Ensuring your own emotional well-being when dealing with a friend in need

The other day on a coffee date with my friend, I happened to notice she seemed a bit drained. On probing, she told me about a friend of hers who was going through a tough divorce. Now while my friend was all there for her, somehow, she seemed to be losing herself in the mess. While trying to pull out her friend from the well, she seemed to be sliding in herself.. and getting highly emotional too. Her friend would call her anytime of the day and cry about the situation and time would just fly.

Wouldn’t we call this a “true friend”, someone who feels and goes through everything you are going through? How lucky is that?

At the same time, we all want to be such friends, right? The loyal, supportive one… the no matter what one?

Somewhere, most of us believe that our value in a relationship is when we can make our people happy. That we need to be their shoulder to cry on or laugh on.

Unfortunately, what was happening to my friend was that her shoulder was taking on too much weight and she had no boundaries left in this relationship. For her, she was mixing her own and her friend’s emotions and not able to segregate them. Haven’t most of us faced this in our life.

It’s normal right? At first it starts with a coffee chat, and then the next thing you know, they are calling you at odd hours and ranting, while you have left everything you had planned to do at that time, to be there for them. And it does not stop. Finally, you land up taking their emotional burden along with yours and going through the rest of the day.

This got me thinking about my therapist, who deals with so many people with such negative emotions; and yet whenever I speak to her, she always sounds calm and positive. Now how do they deal with this? And why is it so difficult for us to? Well, they are trained to respond in an objective way. The example she gave me was.. they know how to throw the drowning person a ladder into the well, rather than be in the well with them.

So how do we maintain our own sanity and yet be there for our loved ones?

  1. Setting some boundaries – in small, simple ways: Often we believe, that when a person comes to us for help, it’s our moral obligation to drop everything to be there for them. Of course, we all believe it’s a fire only we can douse since the person has chosen us. But if it becomes a pattern, where we are trying to douse their fires all the time, you need to rethink a bit. While it may seem abnormal at first, it’s best to be honest and let them know you are there for them, but you are caught up with something at that time. It’s not selfish to state that you could be busy or just not emotionally ready at that time, and renegotiate a more suitable time/way for discussion. It may be difficult at first for both of you to come to terms with this, but honestly for the long term, its only beneficial.
  • Dealing with the emotional turmoil that follows post: See, I completely get it, that we are not used to setting boundaries. Especially in the culture I come from, it’s normal for people to overstep ALL the time. So it’s best to have your safe space. Someone or something that you can turn to. For some it’s meditation, for some it’s another friend/spouse. You have to find your release, else things can get toxic.
  • Is the relationship a one-way street: if something terrible has happened to the person, it is advisable to be there for them. But for some people, it’s always their problems that are above all. And you realise, you are always picking up their pieces without any time to go over your own. It’s such times you need to figure if this relationship is worth investing in or not.
  • Sometimes you are not enough: I remember a friend once reaching out to me for help in her marital situation. While she was emotionally explaining the turmoil in the marriage, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to her or the situation. I encouraged her to reach out to a counsellor, helping her with some leads as well. While our intentions would be pure and our instinct would be to jump in and solve the problems for our people, sometimes it’s best left to the professionals. Always know the difference.

While I write about this, the Covid situation is causing an increased prevalence of emotional issues. And it is important, now more than ever, to be able to set some boundaries for self-care to be there for our people in the right spirit.

Always remember, self-care is not being selfish! You have to always put on your own mask in an aircraft before you help others.