Most people need an outlet to vent about the challenges they are dealing with in life and knowing you have someone you can turn to in times of trouble can be comforting. But sometimes one person does all the comforting while the other person does all the venting.
If you find that you are always the shoulder to cry on, it could get a little overwhelming. Even though helping those closest to you navigate difficult breakups, challenging work situations, or issues with family can be rewarding, if it happens all the time or if your friend doesn’t reciprocate by being there for you, it can quickly weigh you down mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically.
While displaying empathy and compassion for others is not a bad thing, shouldering another person’s problems and absorbing their stress (while getting nothing in return) will eventually wear you out. Here’s what you need to know about mentally-draining friends and how to stay mentally healthy in the midst of this type of relationship.
Signs of Mentally-Draining Friendships
People who are surrounded by drama, constantly complaining, or are an emotional wreck may be all around you. They are the ones who seem to suck the energy out of you and leave you feeling emotionally drained anytime you talk on the phone or spend time together.
Some people know right away who these people are in their lives. But, if you’re not sure if you have a mentally-draining friend, check out this list of signs. You should look for clues in your own responses as well as your friend’s behaviors.
What You Might Experience
When it comes to identifying a mentally-draining friend, it’s important to look at how you respond when you talk to that friend or spend time together. It could be that the friendship may be taking a toll on your mental health. Here are some telltale signs that your friend may be mentally-draining.
- Your relationship or friendship is emotionally or physically exhausting.
- You regularly make sacrifices to make sure your friend’s needs are met.
- You experience anxiety, fatigue, or frustration when you talk or hang out with your friend.
- You worry about their issues more than you do about your own well-being.
- Your positive feelings for them are starting to disappear.
- You can’t be yourself around them or you censor your thoughts and feelings.
- You don’t get a chance to ask for their advice or support.
- You don’t enjoy spending time with them any longer or dread talking with them.
- Your friendship is interfering with other areas of your life or you’re changing your life to accommodate them.
What You Might Notice
Maybe your friend just seems to have more issues than others. Or perhaps your friend is going through a particularly rough patch in their life and doesn’t seem to be handling it well. Regardless of the reason, if you notice any of these signs in your friend, you may want to pause and consider whether or not this is a healthy friendship.
- Your friend vents to you nonstop or seems to always be in crisis.
- Your friend never asks how you’re doing or takes an interest in your life.
- Your friend has an endless list of needs and expectations.
- Your friend is never there for you when you need to vent.
- Your friend’s problems are always bigger, worse, or more extreme than yours.
- Your friend uses guilt and manipulation when you’re not there for them.
- Your friend is rarely happy for you and often struggles with envy and jealousy.
- Your friend wants all the attention and monopolizes the conversation.
- Your friend doesn’t know how to move on or let things go.
- Your friend has low self-esteem and needs constant reassurance.
- Your friend lacks self-awareness.
- Your friend never thanks you for being there for them.
What to Do
Having empathy and compassion are incredible gifts and skills to have, but sometimes they can lead people to take advantage of your kindness and generosity. If that happens to you on a consistent basis, it can be particularly draining—especially if you are a highly sensitive person that tends to absorb the feelings and stresses of other people.
No friendship is worth compromising your mental health or well-being. That said, you may not want to completely end the friendship either, especially if your friend’s struggles are temporary. But it is important to protect yourself emotionally. Here are some tips for what to do if you have mentally-draining friends.
Refrain From Fixing
People need understanding and to know that you are there for them. That understanding can take many forms—it can mean a hug, an offer to grab coffee or lunch, calling or texting to check-in, and supporting your friend with care and concern.
It does not mean solving their problems for them, playing therapist, dropping everything for them, or taking over things they should do for themselves.
No matter how much you want to help or think that you might be able to do something, you need to avoid rushing in to rescue them. Chronically unhappy or dramatic people will likely resent your efforts or come up with new issues that need “fixed.”
Your best strategy is to be supportive but to put the responsibility back on their shoulders. You can even say something like, “You’re a smart person. I am confident you will figure this out and come out stronger than ever.”
Offer an Alternative
While it’s tempting for a friend to rely solely on another for support and advice, this type of expectation is often too much responsibility for one person. If your friend repeatedly comes to you for advice, has anxiety issues, or is showing signs of depression, suggest that they talk to their doctor or mental health professional.
While it’s admirable that you want to be a good listener and a compassionate friend if your friend is dealing with deep emotional pain, the best thing they can do is seek the advice of a professional.
Friends can provide comfort and support, but they are not meant to be counselors. Make sure you don’t try to take on a role you’re not qualified for. Being a true friend is about connecting your friend to resources they need.
Empower Your Friend
Keep the focus of the conversation on your friend’s needs and what they think might work to solve the problem. While there is nothing wrong with offering advice, ultimately they need to come up with a plan on their own on how to address the issues in their life.
For friends that keep coming to you with the same issue, remind them that although you are there for them, you don’t feel like you are much help since they keep complaining about the same thing.
Ask them what they think would make things better. The key is to open up the conversation so that they realize they are stuck in the same place and need to be thinking about what the next step might be.
Know Your Limits
It’s important that you know what your limits are. Ask yourself how much time and energy you really have to do devote to this friend. This acknowledgment isn’t about being insensitive or selfish. Instead, it’s about recognizing your self-worth, your limits, and your priorities.
You can still be a good friend without sacrificing your life in the process. A strong sense of self-worth coupled with healthy limitations helps you prevent imbalances in relationships. Plus, you owe it to yourself to practice good self-care.
Once you have recognized that your friend is mentally-draining, it’s important that you limit the amount of time that you spend together. After all, your own mental health depends on it. If you don’t want to end the relationship, or if it’s a coworker or family member, you need to establish firm boundaries.
For example, if your friend calls late at night, don’t answer the phone, or if you do answer, tell them upfront that you only have 10 minutes, and then you have to do something else. Once the 10 minutes have passed, politely end the conversation and hang up the phone. You also may need to establish boundaries about calling you at work, showing up at your apartment unannounced, or any other lines your friend appears to cross.
When you are regularly there for a mentally-draining friend, the best thing you can do for yourself is to counteract the stress you experience from your interactions with positive experiences. If possible, try to do something uplifting and inspiring.
Pick something that will erase your stress and get your mind off your friend’s troubles. Examples might include a relaxing bath, a good book, a massage, a funny movie, a yoga class, or a brisk walk.
The key is that you do something that will keep you from ruminating about your friend’s issues or trying to solve their problems. Instead, do something that makes you feel loved and cared for. You don’t want the emotional weight of your recent conversation to darken the rest of your day or your week. You owe it to yourself to make sure you’re staying as mentally strong as possible.
Consider Distancing Yourself
Not all friendships last forever and that is OK. If you have come to a point in this friendship where you feel like you are being taken advantage of, and you are putting in more than you’re getting out, it may be time to distance yourself from that friend. This decision may be especially true if your friend has toxic qualities or is an unsafe person for you to be around.
That said, if someone drains you mentally to the point that your life is unbearable, you need to recognize the possibility that the person is not a good fit for your life right now. If that is the case, it’s important that you distance yourself from this friend.
And, if your friend happens to ask you why you no longer hang out, be honest. Gently, let them know that it was hard for you to support them and be a good friend and that it was causing you mental anguish and stress.
Don’t blame them for the end of the friendship or make them feel bad for going through a tough time, but instead take ownership of your decisions and your choices.