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Emotional Hostages: When your “Bus Stop Friends” only need you in crisis.

Counseling & Coaching, Uncategorized0 comments

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Friendships are supposed to be two-way streets.  In other words, there should be a sense of mutuality and reciprocity but in some cases, it can become skewed where one party becomes dependent upon the other, and the other oftentimes unconsciously takes on the role of the burdened friend who feels they must be at the other’s beck and call.

In therapy, I often see this with clients who have a nurturing nature yet lack the ability to draw healthy boundaries with these friends who take them emotionally hostage.  

Being taken “emotionally hostage” refers to a situation or relationship where the friend feels he/she must answer every call or text, thus getting sucked into a friend’s drama of depression, suicide, or anxiety.  While the helping friend may want to help periodically, what sets them apart as emotional hostages are the belief they must be there at all times.  They think if they fail to be the emotional anchor for their friend in crisis, the friend’s situation could escalate to the point of suicide.  Yet staying trapped in this kind of relationship creates friction, tension, and resentment as the dynamic fosters co-dependency.

What’s equally troubling is these friendships can become one-dimensional over a period of time where the nurturing friend can not turn to the other friend to talk about their own issues.  My clients will confide when they have regular life struggles and reach out, the other friend rarely has the time to connect with them or may consistently flake on their scheduled times to meet or chat.

It is a laborious process to untangle yourself from these relationships but unless you want to be someone’s pseudo-therapist, you’ll want to address it directly with the friend so they’re aware of the uncomfortable position you’re in.  Your friend may feel betrayed if you no longer can be the sole person they depend on in their time of need but I reassure my clients that it’s not their role or responsibility to be someone’s emotional savior.  

Another way I’ve described these needy friends is to refer to them as “bus stop friends”.  In essence, they will only stop to chat or hang with you when they have significant issues in their life.  When life is moving swimmingly on their part, you may want to spend time with them only to see the metaphorical friendship bus pass you by time and time again. 

Once again, true friendships are built on interdependence.  It’s not one way but a relationship where both can rely on each other as needed.  Healthy friends also do not exploit or manipulate others into always caring for their emotional needs.  If you find yourself on either side of this dynamic of either being exploited or insisting certain friends meet all your emotional needs, it may be a good time to seek professional help. 

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