“This past year I’ve had a run of hard things. My friends have been super supportive, but I can tell they’re getting drained and I hate feeling needy. What do you do when you still need extra support but you feel like you’ve exhausted your support system?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Kate Scelsa Says:
Let me just say right off the bat that man oh man I have BEEN THERE. There is nothing worse than needing help and on top of that feeling guilty about needing that help and then beating yourself up about feeling guilty and then not being able to just have nice, relaxing time with your friends (which could potentially really help) because you’re too busy being a bundle of “how can I make myself feel worse about this entire situation???”
The very very short answer to your question is, simply, therapy. A therapist’s job is to be a person who is not your friend who listens to anything you need to talk about, and supports you in working through what you need to work through. And because it is this person’s JOB to do this, you are released completely from feeling like a burden to them.
If you can afford therapy, if you have insurance that covers therapy, or if you have access to free or subsidized therapy (at school, at a community center, as part of a support group) TRY IT. It might take a couple tries to find someone you like (or a group that you feel comfortable in), but once you do, even just knowing that there is a time each week set aside for you to talk about what’s going on with you in which you don’t have to worry that you are bothering a friend is HUGE.
If you have an aversion to therapy—if, for example, you tried it once and had a bad experience, or maybe there’s a stigma in your family or in your community around going to a therapist—I really urge you to just give it a try. Your situation is exactly what therapy is meant for. And if it’s overwhelming to you to figure out how to find a therapist (or a group) that you’ll be comfortable with, try asking one of those friends who you’re worried you’ve been too needy with to help you with this one last big thing. They will probably be really happy to know that you’re seeking out this extra support, and you might be able to find someone through a personal recommendation.
The other half of my answer to your question is that, in addition to therapy, there’s a lot of work that you can do to build up your ability to be self sufficient in nurturing yourself and soothing yourself. This is a skill that needs to be actively worked on, and it improves with time. And you might be doing certain things already that help.
Do you need to take a bath every night with candlelight and a comic book? Do you need to write long, indulgent descriptions of your dreams as soon as you wake up every morning? Or does it help to do morning pages from the great creativity book “The Artist’s Way?” Does reading self-help books make you feel less alone? Do you feel better whenever you go roller skating? Does being around animals help you? Nature? What does your most Quiet and Alone Self need?
For me the secret is writing. I don’t always think that I want to do it, but it always makes me feel better. It’s almost as if I can feel all of the stuck stuff inside of me draining out onto the page (sorry, that’s gross). When I write regularly, I feel like I’m taking care of myself. And when I haven’t written for a while, all my neediness comes back. It’s like my brain is calling out for a way to process my life.
What you want to avoid is turning to harmful behaviors to self soothe. TV, junk food (or, um, late night cheese-eating parties aka “Night Cheese”), alcohol, and drugs might all temporarily stop the inner monologue in some ways, but they don’t help it. The way to help it is to use these self-soothing techniques that you’re going to develop as ways to tell yourself “I’m okay.” Because you are.
Once you figure out how to self-nurture even in little ways, you can start to do these things for yourself without anyone else’s permission. This will teach you that your needs are not unreasonable. When we have needs and we turn to other people to meet them and for whatever reason that person isn’t able to meet that need, we tend to judge the need and judge ourselves. We believe that we asked too much, and that needing what we needed in the first place was wrong or bad or “too much.”
The most empowering thing that you can do is realize that you are not “too much.” Nothing about you is too much.
Being alone with our needs is scary, because when bad things happen to us we feel depleted. We feel incapable of controlling anything. We feel that the universe is being ungenerous with us, so we don’t trust it to point us in the right direction.
Let yourself listen to the part of you that knows what these little things are that might help, and visualize this self-soothing work as simultaneously filtering old, stuck emotions and building up self-love resources.
Your friends who love you will still be there for you. And all of this will allow you to be there for them too. It sounds like they’ve given a lot to you, so see if you can find little ways to thank them. A silly gift. An “I love you” text. Share with them the ways in which you are learning to self soothe. Maybe they would like to go roller skating too. It will feel great to know that you can tell them how much they mean to you and how much you appreciate their support through this rough patch.
This road back to feeling okay isn’t always easy. But I promise you that it’s so worth it.
Kate Scelsa is the author of the young adult novel “Fans of the Impossible Life” (HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray). She grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Sarah Lawrence College, and now lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats. Kate also performs with theater company Elevator Repair Service and is half of The Kate and Vin Scelsa Podcast, available on iTunes. Follow her on Twitter. Help support our contributors here on Patreon!