My friend has tricked me into paying her medical bills, what can I do?

You feel like you’ve been taken for a ride, but maybe your friend was really asking for love

The question Last year, a friend asked me to become part of a Go Fund Me drive to raise money for her medical treatment. At first I and other friends sprang into action, but later we began to question our (and her) actions.

Many years ago, this friend had an illness she recovered from after gruelling treatment. Then she was diagnosed with a recurrence and treated successfully, again. Her illness (or perhaps the fear of it returning) has been the dominant focus of her life. Then she told me she had had some troubling news regarding a new diagnosis – and the Go Fund Me drive was started. But it later transpired the money was not for any kind of last-ditch experimental treatment and that she had opted for an elective operation at a private hospital as a precautionary measure.

I probably sound an awful friend, but I feel I’ve been taken for a ride because she comes from a very wealthy family and has her own investments and properties, while we’ve struggled financially this year. She was unwilling to explain what kind of treatment she wanted help with at the time and became angry when I asked her. It is all compounded by the fact she recently told me she is now trading crypto currency online. I feel like she has played the sympathy card in order to avoid dipping into savings.

Philippa’s answer My first thought on reading your email was, “Crikey! Your friend has some cheek!” This wasn’t life-saving surgery and it was something she could have afforded anyway. I can see how unfair that might feel to you – but then I wondered, what does life feel like for her?

Maybe she feels “it’s not fair” that she has this illness. It’s not logical to try to redress the balance by asking her friends for money, but when we are in crisis we may not be thinking logically so much as acting from an unexplored impulse. How is your friend coping with the unfairness of her illness? Under such circumstances many other “it’s not fair” thoughts can also invade: “Why me?” “Why now, why not later?” “Why do I get punished?” “It’s not fair that I may die when others live.”

She could feel unbalanced by such inner messages and a way to try to get justice and redress the balance maybe through the metaphor of money. It might feel that somebody else is paying for her sorrow, her fear, her pain. It is not easy to face the idea of dying. It is easier to displace those feelings into anger, rage and wanting revenge against the world. I don’t believe she will be consciously trying to punish or trick you, but unconsciously she may feel she needs to take from the world to make up for what has been taken from her.

Redressing the balance like this, feeling as if you are still in control, can push down troubling thoughts like: “Who will be there when I die?” “How can I need another person?” I doubt very much this re-balancing was done in a scheming way. Power is about control, planning and not needing anyone, not having to trust another fully.

Another force is love. If we are not frightened to love, love is a big source of comfort, especially in times of illness and vulnerability. And maybe your friend really wanted to ask you for love, but did not know how to make herself even more vulnerable than she felt already. It may have felt easier to ask for money. Or maybe this was the only way she could put her real needs into words. I wonder if she also finds it too hard to realise that she needs people. When all is fine, we can feel in power, but power is only one force of life. When we are powerless, we need love more than ever, but may think that money will do instead. Especially if we have been brought up to think that money is more important than people. It never is. It can only be a substitute. It sounds as though she does not realise this yet.

She might be telling you and herself about her crypto currency trading account as a way of saying: “I wasn’t in control, my illness was in control, now I am getting control back.” My feeling is she told you because unconsciously she still feels it is not enough. She needs you, she needs friends, she needs love.

So maybe you may want to reach out to her, maybe share why you have felt more distanced from her lately and how you cannot believe she knowingly wanted to trick you and your friends to part with money you and they needed. Have a conversation about how money can make you feel secure but not secure enough, because what you really need is not so much the money of your friends but their love, their being there while you go through hard times, and maybe their love, company and support as you go through end times too.

Until we know where someone has come from and how their mind has been trained by their culture to operate in the world, until we know how they experience what they are going through, we need to suspend judgment and give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s not always easy.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk

Contributor

Philippa Perry

The GuardianTramp

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