Ask Amy: Merry Sunshine can’t continue to smile

Dear Amy: I am the kind of person that always puts on a brave face — no matter what I’m going through.

The past two years have been very difficult for me.

I’ve suffered financially, physically, and emotionally.

Through it all I’m always there for others — encouraging them and offering a helping hand or a shoulder to lean on.

I am currently going through something very difficult, and I just don’t have the strength to smile through it.

I also don’t have the strength for people to trauma dump on me or to continuously want to know what’s wrong with me since I’m not making myself available to help them through their issues.

How do I politely tell people to please leave me alone while I work through this?

— Exhausted

Dear Exhausted: It is completely natural for you to want to retreat. And if privacy is what you need — then that is what you should have.

However — I hope you could imagine the possibility of receiving support from some of the very people you seek to avoid.

If they are trauma vampires, then definitely back away. But some of the people in your life who have been taking from you might be grateful to be offered the opportunity to give back. You will never know their capabilities until you reveal your own vulnerability.

Any statement you make should be clear and concise — and you should be prepared to repeat it.

Something like: “I’m going through some difficult stuff right now and I need some privacy while I work things out. I’ll get in touch down the road. I appreciate your patience.”

People — even people who care very much about you — will be uncomfortable with this, because if you change your way of relating to them, then they might have to change.

I hope you are lucky enough to have at least one person in your life who doesn’t expect you to be Merry Sunshine.

My hope for you would be to recognize that exposing your own broken places — even if only to yourself — can lead to a liberating reveal: It’s OK to put your smile in your pocket for a while, as you access your own messy humanity.

You should also seek professional counseling. A good therapist will offer validation and support, as you experience what life is like without putting on a brave face.

Dear Amy: “Stella” and I have been friends for more than 25 years.

We were both pregnant with our first children when we met, and since then have been through the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood together.

One of the things that bonded us at the beginning of our relationship was that we both experienced very traumatic childhoods.

Over the years, however, I have gotten a lot of treatment and am no longer ruled by my past. Stella, however, is still not well and whole.

She very much wants to spend more (and more and more) time with me, but I find being around her these days to be both annoying and painful.

We are in a group of moms who have known each other all these years, our kids grew up together, and she lives very nearby, so there is no cutting her loose.

I don’t want to hurt her, but also can’t think of anything I could say to explain my withdrawal that wouldn’t be really hurtful to her.

Your thoughts?

— Concerned

Dear Concerned: Give your friend love with limits.

You have known one another for a quarter century. Your lives are both likely entering a transition period, as your children move into adulthood.

Be kind, firm, and truthful: “I wish I could be there for you in the way you need, but I can’t. You and I have both had such steep hills to climb. My therapy helped me so much. I wish the same for you.”

Understand that because of her extreme neediness, even the most gentle truth might be hard for her to take.

Dear Amy: Responding to “Nervous,” who had planned and then canceled her wedding (due to the pandemic), my husband and I canceled the planned big wedding, got married in a small ceremony, and then sent out invitations to our family for an “I do BBQ.”

On the invitation we had a photo of us from the small wedding with the announcement that we decided to basically elope and that we were inviting others to celebrate with us in our backyard the following weekend.

I have absolutely no regrets.

— Finally Married

Dear Married: I like it!

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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