Ask the Counsellors: Am I Being a Bad Friend?
Every month the associates at Aspire Too will answer your questions in our “Ask the Counsellors Feature“. Please submit your questions confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Aspire Too,
Recently I have been avoiding a close friend of mine. I just don’t seem to have the energy for her and the thought of spending time with her causes instant anxiety. She has been in my life for so long and I feel guilty lying to her about why we can’t hang out. We have always spent a lot of time together and she has always been a bit difficult, but recently I have had some of my own problems to work through and just the thought of being around her makes me want to cry! I always feel exhausted after spending time with her! Am I being a bad friend? Help!
A Very Bad Friend
Dear A Very Bad Friend,
First of all, you are NOT a bad friend! It sounds to me like you need to set some better boundaries with your friend. Sometimes we do not realize how much we are giving or how one-sided a relationship is until we, ourselves, have extra stress and need support. Once in awhile, the people in our lives go through hard times and it is our job as their friends and family, to be there for them and support them. However, when I say hard times, I mean hard times. I do not mean daily issues that simply require normal coping skills or constant and dragged out hard times that are never ending. The people in your life should not always be sucking your energy, sometimes they should be filling you up! If this is not the case, then you need to figure out if the relationship is worth keeping. Is there mutual respect and love? Or is it abusive and toxic? If this is a relationship that you want to keep, then it is your job to set boundaries based on what works for you.
Setting boundaries means being clear about what you need. What does this relationship need to make you feel like an equal partner? It should not be a constant effort on your part to listen, problem-solve and/or accommodate. Do you need more time apart? More time in a group or with other friends? More independence? You should not feel ‘on the clock’ for your friend. Try to understand what it is about her that exhausts you. Is it her constant focus on her problems? Is she constantly complaining? Gossiping? Does she get upset with you or make you feel guilty for not being available for her? Does she not want you spending time with others? Or does she think that her problems are larger or more important than yours? Once you can identify what these things are, decide where your comfort zones are and then lay out what you can and cannot handle. It doesn’t have to be blunt and she doesn’t have to know exactly what you are thinking. Simply redirect conversation or casually say, “I don’t feel like talking about that.” Often, a positive response is all you need when people are consistently negative.
Friendship is about respecting wants and needs, these are yours, and you’re trying to find mutual ground. If it isn’t what she talks about that drains you but the amount of time she wants to spend with you, stick to a set amount of time. You are a better friend when you have the appropriate energy. The hardest part is not giving in! You do not have to answer the phone or text messages — they can go unanswered. Not engaging when she is being negative or in a bad mood is also effective. A good friend who wants you in their life will understand. There may be some growing pains but be patient. Sometimes relationships need an update!
Kelly Gerhardt B.Ed, M.Ed, RPCc 3717
Aspire Too – Prince Albert