Ask the therapist: Do I have to continue to listen to a friend who is always in crisis?

Our readers ask

I have a friend who calls me only in “crisis”. One week she was short of money. Next, her boyfriend was very mean to her. But most of her problems are her own fault. I don’t want to give up her, but I am afraid to talk to her. what should I do?

Amy’s answer

The fact that you say you are afraid to talk to her is a clear signal that you need to change something. You have several choices in how to move forward; you can change this situation, or you can change your perception of this situation.

Change the situation

It’s understandable that you seem to be exhausted when you hear your friends’ questions. It sounds like you have considered ending this relationship, but you feel obligated to continue talking to her.

You cannot change your friend’s choice. But you can change your reaction to her.

Changing your behavior may go from not answering her phone to simply listening to her without giving advice (if you have been doing this). You can also talk to her selectively. When she calls, you may decide not to answer the call. If you pick up the phone while you are busy doing other things, you may not be in the mood to listen to her long talk about her problem.

Call her back when you have free time and are able to hear her voice. You may find that this helps you better control your time. When you call her back after the immediate “crisis” is resolved, she may be more calm.

This may be a good time to talk directly with your friends. Tell her gently how you feel. Say something like, “I’m not sure how to help you best now. It looks like you are struggling with many different problems. I think talking to a professional may be more helpful for you.”

Of course, she may not want to hear your suggestion that she participate in psychological counseling. However, she cannot refute your feelings. Tell her that hearing all the things she is fighting for makes her feel a lot of pressure, and that you feel a little uncomfortable with how to respond. If she retorts that she just wants you to listen, let her know that “just listening” requires a lot of energy. If you really can’t be with her, you don’t want to just hang there.

Setting some boundaries with your friends now may make you feel uncomfortable. She may be angry, or you may feel rude. But establishing clear boundaries now may help maintain friendships in the long term, if that is what you want.

Change your view of this situation

Another strategy is to change how you feel about this situation. This may work best when you combine it with other strategies; change the situation while changing your emotional response. After talking with a friend, ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel anxious? Worn out? angry? Angry? What do you think is good.

Then, notice what kind of thought flashes through your mind. Do you think your friend is a jerk who wastes your time? Do you think you are stupid to answer the phone when she is calling?

You may find it helpful to create a small spell to repeat yourself, for example, “She’s having a hard time now, it’s okay.”

Finally, look at your behavior. Are you doing something that makes you feel worse? For example, do you take the time to complain to your partner or other friends? If so, it may mean that you have invested more time in your friends’ problems.

Also, make sure you take care of yourself. Adequate sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet are important parts of self-care. It is also important that you have your favorite social channels and that you are engaged in a healthy lifestyle as a whole.

Evaluate friendship

In any healthy friendship, sometimes one person may need more support than another. However, if friendship is always one-sided, it may not actually be true friendship.

If your friend is going through difficult times, you may want to be by her side. However, if she always wants your things and never offers anything in return, you might think that this is not a true friendship. If this is the case, you may decide to give up this friendship.

Instead of thinking of it as “abandoning your friend”, it is better to redefine this sentence. Remind yourself that you are moving forward only because the relationship is not healthy right now.

People will change, and so will friends. If you feel that both of you are unhealthy, you have no obligation to continue to listen to your friends’ questions.