCP who drains their family for decades, before family members figure out how to set limits without making things worse. Using B.I.F.F. responses can be part of managing this type of family problem.

The following example is drawn from chapter 5 of It’s All Your Fault! Maria’s younger brother, Carlos, has been difficult his whole life. Now he has been fired from another job and lost his house. He wants Maria to deal with it and fix it for him, once again. She has been successful in her own life, but is exhausted trying to help him out. Yet she feels guilty if she doesn’t.

“Either you’re with me or you’re against me!” Carlos, age 38, screamed into the telephone at his sister, Maria, age 42. “People listen to you,” he said. “It’s all your fault I lost my job! You should have talked to my boss and helped clear up his false impressions of me, like I asked you to.”

“Carlos, you’re responsible for your own life. I can’t fix every problem you get yourself into. It’s not my fault. It’s your fault. It’s your life and your responsibility,” Maria replied.

“See how you talk to me!” Carlos replied angrily. “It’s true you never cared about me or what happened to me. You never wanted a younger brother.”

“That’s not true, and you know it!” Maria responded in exasperation.

Carlos continued, “So, since I’m losing my job, I’m also losing my house. You have to let me stay with you, again. If you’d helped me keep my job, this wouldn’t be your problem. But now it is your problem, and you have to fix it. So starting on the first of the month, I’ll be moving in again.”

“Don’t try to blame me for this, Carlos.” she replied. “And you’re not moving in with me again.”

After further discussion, Maria ended the call. Later, she received the following email:

MARIA, YOU JUST DON’T GET IT! YOU HAVE TO HELP ME OUT. IT’S

YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AS MY SISTER, AND YOU KNOW IT. FAMILIES

HELP EACH OTHER OUT IN TIMES OF NEED. AND I’M DESPERATE

NOW. REALLY, REALLY DESPERATE. I DON’T SEE HOW YOU CAN

FACE YOURSELF IN THE MORNING, KNOWING THAT I’M GOING TO

BE LIVING ON THE STREETS WHILE YOU HAVE YOUR COMFORTABLE

HOME. HOW CAN YOU SAY I DON’T MATTER TO YOU? THAT I’M JUST A

SPECK IN YOUR UNIVERSE? YOU’RE SO SELF-CENTERED, MARIA,

I’M ASHAMED TO HAVE YOU FOR MY SISTER. IF YOU HAD ANY

SENSE IN YOUR SWELLED HEAD, YOU’D REALIZE THAT THERE’S

ONLY ONE RIGHT THING TO DO. YOU HAVE TO LET ME LIVE WITH

YOU! IT’LL JUST BE FOR A LITTLE WHILE, UNTIL I GET ON MY FEET

AGAIN. DON’T BE STUPID ABOUT IT. JUST GET OVER IT AND

TELL ME WHEN I CAN MOVE MY STUFF INTO YOUR GARAGE.”

What should Maria do? Should she respond? It depends on how much she has already discussed this issue with him and prior limits she has set with him. If she has previously said she will not respond to his emails, then she should just ignore this. If she has not told him to stop emailing her, then she might choose to respond. After all, it’s usually easier to deal with an HCP by email than in person, to give herself time to calm down before responding. In fact, it’s possible that she encouraged him to email her, so she doesn’t have to deal with him directly. In any case, she has chosen to respond to his emails with B.I.F.F.s from time to time.

Suppose she decides to respond. How should she respond? Should she just let him move back in – again? Should she correct his extremely inaccurate statements about her? Should she point out that she never said he’s just a speck in her universe?

Try writing a B.I.F.F. response to Carlos’ email. Then turn the page and see Maria’s response.

Remember to keep it Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm:

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