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Mental Health

How to Deal With Being Your Family’s Therapist

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

While being the “therapist” of your family is mentally and physically draining, it is not addressed enough. I am the person every friend tells to become a therapist; the first responder to fix the, yet again, broken family and the referee of every family fight. Being the only person in my family without anger issues or becoming easily irritated, I’m the one they come to to unleash their rants, problems and pent-up emotions. I’m extremely grateful they trust me enough to discuss these issues with me, but at this point, I could care less about gratefulness and trust, and would prefer they not mention it to me at all. I am burnt out, mistreated and too tired to care anymore, no matter how selfish I feel for saying that. Here is some advice I’ve tried implementing in my life to ease the weight of being my family’s therapist in a household that lacks any discussion of mental health. 

Don’t Take on Their Baggage

Being the friend therapist is one thing, but being your family’s therapist is like working at home, with no way to escape the tension and animosity in the air and frustration seeping through the thin walls.

While being empathetic to your family’s struggles, whether it’s personal, financial, professional, or just amongst themselves, it’s important not to carry it along with you. As much as their issues are valid, so are yours. Oftentimes, there is nothing you can do to fix their ongoing problems, so carrying it along with you is similar to having two locks with no keys. Empathy, the ability to feel the emotions of another person, is a valuable lifelong trait one can possess. However, too much empathy can result in emotional exhaustion, which eventually causes you to feel “stuck” or “trapped” in a situation. Learning to put aside other people’s problems after the conversation is not selfish but practical— and necessary.

You Can’t Help People Who Don’t See Their Actions as Issues

Being the therapist of my family didn’t use to bother me, but then I realized it was because I hated the feeling of awkwardness and tension in my house and wanted it to be over as soon as possible. Even if it meant bending backwards on my end to mend issues that didn’t even involve me. Have I gotten used to it? Yes, of course, but it left me with the burden of always having to build the bridge in a divided household.

Trying to fix my family’s issues for the sake of my comfort was always temporary due to a lack of communication and understanding. The bridges I worked hard to build always collapsed and it was a never-ending cycle. After this realization, I stopped putting my effort and energy toward fixing my family’s problems, even if it made the house uncomfortable for prolonged periods of time. It is not your responsibility to take care of the relationships your immediate family has with one another. If people are not open to input, there is no use in helping them. What is the point of listening to what they have to say? You cannot help people who do not see their actions as issues, and listening to them is enabling their problematic behaviours. If the person is looking for possible solutions, only then should you listen and give them the space to be heard. 

You Are Not an Emotional Dumpster

If everyone around you continues dumping their issues onto you, it’s bound to make you sick of carrying everyone’s burdens, and you’ll begin to neglect yourself. Stop giving them so much of yourself, even if they’re your parents or siblings. They will call you selfish and self-centred for it, but the only reason they’re saying that is because they feel abandoned. If they, themselves, cannot handle their own issues, how can you? People telling me their problems and asking for advice is not the issue, it’s the redundancy of seeking undeserved validation. You soon begin to realize your family, who dumps their issues onto you, doesn’t actually care enough to do the same for you, and in the end, you get one-way relationships. You need to learn to respect yourself and to stop letting people use you as an emotional dumpster.

Refereeing your family fights and trying to mend their relationships with each other are only temporary solutions to much deeper and painful problems. You do not deserve to be stretched so thin and carry the weight of your family’s burdens. Creating boundaries within your family is tough, especially when mental health is a topic untouched in your household, but it must be done. If not, you will forever be taken for granted and lose the most important relationship in your life: yourself.

Shobiya is a first-year Commerce student at Ryerson University, minoring in English. She is a huge Harry Potter, and Studio Ghibli fan, and also enjoys spending time outdoors. She hopes to entertain, and connect with others using her articles.
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