Friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts. It is a fulfilling relationship that is shared by two people who care about each other, trust each other, and want only the best for each other. A good friendship is honest, loyal, and truthful; good friends understand and accept each other in ways no one else can.
A healthy friendship feels good to both parties. It is positive, supportive, and comforting whether times are good or bad. Friends see each other through the best of times and the worst of times, and through it all the relationship remains uplifting and fun. Friends make us laugh, feel good about ourselves; they enhance our life experience.
Sometimes an initially healthy, energizing friendship turns weighty and oppressive; the needy scale begins tipping in one direction and never balances back out. Being together is no longer fun—nearly every encounter becomes downright depressing. But your friend was there for you in the past and you feel obligated to be there for them now. The problem is that your debt never seems to get paid off.
If you are wondering whether or not you are saddled with an emotionally needy friend, consider the following questions:
1. Despite all your help does your friend always seem to be unhappy?
2. Are you helping your friend more than they help you?
3. Does your friend dominate every phone call or interaction by talking about their problems?
4. Does your friend show little or no interest in your life or your problems?
5. Does your friend make the same mistakes over and over or choose one destructive relationship after another?
6. Does your friend feel better after dumping on you and you feel worse?
7. Do you wish you could avoid contact with your friend?
8. Do you feel trapped in the friendship?
9. Do you dread every encounter with your friend, or does every encounter leave you feeling drained and exhausted?
You are probably a very good listener and want to be a good friend—you want to be supportive of whatever your friend is going through. That is understandable. But be clear on what it means to be a good friend and what it means to be supportive.
A healthy friendship is reciprocal and balanced; it requires an equal amount of give and take, time and effort. Good friends act as sounding boards for each other—issues bounce back and forth; they are not absorbed. A friendship is not a therapist/patient relationship.
Supportiveness with a friend leads to personal growth, not neediness. Supporting a friend means giving them a hand up, not a hand out. A good friend will appreciate your kind and generous efforts, not take advantage of them and become dependent on you. A good friend respects you—they do not want to be a burden on you.
Why do you allow yourself to remain in an unhealthy friendship? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you need or like to feel needed?
2. Do you see yourself as the glue that holds people together?
3. Is a needy friend better than no friend at all?
4. Is your friend occasionally fun to be around so you justify their being a downer the other 90% of the time?
5. Do you see other people’s problems as more important than your own?
6. Do you take on other people’s problems to keep the focus off your own?
7. Do you feel unworthy of healthy relationships?
8. Do you feel guilty when you say no?
9. Do you have trouble defining and protecting your personal boundaries?
If your friend has been needy for a significant amount of time and the imbalance has become the pattern of your relationship, it will be very difficult to change the nature of your friendship. Whatever you give will never be satisfactory or enough for them.
They may have chased all their other friends away and you may be the only friend they have left, but that is not your problem—people have to learn to stand on their own two feet. You should never do for others what they are capable of doing for their selves. We should want to make our friends stronger and more self-sufficient, not weaker and more dependent. Sometimes that requires tough love.
There are ways to deal with a needy friend. Here are some suggestions:
1. Be honest. Tell your friend what is bothering you and how it is affecting you. Explain that you just can’t play that role anymore.
2. Change the nature of your relationship. Set boundaries and know when to say no.
3. Plan enjoyable things to do with your friend to change their focus. When the fun is over, the time together should be over. Do not let every friendly interaction end with you listening to their problems.
4. Suggest that they find some other friends, join clubs, or volunteer to take the pressure off of you. It is unreasonable for a friend to expect you to be their one and only.
5. Tell your friend that you have to focus on caring for your own needs and/or your family’s needs.
6. Take a hiatus from the friendship. You deserve a time out and you deserve to enjoy your life.
7. Keep yourself busy. Fill your schedule with plans, commitments, and time with other friends.
8. Gradually distance yourself from the friendship by spending less and less time with them.
9. Recommend that they seek professional therapy. If they are seeing a therapist that is not helping them, insist that they find another one.
10. Recommend that they see a doctor who can evaluate them and if necessary prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depression medications.
11. If you have tried everything and nothing works, it is time to say goodbye to the friendship.
If you are in an unbalanced relationship with a needy friend there is no time like the present to remedy the situation. You will both benefit from your efforts. If you have a pattern of attracting and perpetuating these types of friendships, it is time to look inward and figure out why these types of friendships are acceptable to you. It is not healthy behavior and it often signals a bigger issue.