by: Jessica Blough
Here’s a simple fact: high school is really hard. Regardless of what kind of person you are or what struggles you undergo, you will need emotional support at some point during your high school experience. In my experience, the best thing to have amidst high school challenges is a friend whom you can rely on to listen to your problems, evaluate the situation from an outsider’s perspective, and offer advice. Similarly, your friends will, at some point, need emotional support from you. The stigma against being the “therapist” in a relationship leads to shallow and unsupportive relationships.
If you dive into every relationship expecting a perfect balance of “give” and “take,” you will be disappointed. The “giver” in the relationship, or the “therapist,” is the person who makes himself or herself available for emotional support for the other person. The “taker” in the relationship, or the “patient,” is the person who needs an active listener to aid him or her in evaluating a problem. It is natural for one person to fall into the “giver” role and one to fall into the “taker” role. Hyper-awareness of the deviation between the “giver” and the “taker” only hinders relationships, as you cannot develop honest and meaningful relationships if you are constantly worried about complaining too much.
Furthermore, this unrealistic expectation of a perfectly balanced friendship also prevents people from developing relationships with people who are considered needy or insensitive. A needy person is too much of a “taker,” while an insensitive person cannot “give” enough emotional support. All of these assumptions about “healthy” friendships deter from actually building relationships, which can lead to awkwardness. Especially in a group work setting, these expectations must be left behind in favor of creating beneficial friendships.
However, taking on a “therapist” role in a friendship requires enough self-awareness to realize when a codependent relationship becomes emotionally abusive. If constantly hearing another person’s problems without reciprocation is too emotionally taxing, the relationship has to change, whether that change can be prompted by a conversation or requires termination of the friendship.
Multiple times during my high school experience, I have been the “therapist” friend, for those with issues such as not making a sports team to an eating disorder. I have also been the “patient,” who can vent for hours about one specific, and usually unimportant, issue. I’ve also developed friendships that consist of periodic rants back and forth, with both parties simultaneously taking the “therapist” and “patient” role. Each friendship has a unique value to me, and I’ve called on each friend when I needed to support them or be supported by them.
Should you seek friendships with people who can give you the exact same level of support as you can give them? Yes, but that does not mean that you should refuse any other relationship, nor should you avoid discussing tricky topics with your peers just to prevent becoming the “taker.” There will be people who can handle your problems and people who cannot, and you are allowed to be friends with both types of people. The only relationships that will absolutely not work are those that come with an unrealistic expectation about what either party will contribute to the relationship.