Therapist Surrogacy -OR- Why I Now Hate Listening to Other People’s Problems

Or maybe even: How Being a Good Listener is Ruining my Mental Well Being

I’m not sure what it is about me that makes people want to dump all of their problems into my lap all the time, but I wish it had a switch I could turn off.

It’s not that I particularly mind being there for my friends or family when they’re upset about something. I like helping people. I admittedly get awkward and do not, at all, know how to deal with a crying person (sopleasedon’tcryonme), but otherwise I want to be there for the people I care about.

When I listen to people, I try not to interrupt unless I have specific questions about the situation. I realize that it is important to feel like you’re being heard, so I make a conscious effort to not relate their problem to myself in any way, short of, “I know how that feels and I’m sorry you’re going through that.”

Unfortunately, I am not offered that same courtesy. Whenever I attempt to talk to one of my friends or my family about something which upsets me, within the first few sentences the person I am talking to will cut me off or interrupt me (sometimes not even letting me finish my sentence) to explain how, “I totally get it. I went through the exact same thing when ABC happened and it was just brutal. I thought I would never get over it. But I did XYZ and eventually I started to feel better.”

I used to think being upset about this made me ungrateful and selfish, but after reading so many articles on how important it is to feel like you’re being heard, and so many more articles on active listening (and how active listening involves, you know, actively listening, rather than waiting for your attempt to make the conversation about you), I don’t.

Because that’s what it feels is happening: The people I speak to aren’t listening to me, they’re listening for the key word(s) that will allow them to take control of the discussion for their own means. Whenever I try to vent to someone else, I never get very far and it always will be spun around to allow the other person to vent at me about their problems. Again.

Gods forbid if I try to point this out or explain to them that I wasn’t done talking and I really need to vent, because one of two things will happen:

  1. The person I’m talking to will get very defensive and say, “I am listening! I’m not making it about me! I’m just trying to let you know I understand and you’re not alone!” Which translates to, “How dare you feel upset! I’m trying desperately to distract you from your emotions, rather than let you deal with them as you feel you need to! Probably because I don’t actually want to listen to you complain or I know better than you do about your needs!”
  2. They will apologize, listen for another three or for sentences (about a minute or two) and then do it again.

It is terribly draining and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve just stopped trying to talk to anyone about my problems, aside from my fiance (who thankfully is not one of those people… most of the time… and will apologize and let me continue without interruption if I call him out).

It’s also gotten to the point where I can’t listen to anyone complain about anything without immediately beginning to hate them for doing this to me without reciprocating. Listening to everyone else’s problems is exhausting. You know the phrase, “Misery loves company?” That is because when you put out negativity onto other people, it seeps into them like a venom. This isn’t so bad when I can release some venom of my own, but when I am just taking in and taking in and taking in…

…I often wonder if I would be as anxious and depressed if I hadn’t spent the last eighteen years of my life acting as a surrogate therapist to my family and friends–if I wasn’t bogged down dealing with everyone else’s problems and was able to focus on my own.

But, I can’t bring myself to tell anyone to stop and leave me alone, because that would be rude and hurtful, so I listen quietly, while this heavy ball of anxious frustration building in my stomach, while nodding along, saying, “That sucks. I’m sorry.”

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