We all want to be there for our friends. Through their break ups and make ups, work drama and family disagreements, and even to their very early existential crisis. Some times it may feel like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and that’s because you have. You’ve crossed the thin line between friend and entered new territory into therapist friend.
Now you may be thinking, “what’s so wrong with being a therapist friend? I actually like being the one all my friends come to.”
That’s fair. It feels nice to be sought out. To be the one person people consistently flock to in their time of need. It’s empowering to provide advice that should fix all their problems. However, even if you have a lot of patience and wisdom, you’re still not a qualified therapist. Which means your friends aren’t getting the attention they really need and you’re slowly getting weighed down by the pile of problems they keep dropping on you.
Starting to understand the weight of your current situation? No need to start panicking. There’s a way to mend your friendship back to its normal state and break free of the therapist friend title. Here’s the reality behind becoming the therapist friend and how you can seamlessly return to your duties as just a friend.
But first, I feel this must be said before we begin. Please understand I am in no way implying you should not be a good friend, listen to your friend when they are having problems, give them advice, or be a shoulder for them to lean on. There's a huge different between being a friend and being a therapist friend. This article is to help you recognize possible signs your friendship role might have shifted into a role that is no longer balanced and can be harmful to you and to your friend.
What is a “Therapist Friend”
A therapist friend is a friend most people turn to when they need someone to listen and want quick advice for their current situation. This is different than being a good friend.
Over time their friendship may become one sided. The therapist friend might only be contacted to fix the other’s problems and rarely get the same treatment when they need someone to listen to their issues. The dynamic of the friendship slowly shifts into something that resembles a relationship with a professional rather than a friend.
The Problem With Being the Therapist Friend
Your Feelings and Emotions Can Become Invalid
Since friends always turn to you when they’re in a pickle and since you always have the right words and advice for any situation they throw your way, they may forget you have problems of your own.
These friends might start to view you as “strong” and “invincible” but you’re human just like them and need support as well. You might find yourself suffering in silence, hesitant to share your own issues for fear you might add to their load or that your problems aren’t as bad as theirs. However, a friendship should be equal and you should never feel like you can’t talk to them like they do to you.
You’re Strictly Contacted for Solutions and Nothing Else
Have you noticed a decline in normal conversations and an incline in only hearing about your friend’s issues? Do they even stop to ask how you’re doing?
There’s nothing wrong with being a shoulder to lean on, especially when your friend is going through a rough patch, but there might be a problem in your friendship if you notice they only contact you when they need advice from you.
You Get Trauma Dumped on You Non-Stop
Taking on the burden of another person’s trauma can and will take its toll on you. There’s a reason therapists have years of training and experience. They’re taught how to help others without taking on their load.
They’ve also accepted that not everyone will take their advice or change their behavior. As a friend, that can be a hard pill to swallow especially if you provide advice your friend refuses and they continue down a dark and repetitively unhealthy path.
You’re Less Likely to Share Your Problems
You may begin to become hesitant with sharing your own problems with this friend. Holding your own feelings inside to spare another person from what you think as of a burden will make you feel mentally drained and isolated. You might not want to add more stress to them and that's noble, however, that’s not fair to you. Just like they need a shoulder to lean on, so do you.
It’s A Lot of Added Stress
Everyone has their own stress in their lives. Falling into the therapist friend role means you’ll have to take on added stress that isn’t even yours. Plus, you’ll have no control over whether or not that stress is relieved. You’re at the mercy of if your friend will (or is ready) to work on those issues. In the meantime, they could continue to weigh on you.
How to Exit the Therapist Role Gracefully
Talk to them.
Take some time out and communicate how you feel with your friend. Be honest and direct. Together you can work to create boundaries that will allow you to transition out of this role and strengthen your friendship.
Your friend will still need help with their problems so make sure to encourage them to seek therapy. However, searching for a therapist can be overwhelming so offer to help them find their perfect fit.
Just remember, advice is not therapy. Your friends can’t come to you forever and expect you to solve their problems. In therapy they can be given the proper tools and coping skills needed to improve. Over time this will allow them to learn how to solve their problems on their own. In the long run, your friends will be grateful you helped them get the help they truly needed instead of (metaphorically) putting a bandage on it.
Have you been thinking lately, is it sadness or is it depression? Many people often don’t understand the difference between being sad and being depressed. Our article Depression is Not Sadness takes a deep dive into how to spot the difference between the two as well as providing a close look into the struggles of depression.
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