How to Tell Your Friend That You Need a Break From Supporting Them
When I worked at a mental health crisis centre, I couldn’t believe how many people came to us, not because of their own problems, but because they were so lost in a friend’s pain that they couldn’t take it anymore. I saw a lot of people who were so worn down from helping someone else that they couldn’t sleep, eat, socialize or focus at work or school. They were consumed with guilt every time they put down their phones, went to sleep, or dared to enjoy themselves and have a good time. All because they had no idea how to set boundaries.
Helping your friends through a tough situation is a wonderful and noble thing to do, but it only works if you’re mentally in a place to do so. If you’re dealing with issues or mental illness of your own, you’re not always capable of being someone else’s shoulder to cry on 24/7. And that’s okay. Sometimes, you have to put yourself first. You can’t help someone else if you’re a mess yourself. You can’t save a drowning person with a sinking ship.
Telling a friend that you’re overwhelmed and you need a break is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Honesty is the best policy - don’t go radio silent on them, or avoid answering their messages. Be honest about how you’re feeling, and what you need from them. If you’re stuck on what to say and how to start the conversation, here are a few suggestions. Feel free to copy them exactly:
It’s really hard for me to admit this, but I’ve been feeling like I’m on the verge of a breakdown lately. I love you and I care about you, but I need to take some time to take care of myself for a while.
I’m really concerned about you, but I honestly don’t know how to deal with this and I’m worried I’ll say the wrong thing. I really think that you should talk to a professional about this.
This is hard for me to admit, but I have a lot going on in my life right now, and it’s getting to be too much for me. Would it be okay if we talked about lighter stuff for the next little while?
You deserve more support than I can give you. I think you need to tell a close family member or professional about what’s going on.
It seems like every time we talk about this, things are worse for you. I’m worried that my advice isn’t helping you at all, and I think you should talk to someone more qualified than me.
I’m really worried for your safety, and it breaks my heart, but I can’t keep you safe all by myself. Would it be okay if we told someone else what was going on?
I’m sorry, but I can’t answer my text messages 24 hours per day. I really want to make sure that you always have someone to turn to if I’m not available. Are there some other people you would trust with this? I can help you tell them, if you’re not comfortable doing it by yourself.
I hope these suggestions are helpful - best of luck to all of you, and make sure to put your own mental health first when you have to.