Friends or a Caseload?

Let me ask you if this sounds familiar:  you work a full day, and during that day co-workers wander in and out to ask for your advice or to share personal stories about their lives.  You get home, and before you can finish dinner, a friend has texted you about a big issue they need to talk through.  Another friend drops by to see how you are doing, and you end up having a deep conversation about how unhappy they are at work.

What differentiates friendship from a co-dependent caseload, where you are the one that every one turns to for help, or to fix things?

For years, I was exhausted by my role as helper.  I helped co-parent.  I helped friends at school.  I ran a suicide prevention center, and helped callers.  I helped my family, I helped my partner, I helped…and helped…and helped.  Everyone except me.  I sat waiting for someone to help me, to take care of me.

Of course, this is the hallmark of co-dependency. “Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.” – Mental Health America

It is normal to rely on your friends for emotional support. Sometimes nothing feels better than crying your eyes out on your best friend’s shoulders and knowing they accept you and understand you no matter what. But it is important to have a variety of support systems and not rely entirely on one person for all your emotional needs. No matter how much someone cares about you, they simply can’t be available all of the time, and they can’t meet your every single need.

“Friendship is based on an interchange that is somewhat balanced. You will rarely feel comfortable for long with a friend who talks non-stop or who gives you advice when you’re not ready to hear it. You might even feel quite the opposite of friendship if that person curses the boyfriend who just left you but you still dearly love.

A therapist is someone you pay to fully attend to you, to actively listen with compassion to your troubles. Usually he or she doesn’t share his or her opinions about your recent boyfriend or give you advice, but help and support for you to find out what you need and want to do next.” – Difference between friend and counselor

Thankfully, I awakened to this, and ended all my relationships that were unhealthy.  The spiritual partnerships I longed for replaced the co-dependent dynamics that had characterized my life. “Spiritual partnerships are the most fulfilling, substantive, and deep relationships possible. They are relationships between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth. Growing spiritually means creating a life of more joy and less pain, more meaning and less emptiness, and more love and less fear. As we become aware of ourselves as more than we once thought that we were—and this is happening to millions of people—we long for relationships that are the most meaningful and rewarding possible, that support us in becoming healthy, vibrant, creative, and loving. These are spiritual partnerships.” – Seat of the Soul

If your friendships feel more like you are an unpaid counselor, if you feel drained by the relationships on your life, or as if you are invisible, it is time to look in the mirror and explore what you can do to have healthy relationships. Nothing will ever be the same again.

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