‘The control, manipulation and deceit were hard to recognize, but when it became clear, it was devastating. She said to me, ‘Nobody will ever believe you.”

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Diana Register of Meridian, Idaho, chronicles her grief journey each week for Love What Matters after her husband died of pancreatic cancer. This week she describes “crisis chasers,” and how these “friends” don’t have your best intentions at heart.

We have all heard the term “ambulance chasers” but do you know there are real people out there who are “crisis chasers”? I am not referring to people who come out of nowhere and really want to help, or people who have their hearts in the right place. I am talking about people who look for people in crisis and swoop in with the sole purpose of making themselves look good.

This is not meant to create paranoia within your support group. And while it’s hard in grief, you have to be smart about who you let in and who you don’t. At the time, I felt like I was. I can only look back now and reflect. I see now how important it is to be watchful and mindful of people’s behavior. You will see it, eventually. It might be slight at first, but when you start noticing somebody who is defensive or quick to attack over something you did that might make them look bad, you might be dealing with a crisis chaser.

This is my story.

At the time of Chad’s death, my friendship group was strong. Very strong. There were people who were travelling the journey with me closely, and there were people who sat on the fringe but who came when I needed them. I was grateful for all of them, but when the crisis truly hit, and he died, I lost sight of who was really there to help me and my family, and who was there to promote their own agenda. It’s almost impossible to tell, they’re so good at what they do. But, when Chad died, I had a friend who decided that her role was going to be all encompassing in my life. At the time, I needed that. I needed somebody to come in and tell me what to do. I was in such a fog that it was impossible for me to figure things out. She really did help at first, or so I thought, but the minute we had a disagreement on something, it became abundantly clear that her intentions were not what she said they were. The control, the manipulation and the deceit were hard to recognize, but when it became clear, it was devastating. Devastating to know that somebody whom I trusted and cared about really never cared about me.

It was a perfect storm, really. I am a promoter, and vocal about my appreciation. I am very public about it, and my husband’s death was all over the news. And, that was exactly what she needed. So, when the walls came crashing down and the truths were seen, she said to me, “Nobody will ever believe you.”  She said this because she was masterful at creating her reputation and had many, many people believing she was a selfless, loving, caring, generous person. And while some of that may be true, instead of wanting to repair our relationship – a relationship she worked hard at molding – her concern was what other people would think, and not losing me. And, instead of trying to repair it, she quickly moved to the next crisis within her friend group and took control there.

That’s when I knew. That’s when I knew she was never really part of my crisis because she wanted to help long term. She just wanted to be part of the crisis for her own reasons. It was a very sad, but necessary revelation.

There’s something about being on the inside of the story that makes them feel important. It’s a high. They can control things. They’re managing. Setting up meals. They want to be close to the story. They want to be the reference point. My relationship became undone because I changed, and when I stopped living my life in accordance with her demands, she could no longer control me. She could no longer tell me what I was doing right or wrong. She could no longer control the people who were coming in and out of my life. And the sad thing was that the catalyst for all of it was really very insignificant but because it was the first decision I made about my life without her input, it shocked her so much that she couldn’t fake it anymore. She couldn’t digest it. She couldn’t allow me to be me because it wasn’t in her plans. It wasn’t in her playbook. And when it fell, it fell hard. She did her best to turn people against me, but luckily, most saw what was happening and didn’t allow her actions to defeat us.

So, how do you know?  How do you know when you’re dealing with somebody who just wants to help, or somebody who is just chasing your crisis?

  1. It’s artificial. Something feels “off”. It feels fake in some ways. You know the old phrase, “if somebody is talking to you about other people, they’re talking about you to other people”? She was good at that. She spent a lot of time judging other people, then blaming me. She later told me she often had to tell people to “give me grace” when they wondered what was wrong with me. But what she was really saying was, “Yes, there is something really wrong with her.” By building up the idea that there was something wrong with the way I was handling my grief, she was successfully making herself the hero. She was putting a wall up and controlling the information that was disseminated because I was having too hard of a time doing it. And by making me into this version she wanted, which was weak and off balance, she could then publicly wrap her arms around me giving off the false impression that she was “fixing it”.
  2. They act as the Gate Keeper, controlling who comes in and who goes. After all was said and done with this, I quickly found out there were multiple people who wanted to come to me after Chad died and who wanted to be there with me in my pain, yet she had not allowed them. She often sent out group texts letting them know what was going on, and what she was doing to help. And when they asked what they could do, she insisted she had it handled. She did not want people slipping by and taking that spot she was so desperately trying to fill. Why? Wouldn’t a true friend want somebody to feel loved by a lot of people? Wouldn’t a true friend want the grieving person to have outlets? What would be the purpose of controlling that unless that person wanted all the applause?
  3. It feels like love. But it’s not. Yet, it’s so hard to decipher between the two. The only way you know it isn’t love is when it falls apart.
  4. They have the perception of importance at the expense of something tragic. They insert themselves into your tragedy because it makes them feel important. But what they don’t realize is that everybody who surrounds you in tragedy is important. Everyone is significant. Everybody has a place and a role. In my case, she could not handle that. When I mentioned what somebody else did, or said, or sent me, or how they made me feel, she discounted it. She attacked it. I had another friend who wanted me to talk to some people from her church (which was a different religion that hers) and when she found out, she told me they were “preying on me” because that’s what “they do to widows”. She was so adamant about it that she showed up at my house when they were here to purposely interfere in the meeting. I don’t know if she really felt that way about them or couldn’t stand the fact that somebody else was trying to help, but it was awkward to say the least. She could not let me find peace in my way. She could not and would not accept that the way I found peace could possibly be different than hers.
  5. They document their sacrifice in your tragedy. When things turned, she immediately sent me a list of all the things she had done for me, which included stating there were things she did “behind the scenes” I never knew about. She documented every single thing she had done for me. And when she was done reviewing the list of her good deeds, she basically demanded my gratitude. The funny thing was she already had it. She could just never see it because she was too busy noting all the things I was doing wrong that were making her look bad.
  6. There is an expectation you don’t know exists. How could you? If it’s your first round with a “crisis chaser”, you really have no way of knowing.
  7. They do “big” things: It’s not about organizing a meal train. It’s bigger than that. It’s making huge statements that will get them noticed. Over the top things. You can feel the difference in the purity of somebody who wants to come sit with you and watch TV so you’re not doing it alone, and somebody who is doing things that are news worthy.
  8. They are always in the middle of the crisis: yours or others. They get attention for rescuing and have built their reputation on it. This goes without saying. Again, when things came crashing down, she was more concerned about her reputation than she was the loss of our friendship. And to this day, people still believe she is genuine. They still believe she has a pure heart. To each his own, but I really hope the next person she rescues sees it quicker than I did.
  9. When you push back, they attack. As we heal, we start to change. And when you start to change and become more independent, a true friend will love and support that. A “crisis chaser” feels threatened by it. So, they attack. Your character, your children’s reputations – whatever they can dredge up. And then they need an audience. They need people to side with them. They need people to agree with them. In my case, it wasn’t just my friends she tried to turn on me, it was my child. When that didn’t work, the attacks got worse. Instead of talking to me directly, she decided it would be better to address all our issues, even private ones, with a group of people in the form of a group chat. It was humiliating to say the least. Yet, again, it was somehow my fault.
  10. When the attack is done, they move on to the next crisis, leaving you to feel blindsided. She moved on to her next crisis very quickly, and that person started giving her public accolades as well. It was a weird choice since I didn’t know they were really friends before that, but regardless, she turned on her charm and I watched her do it again – swoop in and save the day. I could do nothing more than shake my head.

Let me be clear, there is a difference between this and “trauma bonding”. Trauma bonding can propel your relationship into a deeper connection. Those are the people who can handle your crisis and expect nothing in return. Those are the people who sit with you in your grief and let you direct it, not the other way around. Those are the people who have experienced or are also experiencing some kind of trauma in their lives that connects you. But, they never use you for their own gain. They find comfort in you, and you find comfort in them. Not uncertainty or pain. Those are the people who genuinely want to support you in your healing and do not need to do grandiose acts to help you get there.

After all was said and done, I really had to reflect, and I will be honest, I was angry. I was angry because I really believed she was doing everything she was because she cared about me. At first, when I thought about things, everything felt tainted. Everything was dirty. When the truth came out, I was angry I let her experience sacred moments with me. She shouldn’t have agreed to be there. She shouldn’t have stolen those from me.

But now, with time and distance, I can look back on it and realize I can still have those moments and remove her from my memory bank. I can still have those painful memories of my husband without her in them. I learned how to weed her out. I am thankful for that.

I also learned in this process who my real friends were because they are still here. I don’t know what she’s doing now, but I assume she is still rescuing people. I assume she is still chasing the crisis.

She will go on with her life and people will continue to believe the façade of who she says she is. They will continue to believe the reputation she has built for herself. They will continue to believe she is genuine. I cannot let that bother me. I saw the truth and it was an awful, shocking reality because when you lose the idea of what you think something is, it can hurt just as bad as anything else. So, I had to decide. I had to decide if I wanted to let her actions ruin all the good that other people did for us and continue to do or if I wanted to let go, no matter how hard, and live my life with the right people in it. I had to figure out if I wanted to sit in more grief or learn the lesson. I have let go of her and I am better for it.

I have learned the value of the good people who came after, I hope I have learned an even more valuable lesson, which was to be a good, honest, genuine person myself. And to make sure my intentions are pure. To make sure I am loving all the right people for all the right reasons. If I walk away from this with those things intact, then I am grateful for the lesson. I am grateful for the challenge. I am grateful for the way it all worked out. I am grateful I had the opportunity to figure out who was really in my corner and who was using me. Because now, as life goes on and I’m not living in a constant state of fog anymore, I am doing things to better myself like working on my book and the foundation. I could not have done that if I allowed her to hold me back. I could not have done any of it without the right people around me. I could not have succeeded while somebody was constantly trying to defeat me. I could not have survived being suffocated.

I have tried not to allow this situation to destroy my trust in people. So many people are good. So many people’s intentions are right. So many people want to help because they just want to help. So many people are honest and kind and pure and not trying to use your situation for their own gain. But, if you ever find yourself in the clutches of somebody who is a “crisis chaser”, I just want you to know that as scary as it is, you can move away from them and flourish. You can, and you will, figure it out on your own. I know it’s scary. I know they have been controlling big parts of your life. I know they have made you feel like you can’t do it without them. I know they have taken on so much of your burden that you can’t possibly imagine how you will start dealing with it on your own. I know they have made you feel like it’s your fault. I know they have manipulated your friends and people close to you. I know they have made you feel uneasy about how you trust. I know they have gaslighted you, given you lists on why you can’t live without them and blackballed you to prove it. I know they have, over time, whispered your insecurities in your ear and slowly massaged your fear to the point where your felt crazy. I know they have torn you down while building themselves up and I know they have used your tragedy against you. I know they have had you rely on them so much that you don’t know how you can do it without them.

You can. Just like any other abusive relationship, it may seem impossible now, but I am living, breathing proof that you can, and you will, do this without them.

And you will succeed. You have already faced and survived some kind of great loss. You have already looked fear in the face and won. You have already survived. You have already been through the worst. I hate clichés, but it’s true when they say, “if you can survive that, you can survive anything.” You can. You will. You are.

Courtesy of Diana Register

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Diana Register. Her bestselling book, “Grief Life,” is now available in print and kindle. Experience love, laughter, loss and hope in this raw, emotional, honest look at grief. You can follow her work on her Facebook page. She has been chronicling her journey with grief in a series of stories for Love What Matters:

‘We pulled into the cemetery. It struck me we didn’t have anything to leave behind. As she opened the door, there it was. Two vials of glitter.’

‘I let my 15-year-old daughter get a tattoo, and no, I don’t care what anybody has to say about it.’

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