What Do I Do If My Friend Treats Me Like A Therapist?
I come with a question and a comment. The comment first: I’ve been following you and Gaby for years and I’m incredibly proud of where you are right now. Your advice and perspective has helped me a lot through the years and wanted to say that in person but I was too shy. So, there! You are great! Big fan!
Now the question:
How do you address mental health struggles that your friends share with you but that they’re not addressing themselves? My best friend of 10 years is continually coming to me to share struggles she’s facing and are affecting her mental health. I really don’t mind to be there for her and listen but I’ve noticed that the issues tend to repeat themselves A LOT. We’ve been friends for a long time and I can clearly see patterns in her behavior that could really be addressed in therapy. She’s recognized how much therapy has helped me and -I believe- she has a positive opinion about it. A few times in the past I’ve mentioned she might benefit from going to therapy herself and she’s even agreed sometimes but never follows through. I don’t want to be controlling/a fixer/obsessive (something that I struggle with a lot and have addressed in therapy) but I also see she keeps treating me like a therapist and I’m not even remotely qualified to address her problems. Should I set boundaries on her sharing? I just don’t want her to feel like she can’t rely on me or that I don’t support her. But I get a little frustrated… Any advice?
(From Venezuela but living in LA! I know this is not a place where you sing international question but at least you know it was one! )
As someone who spends a lot of time singing the virtues of therapy and waxing poetic about the importance of prioritizing your mental health, this question hit home for me. It can be so frustrating to put in the work on yourself, see the benefit of that work and then have people you care about remain stuck in the very problems you have learned how to address. Especially when those people are seemingly coming to you for guidance. It can start to feel like you are shouting into the ether with no feedback from the universe. But I think you touched on the crux of this whole issue in your letter: you are not a therapist. And even if you were, you are not your friend’s therapist. And therefore, your friend’s struggles are simply not your job to fix.
I apologize if this sounds harsh, but learning to release myself from the responsibility of “fixing” other people has been a huge gamechanger for me and I want that same relief for you. So many of us, especially those that are open about our mental health, often get roped into this kind of dynamic. A friend or loved one views us as someone with a good perspective. They come to us for help or guidance. We provide that help/guidance and the friend does…nothing. Actually, not nothing, because they often come back to us again later to rehash the exact same issues—sometimes over and over again. It creates this weird sense of being both a trusted confidante and also someone who is easily ignored. Why ask for our advice if you are determined not to take it?