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We talk about consent; consent before involving them in a plan, consent before touching them, and even before telling people something we know is private to them. But, do we take consent before dumping our problems on our friends? Why not?
Like any other relationship, close friendships aren’t all fun times. A certain amount of actual effort goes into being a good, supportive friend. Sometimes that means checking in on them when they’re going through a breakup, even though you’re secretly pumped because their partner sucked. But, sometimes without your knowledge, you might be making their life a bit more complicated, than it is.
Let’s understand it through a situation, shall we? Suppose you are tired from all the work you have been doing and are at a stage where you now feel mental pressure, and your friend comes and starts telling you all about his/her problems. How would you feel?
You are already exhausted from your problems and now the fact that your friend is also not doing great doesn’t help the situation. What if, before dumping his/her problems on you, he would have asked you whether you are ready to listen to him talk about his problems or not if you are even in that state to listen, understand or help?
Asking someone if you can vent to them before doing so is good practice if you want to maintain healthy friendships. It gives the person you’re venting to the space to assert their own needs and forces you to reflect on what you’re asking for, why you’re asking for it, and how often you make this request. It’s also a good way to make sure the relationship is balanced and reciprocal. If you constantly need to vent about a different crisis, it’s worth considering that perhaps you’re not just experiencing a weirdly timed series of catastrophes. You might just be giving undue space in your life to anger by assigning each issue a 45-minute complaint session.
Asking a friend if they’re available also allows them to be honest about the answer, so you can rest assured that when they’re listening to you, they’re doing so because they care enough about you enough to be fully present—not because they feel backed into a corner by your frantic texts.
We all have problems to deal with, big or small a problem is still a problem. How about asking your friend how he is doing before telling your side of the story? Before you offload your worries onto someone, knowing if they are in a reasonably right physical and mental state is essential. When you vent as soon as you begin your conversation, you do not give your listener the option to say no if they need to. That way you will be able to care for him and if not help, you can at least not add up to his problem, right?
If every conversation you have with another person is about your latest problem you are in, I have an extremely blunt proclamation for you: Your friend is not your therapist. The person you do this to either loves you so much that they keep on taking it up for you and are allowing you to degrade their mental health too or they don’t have the heart to call you out, or they’re tired of you and just don’t know how to tell you they dread it when your name pops up on their home screen. It’s time to look at yourself, and think about it.
Here's how you can ask for emotional consent:
Send a message in advance
Give them options for if and when they can talk/listen
Let them know what you need
Let them know how long you need (if you know)
Be OK with them saying no
Make sure you understand that you are not their responsibility but yours and if by any chance you are a victim of this situation. My friend, it’s time to call that person and let that person know that you have your traumas to deal with too and that you can’t always be available for them. Although you promised them to be there for them when they need you, they should understand that it’s only possible when you, yourself are mentally fine. It might sound rude to them at first, but this is called setting boundaries. You can politely tell them, “I understand that you are upset, but I don't have the mental or emotional space for this talk right now.” Or something like “I care for you deeply, but I think this conversation belongs to a trained therapist. Would you like me to help you find one?”
There’s no need to be rude to them because they are going through something and they came to you because they trust you. But it’s also necessary to know that It’s not your role to be someone else’s dumping ground, and it’s natural to want to avoid this energy-draining and highly challenging experience.
Avoid telling people that they are the only ones you feel comfortable sharing your problems with. While your intention might be to make them feel special, it’s important to remember that it puts a huge responsibility on that person, which he or she might not be prepared for. Also, just because you are sharing your problems with someone, it’s unfair to expect them to do the same.