An Expert Explains How to Deal With a Friend Who's Too Needy Amid Quarantine
We're all experiencing huge changes and emotional rollercoasters amid quarantine, so it's totally expected that people may contact you for more support than usual.
But it's important to recognize the difference between a friend's minor sibling complaint, for example, and a friend who contacts you to complain about their situation around the clock.
While you certainly want to be there for others during these complicated times, this is also the time to be selfish. You need to look out for your own mental health first and foremost, and if someone is taking up too much of your energy, it's okay to press the brakes on frequent interaction.
To help us sort through this situation, we reached out to Kathryn Chaya Lubow, LMFT SEP, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, and Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher. Keep reading for what she had to say about dealing with friends who are too needy amid quarantine.
Sweety High: What's the difference between normal-friend needs and needy-friend needs?
Kathryn Chaya Lubow: During this Covid-19 pandemic, many people are having a hard time, but some rely on their friends for emotional support to the point where it can become draining for those close to them. If you find that often when you communicate with a certain friend, you feel exhausted or depleted of your energy afterwards—tired, frustrated, down—then you most likely have a friend who requires more support than you alone can give. This is, in other words, a needy friend.
Healthy friendships are demonstrated by their ability to offer a give and take—a reciprocal relationship where both friends' wants and needs are balanced and you can support one another through your highs and lows. If you have the sense that something is off in your friendship, trust your intuition. It is spot-on more often than you realize!
SH: What's the best way to go about a pal who's putting too much stress on you during these difficult times?
KCL: Start by noticing the effect your friend has on your mood when you interact with them, and when you start feeling stressed, you can set a boundary with them. A boundary is an invisible line between you and another person, that helps show you your own personal limit. It's important to set boundaries so that you can speak up for yourself and what you need. Examples of setting a boundary are learning when to say no and when you need to turn down a conversation, or setting limits with how long or how frequently you can communicate with your friend.
SH: Are there respectful ways to tell someone you need conversational space from them?
KCL: Try an open conversation with your friend to voice your concerns in a way that uses "I" statements. Explain how the friendship makes you feel in a kind and compassionate way, rather than only placing the blame on your friend for their behavior. For example, you can say, "I feel overwhelmed right now, and need to take some more space for myself." You can share that you're also affected by the pandemic, which helps a needy friend hear what it is like in someone else's shoes besides their own.
SH: How do we avoid feeling guilty for turning down conversation with someone who's going through an especially difficult time right now?
KCL: Learning to be kind to ourselves, and to give ourselves compassion can be an antidote to the guilt we feel about setting more boundaries with our friends. Everyone goes through difficulties in life, and it's okay to take space for ourselves when we need it. Learning to recognize and label our own emotions, like sadness or frustration, gives us guidance on what we need to focus on giving more of to ourselves. We may be in the habit of showing up for others more easily than we can show up for ourselves. Sharing this with our friends may help them realize that though we want them to feel better, we also need to spend some time taking care of ourselves to ensure that we stay healthy and positive during this difficult time.
SH: Are there ways to maintain communication with this person while still taking the space we need?
KCL: Absolutely. When you learn to set healthy boundaries with your friends by sharing how you feel, saying no more often, or limiting contact to what you are comfortable with, then you have more space to enjoy the positive aspects of the friendship. Are there interests you both share that you can continue to connect about? You can also find ways to connect that have a start and stop time, such as watching a virtual movie, or taking an online class together. If you notice that the conversation starts to turn towards topics that feel too heavy, you can shift the focus back to your shared interests or activity.
SH: Is there anything else you want to share about needy friends, especially amid quarantine?
KCL: Certain friendships may feel that the tradeoff is too great and that you need to take a break from the friendship altogether. Remember that everyone is doing the best they can, including you, and it's okay to reassess the friendship and take some time apart. Saying yes to you and respecting yourself first is a valuable lesson to learn and will continue to serve you for the rest of your life.
Speaking of your friends, THESE are the nine different types everyone has amid quarantine.