Dear Annie: I am the kind of person everyone goes to if they have a problem or if they’re going through a tough time.
I want to be clear: I don’t take that lightly, and I’m honored that my friends feel safe enough to share their feelings, frustrations and tears with me.
But this seems to happen wherever I go. I can be in a gas station or grocery shopping, and for some reason, a total stranger will ask me for help (“Can you reach that thing for me?” or, “Do you have a dollar?”) and then suddenly start sharing their deep traumas.
I seem to give off some kind of comforting and safe vibe, which is ironic, since I myself have gone through a lot of trauma. I just don’t share to the degree that other people do with me.
What I’m currently having a struggle with is this: I have a couple of friends, two in particular, who are going through some serious issues.
One friend has been watching her husband die for two years and just found out he’s been unfaithful, and the other has just had her heart truly broken for the first time in her life.
I have made myself as emotionally available as I can, but I am getting severely drained, to the point where I’m becoming angry and distant from them.
I’m not a trained therapist, and I can’t hear the same issue over and over and over again.
I also have my own stressors to tend to and deal with. I can’t carry my own troubles along with those of everyone else.
I’m trying my best to be compassionate and remember that we all get stuck in our pain and trauma, and some people can never move on.
I’m also trying to remember that people have a hard time listening to other people’s pain when they are in so much of it themselves, and to let things go if I’m not being heard in return.
At the same time, I feel I’m about ready to snap. It’s harder for me to handle even the most minor of conversations with people. I’m becoming so drained.
Most days, I don’t even want to go outside. I feel I’ll be forced into conversations I don’t want to have. I don’t have the energy for it anymore.
The really funny thing is, I can mention this to the people around me and the friends I’m currently struggling with. They all agree I should set boundaries, but then they continue to drone on about their own problems, completely missing how they’re contributing to the issue.
What advice would you give for someone in my position?
— A Very Tired Listener
Dear Tired Listener: My advice to you is to take time to recharge and rest.
It is your turn to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. You don’t owe your friends a listening ear right now; instead, you owe yourself a listening ear as to what will truly bring you joy, happiness and peace.
If your cup is empty, there is no nourishment to give to others, so find things that nourish and fill your own cup.
You are a kind and empathetic person who people want to share with, but that doesn’t mean that you have to.
Someone might be beautiful and everyone wants to be around them, but that doesn’t mean they have to date everyone.
Deal with your own trauma with a trained therapist before you snap. And even if you snap at your friends, remember that you are only human.
Next time you feel forced into a conversation, pay attention to how you feel in the moment, and if it feels painful or burdensome, simply excuse yourself and go somewhere that you want to be.