When things start getting rough, most of us feel like we have to vent to someone. It isn’t healthy to bottle up negative emotions, so having a good ol’ friend to talk to can help you manage your thoughts and eventually deal with whatever life throws at you.
Sometimes, you are that friend. People come to you, weighed down by burdens arising from relationships, studies, work and the like. But what happens when it all gets too much? You’re only human, after all. If you’re like me and tend to absorb others’ emotions like a sponge, you could become emotionally overloaded.
While we would want to be the sturdy and reliable friend who can always be a shoulder to lean on, we have to admit that some people cross the line when it comes to unloading their emotions. When an emotional conversation starts to make us uncomfortable, what should we tell them? How do we deal with it in a respectful way that doesn’t hurt their feelings? Read on to find out more!
- Identifying emotional unloading
You might find that you shy away from texting certain people. When they send you a message, you dread having to reply to them, and the words don’t come naturally like they usually do. It might be because this person is unloading their emotions on you far too often.
Some signs of this include:
– Constantly texting or calling you at odd hours (late at night or early in the morning) to vent about their emotions
– Constantly asking why you aren’t replying to them
– Victimising themselves or guilt-tripping you to make you feel bad (for example, they might say: “I thought you were my friend” or “I guess you’re too busy to reply to me”)
– Hardly asking about your well-being and making each conversation about them
The bottom line is that if a conversation always feels one-sided and you find feelings of guilt creeping up on you, it might be time to take a step back and examine your relationship with your friend.
It may be worth noting that the line between simply venting to someone and emotional unloading is very fine. If someone comes to you to talk through their emotions from time to time, with an understanding that you may be facing your own troubles as well, it would definitely be good to let them cry it out with you. The big problem arises when this becomes a regular occurrence, and you find it suffocating to be around them.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide where your boundaries lie when it comes to talking about emotions.
- How do I set boundaries for emotional unloading?
Once you’ve identified that someone seems to be unloading way too much on you, it’s time to take some steps to benefit your own mental health.
What you should do
Politely let them know that their constant messaging makes you feel uncomfortable. You don’t have to be passive-aggressive — more often than not, they don’t always realise that their words are negatively affecting you. You can set reasonable physical boundaries as well. For example, tell them that you won’t be available to reply during certain timings, or that your conversations should mostly stick to work or study-related matters. If it applies to you, you could also tell them that you aren’t that good at handling emotional issues.
If they refuse to listen to you and continue to guilt-trip you, it might be time to gradually reduce contact with this ‘friend’. Be firm in letting them know that you won’t be talking to them as much, and don’t open or reply to their messages so quickly to avoid sending the wrong signal. In the worst case, it might be better to block them directly, after you’ve been clear in explaining your feelings on the issue.
What you shouldn’t do
Refrain from immediately blocking them without first explaining your thoughts. It may come as a shock to them, especially if they didn’t realise that they were making you uncomfortable.
In some cases, you might notice that your friend’s messages display worrying symptoms of mental health issues such as depression. Here is a non-exhaustive list of physical and emotional symptoms of depression. In such scenarios, don’t ignore them or block them. Encourage them to seek a professional therapist, as you are not trained to help them on your own. Emphasise that there is no shame in doing so and that speaking to a specialist can help them manage their thoughts better.
This being said, we definitely shouldn’t stigmatise or generalise people with mental illnesses — not everyone with a mental illness will unload their emotions and vice versa.
- The choice is yours to make
Your friend’s feelings are not invalid — they simply might not have any other outlet to express themselves. In the same vein, your mental well-being matters too. That’s why it’s important to set reasonable boundaries with someone who is draining your emotional battery without recharging it.
Ultimately, you decide how much you can take and how best to handle it. It’s difficult to deal with these situations, but sometimes, you have to help yourself before you can help others. Everyone experiences a wide range of emotions and has many thoughts. After all, that’s what makes us human. But because you’re human, don’t expect yourself to shoulder them all.
If you need to speak to someone about your mental health, you can use the following list of resources:
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) (24 hours)
Phone: 1800 221 4444
Institute of Mental Health (IMH) (24 hours)
Phone: 6389 2222
TOUCHline (Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Phone: 1800 377 2252
Eagles Mediation and Counselling Centre (EMCC) (24 hours
Phone: 6788 8220
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH) (24 hours)
Phone: 1800 283 7019
eC2 (Mondays to Fridays, 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.)