Standing your ground
What do you do when you have a friend going through a difficult time and is relying on you too much for support? It could be difficult letting them know this because you want to be there for them, yet your tolerance slowly dwindles until you get to the point where you are so frustrated, you remove yourself completely from the situation.
Being on either side is not comfortable. Someone who needs so much support is likely not getting it from the right people, those who could truly be helpful to them. Should they go to a therapist? What will that say about them? Will talking about to a therapist make the problem real? Will they ever be able to get married? How could it really help if nothing did until now?
Being honest could feel uncomfortable to you. The important thing to remember, though, is that it is not what you say but how you say it. The other thing to remember that if you let the buildup of overextending yourself happen, then when you do say something, the person will feel those words much more strongly. It could also leave them feeling confused because you had never expressed to them that there was a problem to begin with.
When another person continues to rely on you for emotional support, it is because they don’t view it as being problematic for you. They may realize you are extending yourself, but not necessarily just how much. They become more and more reliant on you, and the amount of time you invest in helping them only increases. You end up expressing yourself to others but not to the one who is bringing up these negative feelings, and the only thing this does is make you feel worse, because the more you speak about it, the more resentful you feel.
Someone recently asked me for advice on behalf of someone else. This individual mentored a student who was feeling drained by another student’s struggles. This student wasn’t equipped to handle the extent of what her friend was going through, and because of this, their friendship changed over time. She felt that the relationship had turned into a constant burden, and she didn’t know how to respond or handle the feelings it brought up for her. When I suggested to the mentor that the student speak to the person who was triggering these feelings, she replied that her student was worried it would break the other student. I explained that it is important in general to be careful with other people’s feelings, but that her feelings are just as important.
As long as you don’t say anything to the dependent person directly and the need for your presence and assistance persists, they will continue reaching out to you. Realize that there is a difference between telling someone in a cruel way that you no longer want to help them, or being sensitive and direct, letting them know your needs clearly and making sure that they have somewhere else they can turn to. Counting the hours you’ve spent supporting them is different than letting someone know that you care about them, but simply need to scale it back. It doesn’t have to be either extreme. You could let them know you can be there as their second support
Ask yourself this: if the relationship is important to you, are you trying your best to invest what you can? Oftentimes, we say that we want something to work but our behaviors don’t match our thoughts.
Everyone has their limits. Some people have a complete disregard for others’ needs because they are only able to focus on their own. In situations like these, you need to focus on what is best for you, before you reach your limit.
We could spend hours pondering over how to say something. But the best way is to just say it! When we try to think of how to say it, the conversation could become uncomfortable. Overthinking will also have you say things you didn’t mean to because you are trying so hard not to say other things. When you are direct, it won’t leave room for misinterpretation. Be truthful and be sensitive. They will understand you are not throwing them away but that you do need some space.
Some ideas for those who feel the need to reach out to people when something difficult is going on include: writing in a journal, or doing something relaxing, such as taking a walk or listening to music. While these ideas won’t solve the problem itself, they will give you some time for the turbulent feelings to become less intense. When you are feeling more calm, you may not need to reach out at all. Sit and think through whatever is going on and try to come up with a solution instead of focusing on the problem. You will feel good about being able to help yourself and you can remember that feeling the next time you feel the urge to reach out to someone. As in all cases when someone has a craving for something, if you are able to walk away for just a few minutes, the desire will lessen.
Whether learning to express yourself towards someone or sort through your own feelings, there is a long- and a short-term solution. The most difficult parts are telling someone you care about that you need your space, or sitting with painful feelings temporarily, but which will help you with the big goals you would like to achieve.
Someone recently said to me, “Thank God I don’t need a therapist.” I explained the benefits of having someone experienced and professional to speak with at a set time every week. Many find that this helps them function throughout their week, knowing they will have a safe place to address their feelings, and not need to suppress them or burden others. I added that we all go through periods of feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or depressed, amongst other feelings. Make yourself number one and do what you need to so you could be happy.