Hi David. I know your focus is on families rather than non-related roommates, but I feel my question fits within the confines of your expertise (I promise this isn’t whiny ‘whose turn is it to do the dishes’ nonsense!).
I have a roommate who seems to be dealing with depression and anxiety issues. She is often mopey and withdrawn, doesn’t seem to truly enjoy anything or pursue any interests to speak of, and exhibits feelings of self-victimization (nothing is ever her fault). She doesn’t handle stress well; she will explode with anger (non-violently, I should mention) or start crying at the drop of a hat.
The problem with this is twofold: number one, she hardly takes care of her responsibilities as a member of our household; and number two, it has become increasingly difficult to engage her in conversation about these issues without her yelling, crying, or both.
In the past, I have attempted to be sensitive to her feelings, and it seems to be pointless. I myself, as well as many mutual friends, have given her lots of good and practical advice, none of which she takes to heart or acts upon. She sucks the energy out of a room when she walks in, and seems to have no regard for the way her pessimistic attitude and behavior might affect others.
All of this said, I DO consider her a friend, and I am sympathetic to her troubles. At the same time, my tolerance for her behavior is wearing thin, and I have ALWAYS had zero tolerance for people who don’t manage their responsibilities. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place: being sensitive and compassionate seems to enable her to continue acting the way she has been (because there are no consequences to speak of); being direct and blunt just causes her to freak out and shut down.
Seeing that the root of the issue is her emotional issues, I have tried to ‘attack’ from that angle, but it doesn’t work – it just makes her upset and exacerbates things.
Do you have any general advice?
At some point you or her is going to have to leave this situation if it doesn’t change. There is no sense in you being miserable because you aren’t willing to “get in her face” so to speak. That being said I think what you do in the meantime if you are willing is setup a meeting for you and her to see a therapist. The goal being that it really is for her. You can either tell her that and let her know you want to support her in getting better or tell her that it’s for the both of you to figure out the roommate relationship before things go really bad. Either way it gets her in with a professional that can be helpful. If you are in school then there may be a counseling center attached with the school. It seems obvious from your description that there are deeper issues going on that you may not be able to help her manage.