The Friendship Doctor

Send in your friendship questions and quandaries and get expert answers and solutions

My Friend is Draining Me!

It may be time to step back and focus on yourself.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

My BFF and I have been friends since high school (I am now 26). For most of these years we have been as tight and as happy as you could imagine. However, I feel she has been relying on me too heavily for emotional support and empathy while ignoring any issues I may be going through.

She has complained about her now ex for years, cheated on him last year, broke up with him this year, and one week after they broke up hooked up with someone new (her ex and her were together nearly 9 years). I have been secret keeper and confidant through all of this. Meanwhile, I went through some issues over the past few years like my brother being hospitalized for a few months after a schizophrenic break, and I get next to nothing. Sometimes I have told her something I was feeling that was really important and she has said nothing!

I am in no way perfect or always right but frequently this friend uses me for an emotional bouncing board. She has told me before she finds it hard to be empathetic towards me but I feel I am expected to hear her out on everything. She has even spoken to me about suicide before. I feel this pressure to assist her and the lack of reciprocation has damaged our relationship and I don't know how to fix it. Help!

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Furthermore my personal emotional well-being is damaged because of it. I sometimes feel I am having a fantastic day or been on a great date and she will call and bring me way down. No answer is ever enough. Just listening is never enough. I feel like a sponge that soaks up all the negativity and misery she feels. Some of these issues I feel she has brought on herself. And her messing around has complicated things with the rest of my friends.

Furthermore, and perhaps the largest issue, is if I ignore her I feel guilty and it doesn't work anyway because even if I do not prompt her, she will spill everything to me. I love this girl to death, I could never ditch her, I just don't know how to manage living my life the way I want without being dragged into her drama but still maintaining the relationship. This situation has made me unbelievably sad. It is not that I don't want her to tell me important things, it is just I don't want that to be it. A lot of the time we will go out for a girls’ night and it will end with her crying. This has been going on for a while and it is becoming very difficult to navigate. I feel I am becoming angry and frustrated with her something I never wanted to feel.

Perhaps my expectations of her are unfair? I am a very sensitive, understanding person but I just don't know what to do and feel I have nothing more to offer her, and am falling into bitterness and resentment, feelings I am very uncomfortable with.

Thank you for your support and sorry if this sounds desperate.

Marissa

ANSWER

Hi Marissa,

Even though this relationship has become one-sided and has reached the point where it feels draining, you sound like a sensitive and caring friend. Moreover, your note makes it clear you value this friendship and want to preserve it.

If your friend is crying, bringing you down, and talking about suicide, there is a high likelihood that she is depressed. When someone is depressed, that individual’s world shrinks considerably and the person may be so self-involved that she doesn’t have the capacity to be as caring and empathetic as you or she would like her to be.

It sounds like your friend is just managing to tread water. Feeling sad, angry, resentful, frustrated, and desperate like you do under these circumstances is normal.

Both to help your friend and to preserve your friendship, you need to strongly suggest that she seek professional help. Reassure her that you really care about her, but see her floundering and can’t provide the kind or amount of help she needs. Raise the possibility, explicitly, that she may be depressed and do some homework so you are able to suggest a therapist or organization in your community.

Right now, she simply isn’t able to support you; you may need to look to other friends for that until she is feeling better. For your own self-preservation, too, reduce or limit the amount of time you spend together so you have the energy to listen without it sapping your energy. Another strategy would be to spend time with her in the company of other people.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

Other relevant posts on The Friendship Blog about depression and feeling drained by a friend:

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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