Blogger | Teacher
Friends are a fundamental part of the human experience. We need friends to get through difficult days, to lift us up when we’re struggling, and to remind us that we are worthy and deserving of love. Having romantic partners and family members who support you is amazing, but life just isn’t complete without a friend or two to hold your hand.
But sometimes, friendships can get a bit complicated, especially when the dynamic changes. If one person in the relationship is relying on the other too much without giving the same attention back to them, it can create an imbalance in the friendship. This happens most often when one person becomes the “emotional support friend.”
While there is nothing wrong with relying on your friends for emotional and mental support – a healthy friendship should be built on a certain level of understanding and trust – sometimes relying on someone too heavily can strain your friendship rather than strengthen it. If you feel like you’ve become someone’s emotional support friend and you aren’t sure how you feel about the change, here are some important things to remember and consider.
Emotional Support Friends are not therapists
The biggest problem with relying on someone as one of your “emotional support friends” is forgetting that they’re not your therapist. While we all should have the freedom and the support to let go of our worries and fears in a trusting relationship and rant about our stressors, sometimes it can be easy to forget that the people we are talking to aren’t knowledgeable about all our problems. They don’t have all the answers, and we shouldn’t expect them to.
ESFs aren’t meant to replace getting actual medical help – they’re simply another net of support and a hand to hold when life feels a little too difficult. Treating your friend as if they are your teacher or therapist and thinking that they have all the answers will ultimately damage your relationship. They may feel pressured to give you answers they don’t have, and you may be disappointed when they aren’t as helpful as you want them to be.
It’s okay to go to your friends when you need advice or just to rant, but don’t forget that they’re only people doing their best to give you the answer that they believe is right. It’s up to you to make the final decisions in your life or seek extra assistance.
Emotional Support Friends cannot give up their own mental well being
On the topic of “emotional support friends aren’t your therapist,” it’s important to recognize that your ESFs can’t give up their own mental well-being to take care of yours. Take a moment to look at the friends you rely on emotionally: are they also dealing with their own anxieties and stressors? Have you asked them recently if they are able to handle the problems you need help with?
I read a metaphor once about mental health and spoons. Each morning, we wake up with a set number of spoons: sometimes it may be three, sometimes it could be eleven. Each task you fulfill costs you some of your spoons, and while brushing your teeth may only cost half a spoon, going out or doing work when you’re having a bad day may cost you all your spoons.
Each person has their own set number of spoons, and talking about mental health problems – even if they’re someone else’s – still costs you some of those spoons. So before you start leaning on your ESF to help with your problems, check that they have enough spoons to handle losing some. While it may feel silly, it will do a lot of good for maintaining your relationship in the long run.
Emotional Support Friends can’t be there 24/7
Another difficult thing to remember if you have an ESF or you are someone’s ESF is that emotional support friends can’t be around all the time. They have lives themselves, jobs and families and needs that have to be met outside of your relationship. And while it can be easy to fall into the routine of relying on someone to take care of your emotional needs, it’s also an unhealthy situation for both you and your friend.
People need more than one friend, most notably because we can’t expect one person to take care of all our needs all the time. It’s also important that, on the journey to emotional recovery, you learn to find healthy coping mechanisms for days when you have to take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a permanent fix, but you simply need ways to get by when your friends aren’t there to help you through.
Emotional Support Friends deserve some time to be more than the ESF
One of the biggest problems that I see in relationships where someone has become an emotional support friend is that the other person forgets to treat them as more than that. While mental health problems are persistent and can cause constant problems and struggles, don’t forget that your friend is still your friend at the end of the day. If you only ever see them as a way of alleviating your mental and emotional problems, they’ll begin to feel like they’re no longer being treated as a friend.
The simple way to fix this problem is to take time away from talking through your mental health issues and doing something fun with your friend. It doesn’t have to be anything big: you can watch your favorite movie together or visit an exhibit they’ve been wanting to see. You could have a picnic outside on a pretty day or simply sit in the same room, coexisting peacefully.
Remind your ESF that their friendship is important and valuable to you, not simply because you need them to help you with your problems, but also just because you enjoy having them around. They’ll appreciate this moment of happiness with you and it will help them feel more secure in your relationship.
Emotional Support Friends need to be cared for, too
Have you asked your emotional support friend recently how they’re doing? Did you talk with them about their life or simply let them have a moment to rant and cry, or be happy and share the exciting stories about their week? When was the last time you asked your emotional support friend what they wanted to do or eat or talk about?
Friendship is a two-way street and requires care, consideration, and effort made by all parties in order to maintain the relationship. While it’s okay to not always need equal help – sometimes you may need more support, and sometimes your friend might be the one in need of attention – it’s important to try and balance out the give and take. A relationship that is all give or all take becomes one-sided, and your friend may begin to feel less like your friend and more like your caretaker.
Emotional Support Friends are allowed to have boundaries
At the end of the day, the biggest thing I hope you remember about your ESF (or simply remember if you are an ESF) is that emotional support friends are allowed to have boundaries. They’re allowed to say no or to make it known that they don’t have enough spoons to handle someone else’s problems.
If you’re emotional support friend establishes a boundary with you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something wrong or that you’re a burden on them, and it certainly isn’t a sign that they don’t want to be friends with you. It simply means they’ve recognized the limitations they have within themselves to handle someone else’s needs, and are communicating that to you to help maintain the friendship.
Communication is key in any relationship, and as long as you can talk things through in a healthy, logical way, there’s no reason that you can’t build a strong friendship while still allowing everyone to satisfy their emotional needs.
Do you have any additional thoughts or feelings about emotional support friends? Tell us in the comments!
About Draven Jackson
Draven is an avid writer and reader who enjoys sharing her opinions on movies, books, and music with the rest of the world. She will soon be working as a teacher in Japan and hopes to use her experience to connect with other teachers and students around the globe. Draven spends most of her time at home with her family, her dogs, and her ferret.
To see more, view all posts by Draven Jackson here.