It’s a relatable scenario. You’re coming to the end of a long, stressful day and you receive a long text rant from your friend, who wants to offload their problems on to you.
Would you ever consider telling that person you simply don’t have “capacity” to deal with them?
A woman has prompted a debate on Twitter after suggesting people should ask for permission before they come to her with their emotional issues.
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Melissa A. Fabello, a PhD student in Human Sexuality Studies, shared a text message from her friend on the platform.
In the message, her friends asks if she has “emotional/mental capacity” to help her tackle a “medical/weight-related” problem.
I want to chat briefly about this text that I received from a friend last week: pic.twitter.com/cfwYx3tJQB— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 18, 2019
The person who sent the text is a very good friend of mine. We have the kind of relationship wherein YES OF COURSE I would make time for her and her needs – as I know she would, me.— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 18, 2019
That is to say, she's the kind of person who doesn't "have to" ask for permission for my time.
But here's why that text was really, really important:— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 18, 2019
(1) It acknowledges that I have limited time & emotional availability.
(2) It asks permission to vent, rather than unloading without warning.
(3) It notes the content of the conversation, which could be triggering for me.
In an ensuing thread of messages, she explains that the person is a “very good friend” for whom she’d always make time – but she wanted to share the “important” message anyway.
In a further tweet, she also suggested a template message to send to a friend when you don’t want to deal with their problems – although this particular post received some backlash from Twitter users for its “cold and impersonal” nature.
PS: Someone reached out and asked for an example of how you can respond to someone if you don’t have the space to support them.— Melissa A. Fabello, PhD (@fyeahmfabello) November 19, 2019
I offered this template: pic.twitter.com/lCzDl60Igy
This is... awful, honestly. The idea is fine - we don't always have space to deal with other people's stuff on top of our own - but if a friend sent me this message, I'd feel absolutely dreadful. We can't treat our friends like HR referrals. This is just so cold and impersonal.— Anwen Kya (@Kyatic) November 19, 2019
if I got this from a friend I would literally never speak to them again— 🍂🦃 Goth Ms. Thankful 🦃🍂 (@spookperson) November 19, 2019
While Fabello faced a mixed reaction to her her comments, she has opened up an important conversation about “emotional consent”, says Ann Heathcote, a qualified counsellor and therapist at The Worsley Centre for Psychotherapy and Counselling.
“Emotional consent is where you ask your friend’s permission to tell you about deep or emotional situations that are getting you down,” she explains. “Why is it important? Because you can share your burdens with someone who is able to emotionally handle it.”
Sometimes, one friend regularly barraging another with their emotional problems can cause a “strain” to both the recipient and the friendship overall, says Heathcote.
“Being honest and open with your friend will give you both the opportunity to talk about an emotional consent system that work for both of you. It’s important to both know you have each other to speak to should something seriously upsetting happen to either party.”
Etiquette for venting to friends
If you’re seeking help for emotional needs, face to face communication is “always a better means”, says Heathcote – but, if this isn’t possible, a phone call is a better alternative to texting.
“If you’re calling to vent to them, you should warn them before hand with a ‘hey, I’ve had a bad day, are you free to chat?’ kind of text,” she recommends.
As a recipient, the simple rule of thumb is to listen to your feelings upon receiving the message.
Heathcote suggests: “If you see the text and this triggers negative thoughts, it’s likely their problems are triggering those of your own.”
She adds: “If you’re not ready to deal with their problems, tell them you’re feeling a little down yourself and that you aren’t in the right mind set to give them the advice they need. Friendships should be give and take, this opener could unlock dialect that you can both benefit from.”