Advice | I have a lot of enemies. Am I the problem? Hax readers give advice.


We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: I think I’m overly prone to making enemies or having important relationships end in a ball of flames. I’ve explored this with therapists but have always heard, “It’s not you, it’s them.” But if it keeps happening, surely it’s at least a little bit me, right?

I’ve been happily married for years, have several decades-long close friendships, have held jobs for long stretches, and am even friends with most of my exes. So my life is not a chaos machine! But on the other hand, I’m on the outs with multiple close relatives, and I’ve had very meaningful friendships end with a bang. I’ve probably had a true enemy at most of my jobs/activities since my college years (many years ago now).

Does everyone make this level of enemies or lose multiple major friendships? Something about this feels like I must be failing at life. I think I’m generally perceived like and act like a decent human being. I’m one to speak up if I see someone treated badly, and sometimes that annoys people. But others do that too and it doesn’t seem to create a string of enemies. Maybe I’m just generally annoying and in a way that reveals itself over time so I burn through more people than normal and drive people to rage?

Is it possible to be actually nice and still collect lots of enemies? If so, any life hacks for making fewer enemies while still being a reasonably sincere version of yourself, for the sake of sanity alone? Are there some people who just get more annoying over time on average than others, and if so, how do I know if that is me? Or do I not want to know? I really don’t want to be the villain in other people’s life stories.

Enemy Magnet: The issue here may be less about your experiences and more about your framing of them. I have relatives I dislike and avoid; there have always been people in my workplace whom I don’t get along with and some of whom have deliberately undermined me; my best friend of 30 years ended our friendship in a dramatic and painful way. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I would never describe any of these people as “enemies,” however. They’re just people I dislike. Some of them I hate. Some of them hate me. Some of them have hurt me in ways I can’t forgive. Some of them are people I have hurt. It’s just life. If I tallied up every single one of these problematic relationships, I might feel a little weird, but I don’t, because the good and reciprocal and loving relationships outweigh them.

You describe yourself as someone with positive long-term relationships. If that description is accurate, then your therapist is probably right … except insofar as “it’s you” due to your internal framing of relationship ruptures as “having enemies.”

Enemy Magnet: I am the same way! I chalk it up to having good boundaries, not shying away from speaking out when something is wrong, and being comfortable dealing with conflict that others would choose to avoid. People don’t like it when you enforce boundaries they want to cross, or bring up issues they would rather not deal with.

Where someone else might, for example, choose to just slowly ghost a friend, I choose to address whatever issue there is in the friendship. This can lead to a full “end” to the relationship vs. a conflict-free fadeaway. It sounds like you’re doing just fine.

Enemy Magnet: What an interesting question from someone who is aware they may not be fully aware. Delving into these issues could be a great exercise. Line up your facts. Literally, on a piece of paper or in your notes.

What subjects were involved? Was it always about the same subject when you blew up with friends? Did small tiffs happen first? How are these former friends different from your long-term friends? Do they blow up with other people? Or maybe it’s as simple as talking for too long without listening. Or even an annoying habit like flossing your teeth in public.

Many times, our greatest strength — say for example, hitting the nail on the head with our comments — may also be our greatest weakness. For example, hitting the nail on the head when the other person absolutely wasn’t ready to hear that. Put another way, “knows me so well they can finish my sentences” can become “always interrupting me.” It may not be any one thing, but the accumulation of small things over time can reach a tipping point.

I’m extremely self-aware, except for those parts of me to which I’m completely blind. Figuring out your common threads, or categories of threads, where problems arise may provide insight. But don’t worry too much. It really may be them, not you — at least most of the time.

Enemy Magnet: I could have written this. A couple of years ago, I confided in a close friend about one particular blowup. She was kind and honest enough to tell me I have some personality traits that endear me to her but are obnoxious or even threatening to people with less self confidence.

My advice: Solicit the feedback of a few close friends who know you well and really listen with an open mind to what they have to say — without interrupting, excusing or explaining. You might learn something about yourself. Then, you can decide whether you want to temper those aspects of your personality or accept that you are going to turn some people off. No one is liked by everyone.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.



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