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Are You Being Too Supportive? (Yes, There is Such a Thing)


“We cripple people who are capable of walking because we choose to carry them.” ~Christie Williams

Years ago, I had a dear friend who needed a lot of support for various reasons. She was working hard to find her way out of a dark period. She had suffered traumas and tragedies—things I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Her life really did resemble a roller coaster ride. It was heartbreaking to watch her struggle, exciting when things would be on the upswing, and upsetting again when things would spiral downhill.

Because I had known her almost my whole life and because I loved her dearly, I tried my best to always be there when she needed me. I am someone who knows and appreciates how important it is to have supportive people around you, offering love and kindness, especially during times of struggle.

Sometimes being there for her simply meant picking up her call in the middle of the night and talking with her.

Sometimes it meant dropping what I was doing and driving to meet her to make sure she was okay.

There were talks, tears, and through that, hard truths were often revealed.

Of course, it wasn’t all dark and dreary. There were bright moments and memories too. There were movie marathons and game nights. There was laughter to the point of tears. Many a meal was shared and many a bowl of ice cream was devoured.

What I got in return wasn’t the same type of support. She was not the person I would turn to in a crisis, however minor or major. She just couldn’t handle it. But in turn, this friend showed me gratitude and genuine love.

I never thought much about the dynamics of our relationship until another crisis erupted in her life, shaking things up once again.

The downward cycle began and with it came hysterical phone calls, late night drives, drama after drama. And through it all I did what I always did which was listen, help, care, and show love.

But one day my boyfriend at the time looked at me and said, “You need to stop doing this.”

I was confused. The idea had never even crossed my mind. Stop? Why?

He explained more and his perspective was eye opening. He saw her as less of a victim to outside circumstances and more of an adrenaline junkie—addicted to drama and things going wrong. As proof, he listed off several disastrous choices that were just that: her choices.

He asked how I could help someone who didn’t really want help at all.

But mostly he felt this friendship was interfering with my own life, well-being, and happiness.

I had never thought about it like that before. And while a part of me was mad at him—he just didn’t understand, I thought—there was a tiny part of me that agreed with him.

What was I doing?

The truth was these late night calls and drives were interfering with my early morning job.

The truth was the time spent trying to support and help her was taking away from things in my personal life that also needed my attention.

The truth was I cared so much that I carried her stresses with me much more than I should have. I felt sad and worried, more than I needed to.

The truth was her out of control life was making me feel out of control in mine.

Because the thing was this: in being so busy with always checking in on her, I forgot to check in with myself.

It was the first time I really understood that in order to support others we must remember to support ourselves first.

After this realization hit me, I spent a great deal of time thinking about our friendship and I started to see things in a different light.

Yes, this friend had a lot on her plate, but maybe the way she was reacting and handling these situations could be better. Maybe she needed help beyond what I could give her. Maybe she needed to start by wanting to change and help herself.

I started to see that no matter what I had done for her all those years, how many phone calls I answered or help I offered, nothing had really changed in her life.

She was having the same type of emergencies and she rated them all at least a nine on her personal-crisis-Richter-scale.

Once this truth was apparent, I knew a shift needed to take place.

I started to do only what I felt comfortable doing. I wasn’t there every single time she needed me, but I was still there a great deal.

This wasn’t enough. Naturally, my friend was upset and hurt. She couldn’t understand why I was withdrawing, even though I did my best to explain. The more I explained, the more hostile she became. The more hostile she became, the more I withdrew.

Eventually the crack between us turned into a massive fault line, one that couldn’t be repaired.

Do we have an obligation to do our best by the people we love? Well, yes—to an extent.

But we have to remember we have an obligation to ourselves first—for our happiness, our health, and our spiritual well-being. If we are not respecting our time, feelings, and energy, no one else will either.

I hope that friend of mine has figured that out. I hope she’s living life with more highs than lows, more laughter than tears, and more joy than she ever thought possible.

And I hope she feels it when I send her a blast of love from my little corner in the Universe to hers.

I hope she understands that’s the best I can do now… the best for both of us.

Friendship vector image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Angie Sarhan

About Angie Sarhan

Angie received her M.F.A in Creative Non-Fiction from Emerson College. She currently teaches college writing. When she’s not teaching, she enjoys traveling, cooking and writing—especially her inspirational, positivity-packed, sometimes humorous, always lighthearted blog. For more inspiration, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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  • Rin

    Thank you for this article today. I’ve been dealing with this issue for the last few months. I’ve got a friend that has done a great deal for me, much more than I can ever repay. It seems though this friend has changed and now expects me to let her vent to me about everything in her life that is wrong and what I’m doing wrong to her. She wants my help but then doesn’t like it when I give her advice so she hides things from me. I try and tell her gently that I can’t handle her dumping on me and every time we get together, which is every weekend for dinner, she is mostly negative. She tells me that she has to walk on eggshells around me and just can’t talk to me about anything anymore. It’s so sad and I’ve tried to help her get over her past and be more positive and help her out emotionally but I’m at my limit. It’s almost as if she feels that since she helped me that it gives her the right to guilt trip me into spending several days a week with her and I can’t do that. I work full time and she doesn’t work at all. She wants me to be her go to person and cling to me for everything. I didn’t know she was going to be like this when she moved next door to me either. I feel bad now for taking her help when I cannot be her everything and cannot take her passive-aggressive, guilt tripping behavior.

  • David G Stone

    Its funny how we get so focused on helping someone that it seems to justify our sacrifices in the name of being a good friend or lover. It seems noble, even has an air of positivity about it but that is how we fool ourselves from the truth. What does that say about ourselves?

  • ScarlettFeverr

    Quite familiar with this. After we almost completely destroy ourselves trying to help, then we get called judgey jerks for reaching our limit.

  • DanR

    Good article! Sadly, I learned this the hard way like a lot of people probably do… 🙁

  • Abigail Smith

    I could have written your response, Rin. The same with my sister, who moved 6 months ago across the country to be near me…been through so many real and imagined crises with her, and now she’s turned on ME, saying the same thing about walking on eggshells around me…the thing is she never stops talking about herself to pause and listen to me….and now she’s not talking to me because I am in no contact with our parents who were abusive to us..when she had totally agreed with me about what they did and continued to do to us….Sending good wishes to you. It sounds like you are a good and caring friend. Sometimes there is nothing you can do but walk away….

  • Abigail Smith

    WOW…Spot on…and just what I needed to hear…been through this cycle way too many times with my sister jumping from one crisis to another…she is an adrenaline junkie and drama queen, and all the time and energy I have put into helping her is wasted and takes away from my family. I’m an “empath”, which it sounds like you are too. Here is the definition: “Being an empath is when you are affected by other people’s energies, and have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. Your life is unconsciously influenced by others’ desires, wishes, thoughts, and moods. Being an empath is much more than being highly sensitive and it’s not just limited to emotions.”
    You are an excellent writer! Namaste and blessings to you

  • Angie

    Hi David! Thanks so much for reading my piece! You make a great point. I think we should always do our best to help others and extend kindness–and it’s a positive thing for both us and the receiver–but I think we have to remember to be kind to ourselves first. When we don’t check in that’s when it can turn into a negative exchange and that’s never good for either party.

  • Angie

    Thank you for reading! It sounds like it came to you at the right time!

  • Angie

    Thanks for taking the time to read. It’s never an easy lesson. It can come with a lot of guilt… but it’s important to take care of our own well-being first and then only do what we can to help others.

  • Angie

    Abigail! Thanks for including the definition of an empath! Yes! That pretty much describes me! Lol. Luckily, I am aware of that now and much more conscious when I am interacting with others (which I do a lot throughout my day!) Being aware has helped tremendously, but it’s still a struggle at times! I hope you are able to navigate more easily since you are aware too. Thanks for reading my piece, your kind words and sharing your thoughts with all of us!

  • Abigail Smith

    Awareness is the first step…As an “empath” (I didn’t know until last week that there was a name for it!) I would always marvel at people like my husband who can see through people’s mind games (like my sisters and my Narc parents) and just “not let it bother them”…My new goal is to be more like that…after a lifetime of being told that I’m selfish by abusive family members (which is the cruelest thing someone can say to an “empath” because we live for helping others!), I’m really enjoying learning to be kind to myself.

  • Angie

    Thanks for taking the time to read my piece and share you story. This sounds like such a tough situation, Rin. Don’t feel bad about what happened in the past. The only thing you can do now is focus on what works for you moving forward. It sounds like you are in a better place that you worked hard to get to and being around negative energy is naturally very tough for you. I hope you are able to reach a resolution soon in a way that makes you feel at peace. Sending lots of positive your energy to you and your friend–who seems to need it right now too. I hope it all works out for the best for the both of you soon!

  • thank you for this

  • Angie

    Thanks for reading, Margaret!

  • Angie

    “I’m really enjoying learning to be kind to myself.” Yes! I love that. A mantra to repeat. Thank you for that!

  • Rin

    This is so true. I feel like I’ve done a lot to help my friend but i get it thrown back in my face because she seems to forget about all the help I gave her and only thinks of all the help she gave me when I needed it. I keep hearing the saying over in my head: “never mix friends and money” because its true, even if they say there are no strings attached at all and they are doing it out of the good of their heart, apparently there are always strings attached even if they don’t realize it at the time.

  • Rin

    Again, what you wrote seems like I could have written it myself. I think I’m an empath also. I just feel so guilty for accepting my friend’s help when I was hesitant in the back of my mind that it may turn out bad. But she swore so many times that she just wanted to help me and she was able to so she did and she didn’t want anything back from it and wasn’t expecting anything. I’m in a better place financially because of her and I know this and I am thankful, yet I know in my heart that it still doesn’t give her the right to “bully me” into spending more time with her. I tell her all of this and it goes in one ear and out the other. I’ve even told her that my other friends and family don’t seem me hardly at all and I see her once a week. It doesn’t seem to matter to her, she just wants more and more. We just had all these plans on how fun it was going to be to be neighbors but it all just didn’t turn out very well. I beat myself up because I feel like I should have know and not been so selfish to accept her help.

  • Abigail Smith


  • Abigail Smith

    I can’t tell you how to feel, but I can tell you that you do not need to beat yourself up for not knowing…part of being an empath is that you want to think the best of people, and have a hard time believing that others can be truly evil…If she offered help, then there should be NO strings attached. Do you offer strings to manipulate her when you extended help? No, of course not. That wouldn’t even cross your mind…..Go in peace, friend…you are not obligated to anyone out of false guilt…I spent my whole life (47 years) dealing with that kind of manipulation from my family. I finally cut off contact a year ago (it was not easy but it finally came down to my health deteriorating because of contact with them)…and I can see things so much clearer now….There are plenty of kind people out there who can be in a two sided, normal friendship

  • Susie

    That is a great observation David, that we use the distinction that we are being a good versus bad person in deciding whether to continually ‘overhelp’ someone. All of us on this reply thread obviously have strong moral compasses and are easily guilted into giving more of ourselves than we should to (sometimes) manipulative friends or family. I think that (as someone else mentioned), being empaths, we should be aware that we are super susceptible to absorbing others drama and negativity. I’m trying to remember this while dealing with my psychologically damaged brother who can be very draining on my energy reserves. Self care needs to come first.

  • Tir

    Enabling isn’t alway helping, but hindering. Good article. Thank you. I needed to read this for my relationship with my sister.

  • David G Stone

    I’ve come to realize that the responsibility is on ourselves after becoming aware. Potential knowledge can only become wisdom if we practice it and can help us recognize what’s healthy for ourselves and in others, making us more equipped to handle the situation don’t you think? Whether people accept that or not is their choice but it is the best we can do.

  • David G Stone

    Hi Angie! Thanks for writing this piece! I agree. If intentionally we aren’t giving from a positive place within, naturally it will turn into a negative exchange. Things like codependancy thrives on this. The nature of giving is to not expect anything in return and so the way i believe to achieve that is to give to ourselves first and be full of positivity and kindness so that it naturally overflows to all of those around us.

  • Noelia Badillo

    How can I contact you?