Have you ever been told that you’d be a good therapist by any of your close friends? If you have, chances are you’re a ‘therapy friend’. ‘Therapy friends’ tend to be the supporter and listener in their relationships and, while this may sound harmless, this role can become exhausting and detrimental to your mental health.
Nobody is at fault when this happens. It’s not your friend’s fault that they need to get stuff off of their chest and it’s not your fault for feeling overwhelmed. However, it is important to remember that carrying around emotional baggage isn’t part of being a good friend. This is not a burden you need to shoulder.
So, in this guide, I want to help my fellow ‘therapy friends’ with a few tactics I’ve picked up. Hopefully, they will help you either avoid or shed the emotional baggage you’ve been carrying. More than anything, I want this guide to help you realize that you too are worthy of being heard of and respected in your own relationships.
Insert Yourself In The Conversation
Let’s be honest, if you’re a ‘therapy friend’, you’re usually the one asking how the other person is doing rather than vice versa. A big reason why ‘therapy friends’ are even a thing is because they spend the majority of their conversations listening rather than talking. When their friends unload their struggles, they either give out advice or lend a sympathetic ear.
It’s not that your friends don’t care about you, but when the conversation is always centered on them, it can feel like it. So instead of expecting your friend to reach out and ask how you’re doing, insert yourself.
I know it feels weird mentioning some news of your own once your friend is finished confiding in you, but that begs the question: when is it your turn? If you want a healthy and satisfying relationship, there needs to be room for you. Even if what you want to say doesn’t feel as urgent or important in comparison, it is imperative that you feel heard. This isn’t a one-sided relationship, both parties have to benefit from it. If your friends are invested in you, they won’t feel bad. In fact, they probably won’t even notice that you’ve shifted the topic of discussion.
That’s the beauty of conversation, it changes. So don’t ever feel bad for shifting the topic. Nobody should have to feel like a stranger in their own friendship. Your experiences and stories are just as valid and should also be treated with the attention and respect they deserve.
Spend Time Apart
This one might seem like an easy task, and it usually is. After hanging out for five hours, you both head on to your respective homes. During your time apart, you are able to decompress and take a mental break from all of the trauma you’ve been told. It allows you to focus on other things and gives you the space you need to stop feeling all those negative emotions.
However, what if home wasn’t a safe space?
Thanks to quarantine, I’ve had to stay home for over a year and become the new ‘therapy friend’ for other people in my life. It’s harder to find peace of mind when your roommate or family member (or whoever you’re living with) is the one doing the dumping. There is no moment of solitude because they’re always right there. Their presence eventually starts becoming associated with their problems which soon start to feel like they’re your problems. Avoidance and resentment foster very quickly in this type of environment and, frankly, you start feeling trapped.
That is why having other places where you can be alone is important. Going to a nearby cafe to do some assignments or lazing about in a library helps greatly. Just take periods of time during the day where you can leave, do your own thing, and come back. That way the time you spend with your housemate doesn’t overtake the time you spend recharging.
Focus on Yourself
Although setting alone time is crucial, what you do during that time apart is even more so. Being able to focus on yourself and your hobbies helps redirect your attention. If your mind is constantly thinking about other people’s issues, you’ll never be able to find time to focus on yourself.
For example, I’ve recently picked up some guitar lessons. I had been feeling very overwhelmed and it seemed like a good outlet. At first, I didn’t expect much of it, but it turned out to be a lot of fun! Now practicing playing the guitar has become a very liberating activity for me and I do it whenever I want to take my mind off of something.
In other words, focusing on yourself can be as simple as listening to your favorite songs or as complex as learning how to code. It’s all up to you and there is no right or wrong way to treat yourself. The only conditions are to indulge and have fun!
Despite this being the hardest one, it’s also the most important. When all else fails and you feel yourself becoming drained in what is supposed to be a fun relationship, honest communication is needed.
As a ‘therapy friend’, the thought of telling someone I care about that I need space and want to change the subject seems almost criminal. I mean, your friend has it so much worse than you and you’re going to complain about this? Trust me, as someone who’s been there, it’s for the best. Keeping your feelings bottled up will, in the end, ruin your relationship. All those negative emotions are going to come out either way. It’s up to you whether it’s going to be a hard, unexpected blow or you sitting them down and telling them ahead of time how you’re feeling.
Will it be awkward? Maybe. But if your friend truly values their relationship with you, they’ll understand. Besides, who knows, this might even change your dynamic for the better!
Preventing emotional baggage is hard, especially if you want to be seen as a good friend. However, navigating relationships with emotional baggage is on a whole other level of difficulty. It really takes a strain on your mental health as well as your overall attitude towards others. That’s why I implore you to think about your current relationships and deeply reflect how you feel in them. If you ever start feeling drained from being with certain people, I recommend you start implementing some of these suggestions into your day-to-day life. Trust me when I say that putting yourself first is worth it and that you deserve it.