These past 2 weeks, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by everything.
All my friends seemed to need my help at the same time. Of course I wanted to help them more than anything, because that’s what friends do. But slowly, some sort of resentment started brewing under the surface.
It started to show up in subtle ways. For example, when my phone was dead I would make no effort to use someone else’s computer to contact them.
Instead, I’d choose to just “cuddle” all night and forget about the world out there. Even the people I loved most.
Because I knew meeting up with them would mean they’d expect me to make time to assist them with whatever they considered important. (Okay and maybe part of the reason was that I just genuinely enjoyed the "cuddling" part and the person I was doing it with. Sue me 😉 )
I was really starting to behave more selfishly towards them. Being hard to reach and hard to meet, right when I knew they needed me.
Then I would justify that un-friend like behavior by telling myself they were way too demanding of me. Even though I know that is generally not the case.
Instead of realizing I should feel honored that they turn to me when they want an honest and neutral opinion, I’d minimize their problems in my head and say stuff like:
- We’re talking about stuff you can easily fix yourself here. Stop asking me to do it for you.
- Next time you want me to come all the way to your house for support, it better be for something worth complaining about. Like this:
“My dad just died from a heart attack during sex when my wife was cheating on me with him, a pot of Nutella and the dog. On my favorite rug. And they broadcasted it on Facebook live. I saw it happen along with all her other friends. I feel terrible. That rug really tied the room together.”
It concerned me a little because that was far from my usual “mode of thinking”. I really didn't want to be that kind of person. But I still felt that way.
Of course the truth is that you can’t judge other problems by how big they seem to you. We all have a different map of reality.
To me, a lot of behavior that people generally consider "not okay" in relationships, is perfectly fine, but a lot of stuff 90% of people are okay with, I find highly offensive.
In the same way, my hypothetical friend could just as well be the kind of person to say: “I hated my d(e)ad anyway. And the thought of my wife fucking him to death with the dog and a pot of nutella gives me a raging hard on. Oh, and by the way, that rug was ugly as fuck.” While the thought of his TV not working right now really is making him feel bad.
While I think this hypothetical person would have some serious issues (who doesn’t like a good rug, dammit?), who am I to judge?
When it comes to asking me for support, it’s not the specific problem that matters. It’s how they feel about that problem.
Normally I understand that. But lately I had a hard time empathizing on this level. The real issue at hand was just that I felt like I had no energy left to deal with anyone else’s issues.
The problem was that I’m surrounded by friends I love so much that I just couldn’t imagine ever turning them down. I know they’d do the same for me. It wouldn’t feel right to turn down their pleas for help, so instead I tried to make myself unavailable to people.
Oddly enough, I noticed that I somehow did still have the energy to help strangers deal with their issues when they contacted me for coaching.
Seems like a double standard, doesn’t it? Saying "no" to the people you love, but "yes" to people you don’t know (yet).
But that’s how I discovered what the real issue was.
A good friend once taught me the following analogy:
Imagine you’re a phone. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)
If you had 85% battery left, and your friend came up to you and said “Can you just do something for me that uses a lot of your battery? Because I don’t have that much left.”
You’d be more than willing to let them “use your energy”. Even if it took
up more battery than expected. Because you knew
you were still and the green could always re-charge later.
However, if you only had 11% battery, would you still do it?
Maybe you would because you're good friends. But it would be foolish. Being a phone (especially if you're an iPhone), you might die in the middle of the job. Leaving you dead, and your friend not helped adequately and not able to count on you again.
If you only had 11% battery left, it would be better to focus on re-charging yourself for a moment and THEN return to them.
I recently threw my life out of balance on purpose. Which was a very taxing thing to do. So right now what I needed to focus on was creating a solid foundation for myself. Helping myself first, because otherwise, I would have no energy left to help anyone else.
Helping strangers fit in that picture because it helped me to fix my financial situation at the same time. It didn’t feel as draining because it’s what I was supposed to be doing.
I know that to recharge right now, I should:
- Get my financial situation fixed as fast as possible
- Do a lot of lighthearted, fun stuff to balance the serious, rational work. (Playing music, swimming, board games, enjoying my food, acting silly, having fun sex with fun people, watching “brainless entertainment” that has no serious value in any way)
As someone pointed out: all my past time activities were currently “serious moments”. Either because I was still focusing on work, or because my "relax time" got used up by other people's problems.
But at this point that was the exact opposite of what I needed. That part of me was now needed for the work part of my life. After that it should be all fun for a while so I can recharge. Then there will be plenty of me to go around again : - )
If you’re in a similar situation at the moment, you may still feel like it is a selfish thing to do to make your friends wait like that. But think about it like this:
If you put your efforts in helping yourself first, you’ll actually be able to help them BETTER and be much more empathic / attentive while you’re doing it. Taking time for yourself to charge your batteries is not only good for yourself. It’s also better for them.
Just don't forget to communicate it. This way, they can understand or even help you with it instead of just wondering why you're being such a "bad friend" lately.
That said: In the rare event that someone really did mistreat their favorite rug:
Please don’t be a dick. Rush off to help them immediately regardless of your personal situation. That's what friends are for 😉
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