4 Things To Remember When You Are The Therapist Friend
“You can be a therapist.” “I feel so much better after talking to you.” Do you often hear these lines? If yes, then you might be the ‘therapist friend’ and those lines are not as sweet as they sound. Don’t get me wrong. The feeling of being needed shows that you are trustworthy and reliable. But sometimes, the line between being a good friend and a ‘therapist friend’ can get blurry. If you think you are the ‘therapist friend’, these are some things to remember before you push yourself to an emotional brink.
1. Their baggage is not yours to carry.
As an empath, the hardest thing to do is to separate your feelings from the person next to you. There are three different types of empathy. They are cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and compassionate empathy. Each of them is different from the other. If you feel deeply about the weight of other people’s emotions, it is most likely you have emotional empathy. This type of empathy is good as it helps build emotional connections with others. But, it can lead to burnout when you’re the only one who’s harbouring all the stress.
Remind yourself that you do not have to feel EXACTLY what they feel. As mentioned by Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist, when empathising, let your heart respond and not break. This means learning to look at the solution (how you can help your friend to feel better) and not their suffering. Remember, you don’t have to carry the weight of their emotions.
2. Ask them if they want advice or just someone to listen.
Sometimes, your friend wants a compassionate ear. Each person’s circumstances and needs are different. Offering advice straight away will not only push your friend away, but it will also exhaust you. Take a second to ask them if they want to vent or if they need some opinion or advice. On that note, if your friend needs someone to listen, that does not mean you can check out from the conversation. What you can do instead is give them encouraging words such as “Thank you for letting me know” or “I’m sorry that happened to you”. A few caring notes can go a long way.
By doing this, you will also save yourself the trouble of saying the wrong things. Sometimes, not saying anything is better for you and your friend. It will save you from the mental load you will have to bear while minimising the risk of worsening the situation.
3. Set boundaries.
This is a very obvious but crucial step. One that I personally have yet to master. You have to set the boundaries. Remind your friend that the fact that you’re setting a boundary with them is not because you want to ice them out. Instead, it is a way for you to take care of your relationship. Have a tough but necessary conversation with your friends about it. More than likely, they will understand. If they are not receptive to your wishes, give them some time to get used to the idea. But, if they still have a hard time with it, according to Hendriksen, this could be a red flag in your friendship. It might be a good time to re-evaluate your friendship.
Setting boundaries also help in giving you the power of what you want to give time and energy to. By having that control, you will be more confident and people will respect your time more. One way to achieve this is to start telling them that you have your issues going on as well and you’ll let them know when you are ready to listen. No explanation is needed. In this case, less is more.
4. Disengage and prioritise yourself.
Remember that there is a difference between being an empath vs. having empathy. For a more scientific explanation of how you can take care of yourself as an empath, listen to this interview. Dr. Judith Orloff is a psychiatrist and the author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, Thriving as an Empath, and Emotional Freedom. So, I think she knows a thing or two on this matter.
As mentioned in the interview, if you’re the ‘therapist friend’, it is more than likely that you are an empath. An empath needs a lot of alone time because people and the outside world can overwhelm them quickly. To combat this problem and to avoid dramatic outbursts, be alert when you feel like your energy is depleting. It is more than okay to isolate yourself for a while and take care of yourself. Make ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’ your daily mantra.
Being a therapist friend is fine, it shows that you are an awesome human being! However, try to strive to not get the line between being a good friend and a therapist friend blurry. You can still be a good friend without being there for your friends 24/7. Besides, you are not obliged to! One rule to always remember (and this can be used in any aspect of your life): fill your cup first before you fill other people’s cups.
If you are a therapist friend, I hope that these reminders help you in choosing to take care of yourself first. And if you are the ones who have been treating your friend as the therapist (I know I have), let us all strive to be better! There is nothing wrong with confiding in our good friends. But let’s not hold them responsible for our problems and be mindful of each other’s mental space.
Here are some reminders for therapist friends out there:
- Their baggage is not yours to carry.
- Ask your friend if they want advice or just someone to listen.
- Set boundaries.
- Disengage and prioritise yourself.
For further reading, check out these articles on why seeing a therapist shouldn’t be taboo and how counselling and therapy has helped this author deal with negative thoughts! If you’d like to learn about more ways you can support a friend going through a tough time, check out this one too.