Updated: Oct 12, 2020
I’ve always been the “counselor,” the person everyone reaches out to in times of hardship and despair. I’m the one who many consider the “shoulder,” the one with the advice that just “makes everything seem better.” Despite this being my career choice, its an innate energy that so many “healers” carry. That’s why we do what we do. It’s just who we are.
And that is a huge problem.
No, I don’t mean being good at our job is a problem, nor do I mean it’s bad to be good at helping people feel better. That’s a beautiful thing and it’s something I pride myself on. I LOVE what I do.
The problem is the last sentence of the first paragraph. “It’s who we are. “
It’s this identity we have taken on …. The healer, the fixer, the counselor. And it stops there in many people’s eyes, even in our own. Is that all I am? The healer? The counselor? The fixer?
It started to hit me one night when I was home alone, laying in my bed at 8 pm on a Friday night. (let me caveat, with my insane schedule, getting to lay at 8 pm and have nothing to do is an absolute goddess-send.) I started to reflect on my life and how different times were than they used to be. Years ago, I’d be out partying, hanging out at the bar, surrounded by friends. Granted, when you hit your (*gasp*) 30s, those times are far behind us, but that sense of connection and friendship isn’t … or shouldn’t be… at least not in my book. And then I asked myself, “when was the last time someone reached out to you to hang out?” Just simply hang out. It didn’t have to be to go to the bar. It didn’t have to be to go clubbing. But maybe to catch a movie. Or have dinner. Or go for a walk and just talk, hang out … ya know, connect?
So I started to scroll through my phone.
And my heart felt a little heavy. Because every conversation was either with clients or with friends discussing their problems, how I could help them, me inquiring on how they were, or me asking them to do something.
I realized that I wasn’t just the counselor as a career. I was the counselor to everyone in my life. And that’s the identity I had taken on. People saw me as the person in their life that helped them through their obstacles. The person that gave them the advice and helped pick them up when they were low. And YES, we are FRIENDS that is a huge part of friendship. But friendship is a two way street. Equal reciprocation of energy, my friends (as you have heard me preach ten million times in blogs, classes, and sessions). And what I recognized was that I was expending all of my friendship currency and not getting much in return. I was in friendship debt with only a few “how are you’s” or “just checking in’s” and I’ll say almost no “want to hang out’s” gracing my inbox.
What started as a moment of reflection turned into this honest, angry, upsetting conversation asking, “is that all I’m good for? To help when you’re low? But not good enough to ask me to hang out on a Friday night?”
I made a decision that night.
I would stop reaching out to people.
I wasn’t going to be the first to ask “how are you.” I wasn’t going to be the one to ask to get together. I would cease all counselor-friend duties and watch.
So I watched. And I waited. And I watched some more. And waited some more.
A few days turned into a few weeks. A few weeks going into a few months.
And I won’t lie to you. I was a cocktail of pissed and sad at first to see that some people I have considered my closest family and friends would easily fall away if I weren’t there to reach out to them first.
I understood over time that it was a precedent that I had set, allowing myself to become the personal counselor and not communicating my needs in return. But I also realized that this was more than that. This was about the energy that I kept.
Of course, this was not everyone. I have amazing friends and family who never skipped a beat through this process, and I have people who even made their presence more known in my life. And for that I am eternally grateful.
But this was a gosh darn eye opener.
And a much needed time for me to cleanse and assess the reality of my life.
Could I reach out to the people who I noticed were lacking tremendously in their return of energy? Of course I could. But first I needed to get good with the reality of the situation.
The fact of the matter is that this is who they are. This is how they behave. And this is how they are in the relationship with me.
I needed to recognize this BEFORE I said anything because I don’t want to have to point this stuff out to people … especially before I point it out to myself.
I then took the time to assess what it was that I was gaining from these relationships – both from those who did continue to reach out to me and from those who fell off the face of the earth.
While I never have gone into a relationship with the mindset of “what’s in it for me?” the reality is if there is no give and take in a relationship, then it’s not a relationship. There NEEDS to be something in it for you in order for it to be healthy. Whether that’s an emotional return, a physical return or a financial return, doesn’t matter. It’s where you place emphasis and importance in what you receive that matters.
Some people are fine with doing something for someone and receiving nothing but money back (this is called a job in most of our lives).
Some people are fine doling out money for emotional support in return (this is called therapy).
But in a relationship? One that’s your CHOICE to be in? Where you give emotional support, communication, connection (maybe money, too because we all like to share the food bill every now and again or treat a friend to a gift)? If you’re giving emotional support on a regular basis and getting nothing back emotionally, then what is the point? Truly? What is it?
So I went through and asked myself that question for every relationship I could think of. “What is the point of me being in a relationship with this person? What do I give them (as far as my perspective goes) and what am I getting back from them?”
You’d be amazed what your answers are if you do this for yourself.
For me, I validated that I was, in fact, a counselor to people. Only I wasn’t getting paid.
How was this fair?
It’s not. And it’s not for you either.
Taking the time to truly assess the reality of the relationships we have chosen to be in can be super painful. It can lead you to realities that you don’t want any part in admitting. Especially when it comes to people you’ve had in the category of “friend” for so long.
What do you do after this assessment?
You don’t just write people off. Nor is that what I am suggesting. You don’t need to cut ties, you don’t need to call them and tell them to “F off” because they haven’t been giving you equal energy.
You’re doing this for YOU. So you know where to pull back and redirect your energy.
For me? Now I don’t reach out. I don’t go above and beyond to ask people how they are who don’t do the same for me. I don’t ask them what they’re doing on a Friday night if I know that they wouldn’t ask me the same.
I’m mindful of those in my life who do, so I can make sure that I’m not doing the opposite and allowing someone else to be my therapist while I give nothing in return (because it can go the opposite way too!) I keep tabs on my energy and where it goes so I can make sure it’s being invested in something I’m going to see a return on. Why? Because an infinite, healthy flow does not work when the energy is cut off. It’s continuous. There’s a giving, there’s a receiving. There’s no break in the lines of that infinity sign.
I also place these individuals into a new category. Friend denotes that equal give and take. The unwavering support and love. The “checking in on you” texts and the getting together to connect with fellow people in your tribe. And when that’s sorely lacking, it hurts. So I redefined people. I moved them to a new category. I changed my expectation of them. Because by changing my expectations, I wasn’t setting myself up to be disheartened when I wasn’t getting back what I thought I would.
Will I communicate my needs to these individuals? Absolutely. Because you want to remember that not everyone is self-aware. Some people have no clue what their behaviors are and the only way they can learn (or unlearn) is for you to speak up. So if you find that you want to vocalize your needs, then do so. If you find that you’ve already vocalized until your voice has gone hoarse, then you’ve already done your part.
Just because you’re a “healer” or the “counselor” doesn’t mean that that’s all you are. You’re a human being who needs connection just as much as those you’re guiding. It’s unfortunate that so many of us take on that identity and deny ourselves one of our very basic needs, but that is something you have the power to change. All it takes is a little self-awareness.
Also, please know that being true to yourself, your energy and your needs, is not mean. It is not rude. It is not something you have to apologize for. There is a huge difference between telling someone to kick rocks and saying you “don’t care” about them versus honoring your energy and putting up boundaries. Being a good friend, a healer, a good person does not mean you have to deplete yourself of your energy or deprive yourself of equally caring friendship. You’re entitled to your dignity in all relationships. I know many people struggle with the fine line between being a “good person” versus a “bad person,” but respecting your energy and wellbeing has nothing to do with it. Remember that.
While this blog started off as a private journal entry, I couldn’t help but publicize it because I see this struggle in so many of my clients lives. I wanted to share that you’re not alone in your quest for living a happy and healthful life, and that I too experience very human things (even though some of you have suspected I am a robot).
Questions, comments, concerns? As always, I’m here for you – and no, you do not have to hesitate to reach out to me after reading this, because duh, – I know how to set boundaries now.