The Toilet Function of Friendship (and Other Relationships)

Do you have any friends who “unload” or “dump” on you, who dominate phone calls or monopolize dinners together by talking about their problems forever and showing no interest in you?  Do you dread these encounters because you always feel “shitty” afterward?  Welcome to the toilet function of friendship.

When Freud first developed the “talking cure,” he recognized that his patients experienced emotional relief after psychoanalytic sessions during which they discussed their difficulties; what he didn’t at first understand was that many of his patients were unconsciously using those sessions as a way to evacuate their pain and unhappiness rather than to gain insight about them.  I’m not sure that he ever truly recognized this phenomenon, though he did grow more pessimistic about the possibility of psychological change over his lifetime.  Many other theorists have since described this problem; many psychotherapists have the experience of very devoted clients who come into the office overflowing with pain, who fill up the session with endless words about what’s bothering them, go away feeling relieved then come back for the next session and do the same thing all over again.

In an earlier post, I discussed how projection is actually a normal part of communication in early development.  Infants, with little capacity for understanding or bearing their own experience, have a way of projecting that experience into their caregivers, especially through crying.  Appropriate response from those caregivers both gives the infant what he or she needs and also teaches them what their discomfort means.  With parents unable to give infants what they need, those children never learn to tolerate or understand their own experience and often keep projecting it for the rest of their lives.  These people grow up to be the kind of friends and clients I’m describing.

At least in the context of a psychotherapy session, we have the opportunity to help our clients recognize what they’re doing and hopefully learn how to take in the understanding we try to provide, rather than merely pushing out their pain.  In friendship, it’s quite a different matter.  Because I’m a good listener (and because my mother used me as her confidante in this way), as a young man I spent many evenings listening to friends retail their relationship problems and other difficulties.  I thought that’s what I was supposed to do as a good friend.  It took me a long time (and years of my own therapy) to understand that true friendship involves reciprocity, and that there’s a difference between a dinner out with friends and a session with your psychotherapist.

For me, it raises the issue of what it means to be “supportive”.   If you continually listen and make sympathetic noises to your friends as they dump all their distress into you, you’re “supporting” a process that offers temporary relief but never leads to personal growth.  (On the other hand, you can’t exactly make interpretations about what they’re doing.)  Over time, this friendship may grow tedious and unsatisfying for you; you’ll begin to feel frustrated that the person repeatedly makes the same mistakes, gets romantically involved with the same wrong person or gets hurt again and again in the same predictable ways.

Now that I’m older and more experienced, I avoid this kind of friendship.  People who communicate almost exclusively this way aren’t really my friends, nor do I have the conditions to help them since they’re not my clients, either.   In the past, as I grew less tolerant of being used as a toilet, once I started to point out patterns or question new relationship choices, these “friends” would drift away.  They were stuck in a very early kind of communication — evacuating — and didn’t know how to do anything else.

Finding Your Own Way:

Do you have friends like the ones I’m describing?  If so, how do you deal with them?  It’s  difficult to balance your own needs with feelings of true empathy for the suffering of other people.  Are you the type of person who feels you’re supposed to be a good listener, that if you’re don’t, you’re not a good friend?  It might be a relief if you recognize that in many cases, you’re not really helping your friends if all you do is listen with a growing sense of frustration or boredom.

What about your own communication style in friendship?  Take a look and see whether you cross the line between, on the one hand, being intimate and letting your friends see who you really are versus using them as an ear into which you can pour all your troubles.

The metaphor that comes to mind for an alternative style of communication is a “sounding board”, because it means that when you transmit information about a difficulty or question, something comes back.  To go beyond mere listening is  a risky thing to do; you may be experienced as “unsupportive” or judgmental if you say something truthful and difficult, but for me, that’s what real friendship means.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. This is something I really needed to hear. Thank you for affirming that my actions of wanting to un-friend these people are in my (and their) best interest.

  2. It is interesting to think about the ways in which we developed the concepts that influence our behavior. So how do we teach our children to tolerate their own discomfort?

    1. I think we teach them to tolerate their own discomfort by tolerating it ourselves. I’m always hearing parents say to their children, “Don’t feel that way. It’ll be all right,” or giving them that message in all sorts of subtle ways. Once I was at the gym working out with a friend and we were talking about our kids. He was SHOCKED that I allowed my children to tell me they hated me. As long as it’s not destructive, I think we should make room for and acknowledge all the feelings our children have. There comes a time when they have to learn how to inhibit the *expression* of those feelings and not lash out but first they have to learn to recognize, accept and make room for those feelings within themselves.

      1. I think it’s so beautiful that you let your kids say that. It’s an amazing thing to just, you know, like actually be there for your kids and support them however they want to express themselves.

        It’s such an unselfish and beautiful form of being. I bet your the best dad.

  3. Wow! What a powerful article and one I, too needed to hear and to equally recognize both sides. I have ‘friends’ who dump on me that I should un-friend, but I have been loathe to do so for myriad reasons. First and foremost being how to explain the action I’m taking and how to deal with the unknown reactions & emotions of others. Taking that a step further, if the offender accepts the charge of being a dumper, shows remorse and a genuine interest in changing/correcting their behavior, then what? I feel neither qualified nor comfortable that I could impartially participate in that process.

    Secondly, If I’m brutally honest with myself, I surmise a significant amount of my reluctance has more to do with: having only a very small circle of friends, naturally, I’m not anxious to cut ties leaving me with fewer still; not feeling that I’m in a place to commit to ‘doing the work’ of going through the stages of the grieving process to achieve healthy closure and move on; the realization and admission that I have allowed myself to be sucked into some reciprocal dumping, which makes me feel a bit hypocritical; and finally, my current feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and low self-esteem which undermine my pursuit of new, healthier and more equitable relationships.

    That said, your article has given me much to ponder and important decisions to make. Writing my comment has made it abundantly clear to me how easy it is to succumb to the comfortable shoe syndrome. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

    In closing, I would love to see a follow up piece expounding upon what to do once you realize your friend is a dumper–how to approach the subject what steps to take toward resolution/better balance; what are some clues/examples to look for that you may be dumping vs. being intimate–how not to cross the line; how to best play the role of sounding board w/o being received as unsupportive or judgmental–some examples of supportive, non-judgmental feedback.

    1. I totally AGREE. I was sent this article from. Best friend of 30+ yrs and it’s more food for thought than I imagined. What are the next logical steps for moving forward as a dumper who desperately wants to change its ways but also for a person who gets dumped on as well.

  4. Hello I love reading your article. But I’m not too knowledgeable on these subjects.
    I have a gentleman friend that I’ve been living with for the past year and a half. As I’m getting more an more to know him! I’ve noticed that he gets very evadable. He tells me that he needs alone time in the morning before he goes to work. He needs alone time in the afternoons and evenings as well. I have to keep quiet, when I try to ask a question or even try to make conversation he tells me to keep quiet so he could think and have some piece of mind? He tells me to please be quiet! He didn’t have a good childhood. He tells me his past comes up and he has moments where he just wants to be left alone. We seem to have been bickering a lot lately for everything I do or say seems to be wrong. (Everything bothers him). He’s seeing a social worker once a week, but I don’t see any change in him. Hes been seeing this man since June. I’ve also went to this social worker and all he does is listen to what you have to say, and types what ever you say, but he doesn’t speak either. I can’t understand why he sees this man. Anyway do you have any advice to give me. I’m very very confused. Why does a person want peace, quiet and alone time all the time.?? Is there any advice anyone could give me? How do I learn how to deal with him?

  5. I can relate strongly to the kind of ‘friends’ you are describing. As for myself, it did not take me many years to see, and make them see, that I was not the kind of person that they could continue to do this to. I had enough ‘real’ friends to know that the loss of these people was a welcome relief.
    I think the main reason why I let myself get dragged into these situations earlier in life, was the mistaken belief that after they dumped their crap on me, I could then offer them some advice that they would at least listen to and might consider to follow. In my ignorance, I could see no other reason for why they would be dumping all of this crap on me, unless they wanted my input. I did not understand that this was a one-way exchange for them – my function was just, as you said, to be their toilet.
    Since then, I set myself up with some healthy boundaries – one being that friendship is not a one-way street. If a friendship becomes one, I don’t need to continue it. By hearing others talk about their childhood’s, I’ve come to believe that I was very fortunate in that I had a long string of really good ‘best’ friends since I was very young. Because of this, when these problematic friends started to come along, I saw them as up to no good very quickly. I also always seemed to have an innate ability to fearlessly tell people want I really think and not what they wanted to hear. It took a while to learn the skill of tact. Thinking about it now, maybe being so honest in my responses is why I had so many healthy friendships from early on.
    I believe that, besides it being a waste of my time, to continue to allow these people to dump on me was detrimental to them also. By letting them dump on me all the time, I was in a way co-signing their bullshit. I would let anyone do this to me once, or twice (as you wrote, being a sounding board is something a good friend should offer), but if everything I say to them in response is always ignored, or worse unheard, I would end it there. To allow them to do the same thing over and over would probably appear to them as support to this unhealthy social interaction.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Steven — if nothing you say in response to such people is taken in or absorbed, then to continue on in the friendship is only encouraging their behavior and their use of you as a toilet.

  6. This toilet idea is an interesting observation, and I can say that in my own life I have had to cut people off that seemed to want only to dump and never gain insight from their experiences. That said, I think there are situations that call for a complete giving over to the friend when they are facing some great trauma like a cancer diagnosis or loss of a loved one. In that case, being there for them DOES mean just listening, letting them dump their pain, their fear and whatever else concerns them in order to be supportive. There is no solution to be offered in those kinds of circumstances, and it is a supreme act of compassion to just shut up and let them get everything out and be a sounding board. I feel that you have to put your friends needs above your own in these types of instances; it is the only way to show true love for them and be supportive in a way that takes into account the magnitude of their difficulties. I would not expect a friend facing cancer to reciprocate my friendship to the extent that he or she might have done before, nor would I ever expect them to be open to advice when facing such a devastating cirumstance. So in these types of instances, I would happily be a toilet for as long as they need me to be one. It is my gift to them to give my love and support–and not recieve anything in return.

    1. I agree, Lara. It’s only when it’s consistently one-sided that it’s a problem. And I also think that just accepting the pain — simply listening — without feeling you have to fix it, or make it better or offer empty consolation is an important and difficult thing to do.

  7. Right on. Took a long time to “flush” these toilet functions friendships out but, very rewarding

    when you do.

  8. Joseph. I so enjoy your articles, and they are a real route of discovery.

    You say:
    “To go beyond mere listening is a risky thing to do; you may be experienced as “unsupportive” or judgmental if you say something truthful and difficult, but for me, that’s what real friendship means.

    Quite so. Andyou know what, I don’t care if I go beyond listening (also being a bit older and wiser now, the “dumpers”, who were few anyhow, have faded into the middle distance LOL). If a friend wants to talk about a problem, and often there is that rhetoric question “What would YOU do”, then I say “sure, let’s thrash it out, but I don’t want to go over the same ground again and again unless you are prepared to take on board at least some of my suggestions”. I can be severe in discouraging “dumpers” and as you say, life and experience teaches you to see them coming 1000 yards away!


    1. That’s the trick — to discourage them before they get started. I know just what you mean. But then there are the (rare) people who actually listen to what you have to say. That’s very satisfying, even if it doesn’t happen too often (at least outside of my office).

  9. I stumbled across your website today and find it illuminating and a comfort. I particularly enjoy reading your thoughts and strategies on dealing with narcissistic people. They have really helped me see that I am okay and not to blame for eventually wanting to flee relationships with family members that sucked the joy from my being. I always knew deep down that I excused my relationships with these people because I felt sorry for all their mental problems. It is now decades that I have put up with their miserable and self piteous behaviour. You have made me see, that I matter just as much as they do and I have a right to choose to be happy. For many years I had dysfunctional friendships. I listened to all their dumpings, terrified that if I queried their behaviour I would be dumped. In both instances after many years of friendships I was dumped. I was devastated and felt worthless even though towards the end of these friendships I had become very disgruntled and felt that I was always supporting them and they were not there for me. But you know what, after about three years, even though it saddens me, I feel it is the best thing that happened for I began to see how little I had mattered to them. I am alone and lonely (with respect to female friendships, I fortunately have a married relationship of several years and three wonderful children) but I’m ok. I was sexually abused as a preschooler and my parents were not emotionally nurturing and quite critical, only their needs seemed to matter. Thank you for your insights, I do so want to like me and know how to look after me when I’m with people who don’t “see” me.

    1. Hopefully, you can now go on to develop those better friendships. But marriage and three children takes up an awful lot of time (I know — I also have three). For me, the older I get, the more I enjoy my own company, my own interests, my music and writing, etc., not to mention my practice and my clients. I have friends and I value them, of course; it’s just that I look less and less to other people for any kind of validation.

  10. Much food for thought for me to mull on in this. I came to your site via a google search for “self absorbed friend” and this article, among others is like a lightbulb going on in my head – maybe my sense of frustration with one of my few friends isn’t “wrong” after all…

    Maybe one of the reasons I’ve lost friends was because when I distanced myself from being their toilet bowl and started growing my sense of self-acceptance and started setting boundaries, they cut me away.

    I spent months agonizing over those friend-breakups even as towards the end I felt exhausted, frustrated and felt guilty for finding it really hard to be empathetic. After all, it didn’t seem like they wanted to break years of infatuated, destructive relationships or stop walking right into bad jobs despite demanding to be spoonfed legal employment rights advice… I still wonder how was it that I found them so charming in the first place.

    Yet even as other friends came to me with problems to which there could be no answer to soothe their distress, I did not weary of being there for them – i wished I could share their burdens and often admired their inner strength. When I grieved over a loved one’s demise or needed a reminder to help me to break out from a storm of feelings of irrational self-hatred, they too were by my side.

    It is funny how the dumpers would laugh when I said I felt like I was their therapist…it’s because I probably was.

    1. Yes, you probably were. Just recently, I’ve noticed that the people who dump are always asking for advice but never follow it. That’s how I distinguish dumping from genuinely asking for help: if you’re going to burden someone with your pain and ask for help, you’d better be willing to listen and absorb what is given back.

      1. Wow. Again! Yes that’s exactly what happens! After I reply to the ‘dumper’ it’s always met with a “Yes, but …” Wow. The support here is amazing. thank you Joseph.

  11. This article has struck a chord with me Joseph. I always wondered how I could put into terms what I have been experiencing for so long. I am naturally way too caring for others, to a point where I nearly bury myself in other peoples problems. And I do always come out of it feeling shitty. I have a few “Friends” who consistently are only there when they have problems to dump on me, then are no where to be seen or heard from until the next dumping needs to happen.

    When I have a problem I want to talk to someone about, it always felt like these people never really cared at all just by the fact they would not say anything at all or make themselves available. I generally keep my problems to myself and work through them on my own, but every now and again its good to just talk to someone close when I am feeling down.

    1. I’m glad you found this old post, Eric. I’ve been thinking about how to revive it because I think a lot of newer visitors to the site aren’t aware of it.

      1. Oh yes revision is worth it so many of us have this question and toilet describes it to a tee! Thank you 🙂

  12. Oh my heavens … Thank you! This is my life. Or, I should say, this has been my life in the past. With little remnants still sticking on me … Well, like toilet paper on my heel. (To continue your very apt analogy). I’ve been working very hard in therapy to overcome the patterns I learned growing up that I was everybody’s ‘garbage can’. Still have one friend left that communicates with me in this way. Your way of describing its an ‘earlier’ form of comm’n helps me to stop taking it so personally. This will help me to stop engaging in conversations and even relationships that are leaning towards that characteristic. Your post on splitting was very very helpful too. thank you so much. Have subscribed to your blog. Looking forward to more of your insights and using them together with therapy to keep making my life a better one.

    1. Thank you for your article. I really appreciated reading this one and Outgrowing your Parents. I can relate to what Jenn is saying. I notice I am feeling completely dumped on ( by my Mother) and not sure how to go about setting boundaries. I think the roles have reversed and I have grown (maybe “out grown my parents and still lack comfidence in my own adult responsibilities in order to accept her for who she is, rather than the person I would like her to be”.). Do you have an artiicle or would you be able to describe how to go about setting boundaries with you Mother so I (and others) don’t get dumped on by my Migher

  13. Thank you for this great article, Dr. Burgo. I have a friend who’s been in a constant state of crisis for years. I’ve tried to be there for her, thinking that at some point she will resolve her issues and be happy, that somehow I will be able to help her though these bad times. But now I know that I haven’t been helpful, I’ve just been enabling her dumping. When I finally pointed out that her ups and downs can be very draining, she went on the attack, saying everyone has problems once in a while, that’s what friends are for, etc…basically telling me I’m a horrible friend. In the past I would have believed her, that I was a bad and selfish person, but now I know that no amount of caring and support are going to fix her problems, especially if she won’t take ownership of any of them. I do love this person, and I’m so sorry she’s suffering, but I know it’s time to walk away.

    Anyway, thanks again for the insight. This is a very hard thing to go through!

  14. Ha! I think I have spent many years both being dumped on but also being the dumper!! No wonder my friends are wary of spending time with me. Reigning myself in from now. Time for a more mature and reciprocal approach to friendship. 🙂

  15. Hi Joseph,

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing this post. I know it’s an old one but I came across it just when I am dealing with the issue of an acquaintance who is trying to be my friend but I’m pretty sure she is a narcissistic. She talks all the time, mostly about herself. I’m tired of these sort of ‘friends’ but it’s hard because I don’t have many friends – it’s hard to find people who truly want a reciprocal friendship. But this post has strenghtened my resolve! no more dumpers.

    1. I agree that it’s hard to find people who want (or are capable of) reciprocal friendship, but I’ve decided I’m better off being alone than letting someone dump on me.

  16. Very very good article. What if the dumper is a sister and a mother???? Would you recommend an honest conversation setting boundaries or just trying to create distance? I feel bad doing the latter because both call me daily. I am having my own difficulties right now and I am finding myself feeling angry, extremely frustrated and disgusted with them, followed by extreme guilt of course. I feel like I can’t take it anymore but they are my family.


    1. Just because they’re family doesn’t mean they’re good for you. I’d try setting some simple limits at first and see if they can accept them. If they get angry or ignore your feelings, that means you’ll need to create more distance. But don’t get caught up in the sentimental idea of “family” and ignore your own needs.

  17. I feel like I’m one of these dumper-people, but only with one friend (or couple) and I don’t want to be; I want to stop. Every time I go to see them, which isn’t often, they ask me how I am. Lately, I’ve not been too great (not just in a ran-out-of-batteries, no-more-fro-yo, bank-account’s-empty way). Mostly my mother’s divorce and mentor’s death, but other stuff too. Anyway, I notice I’ve been talking for like 20 minutes and I feel bad and ask, “How are y’all?” And they say, “Fine.”

    I mean I ask them specific things too, “how was that meeting” or “what’s Amy(dog) doing?” but it’s almost all fine. We sometimes just laugh alot and have fun, but more and more these days I feel like our talks are one sided. I say this to them too. They do give me advice and I sometimes follow it, but I’m not usually asking for advice, just someone I can explain my sadness to. There is not a lot of advice for being sad after someone dies. They seem distant to me, but we never got together on a real regular basis, so they are probably not being distant at all. Next time we get together, I’m going to be more conscious of how much I “dump.”

    1. Sounds like it’s not just you. Some people like to adopt the role of “we’ve got it all together” and look for friends they can take care of. It helps them feel better about themselves, and probably supports some narcissistic illusions.

  18. Wonderful article. The dumper in my life is my mother. I don’t feel I can simply walk away from her the way I would from a toxic friend. It causes me a lot of pain, and I don’t know what to do about it. Do you have any advice for me, Joseph?

    1. It depends on whether you get anything of emotional value in your relationship with your mother. As long as she’s not toxic and overly manipulative, it makes sense to maintain contact with her, but you might need to learn how to set good boundaries so you don’t feel completely dumped on. Pay attention to your own limitations and don’t expect yourself to be a listener with endless patience.

  19. I believe in some ways I’m a “dumper”. I want to be real with significant people in my life. I would like intimate, caring friendships. I want to understand as well as to be understood. I’m 54 and am weary of how poorly I’ve established and maintained friendships. I don’t have connections to people in my past I’m but a memory a footnote. This is very sad.

  20. What about your own communication style in friendship? Take a look and see whether you cross the line between, on the one hand, being intimate and letting your friends see who you really are versus using them as an ear into which you can pour all your troubles.

    I’m realizing that I am doing the latter. I’m rather confused and I desire to know how to “be seen as I really am” Just wish I new how to get there. I don’t know how to filter between the two. It is very painful to realize that I’ve done this to many people and it has left me alone and empty.

  21. I’m so glad I found your site and this article. After 10 years of a toxic friendship ,which I’ve tried to walk away from many times, I think this will really help me to finally say a final NO to this person and stick to it. It’s not an easy thing to do as I’m very much alone in life,no husband ,kids or much in the way of a social network. I believe I probably have Avoidant Personality Disorder myself and I stuck with this toxic friend because they needed me and there was no one else around. Him needing me made me feel better about myself. Last week I ended up in hospital after falling and getting a pretty bad leg injury. I thought he would be there for me but instead he completely blanked me. No visit to the hospital,no offer of help……nothing! I was so upset I phoned him to let him know how I felt but just got a defensive angry response. I told him to get out of my f……..g life and slammed the phone down. I haven’t hear from him since ( 5 days ago) but I’m pretty sure when he thinks the dust has settled he will contact me,like he’s done many times before. I just hope I will be strong enough if it happens to keep my resolve!

    1. I’m sure that being so isolated makes it difficult to break off even a frustrating friendship. Maybe you could make more of an effort to meet other people???

  22. I know this is an old thread but I found the analogy to a toilet just perfect and funny too.
    I’ve had friendships like that in the past and they just naturally fade away because I gradually become purposely unavailable. One person I haven’t been able to avoid in this regard is my boss who I’ve worked for as his assistant for fifteen years and who regards me as a friend and confident. Can’t get away from this one! I’ve found it interesting on how he knows very little about my personal life yet feels so close to me. Is it because I know so much about him? I’ve chalked this one way relationship to him being an owner of a company who can not afford to listen to employees talk about themselves or their problems because he’s too busy. Is there such thing as an institutionally trained potty abuser?

    1. Love that expression — institutionally trained potty abuser! Hilarious. He feels close to you simply because he has shaped you into the perfect receptacle for his experience. It’s probably not personal.

  23. Another great article. Love your site and your insights!

    My mother has been the dumper in my life. She used me from an early age to dump all her emotional stuff. She would fly into a rage when I tried to set boundaries.

    For example I once suggested to see a counsellor and she was so furious that she melted down at the time in a fit of screaming and tears. And then held the grudge so long that she waited years for a chance to say the same to me with great pleasure when I had a down day one time.

    I don’t really have any suggestions on how to deal with people like his except to limit contact and be prepared to set boundaries knowing the person will likely become very upset.

    Interestingly I have caught myself also being the dumper with friends. I believe we do internalise our parents into part of ourselves so I worked on this in myself. I realised I was doing this when I lost a friend and another suggested therapy.

    It was a hard lesson but one well learned. I’ve changed that aspect of myself significantly and also worked in therapy on the problems I had been dumping so that I changed positively and healed a lot.

    What surprised me was realising how I also has a lot of friends who really enjoyed being the dumpee. It made them feel good to be the ‘together’ friend and at first they were quite upset and angry that I didn’t want to play out that dynamic anymore. They felt I was rejecting them.

    It has been quite hard but I have managed to renegotiate some of those friendships to become more reciprocal and real so that has been rewarding.

    1. Good for you. It’s interesting about the friends who didn’t like the change in you. I get what you’re saying about them liking to be the “together” friend — I know people who are exactly like that. Great insight!

  24. I have some thoughts on this. I have a job with clients who frequently `dumps’ their problems with me, much like a broken recorder. In my early days, I used to become really frustrated of my inability to help them and feeling negative about the whole experience. Having a parent and close friends with the same problem is worse because you often feel `trapped’ in this situation.

    I saw a quote a few months ago which forced me to reassess my whole situation. Although your friends/family go on dumping, you should remember that `nothing was put into you, it was already there’. Often we `expect’ a two-way friendship, people to change, people to take advice etc and when this things don’t go our way, we become disappointed, angry and frustrated. But do we really have any right? Once you get over those neurotic entanglements, the burden is usually easier to carry.

    Nowadays, whenever I encounter a social situation, I try to make a decision that will bring people together. I still listen to the part myself that cries out to stop going back to the dumpers but I put them down as defence mechanisms. However, one should draw the line if a relationship becomes abusive.

  25. I’ve been researching how to take control of conversations ever since I noticed I was unable to get out of situations where close friends were going through a hard time and would think I was basically their personal journal. I work from home and it’s just very disheartening when I make sure I’m not on Facebook so that no one messages me, and so a friend will then start texting me about their ongoing relationship problems, knowing that I saw the text. I will tell them I am very sorry for them and I even recommended they take the step to go to to a therapist.

    Well they showed up at my door and stayed at my house for six hours! When I told them I needed to finish my work and I was getting tired they asked if they could sleep on my couch. It was very hard for me to tell them no, but I thought from me saying no they got the hint. It really brings me down when I’m having a very nice day and trying to focus on work and I’m messaged and texted to be told about someone’s relationship issues. The last so called friend I lost became enraged at me when I told her that I had a job and family and I couldn’t always be there to talk. I have to be online for work but for two days I avoided logging in to Facebook or my personal email. She started sending me texts saying she was ‘worried’ about me. I told her I was fine, I just needed personal space. I went back online to see she’d sent me what must have been HOURS of tying out messages, telling me she ‘thought we were friends’. I decided to just unfriend her and never spoke to her again. Once in a while she will STILL send me messages out of the blue, trying to guilt me into talking to her from new profiles.

    My current friend is very unhappy and I do agree that she needs to leave her relationship, but now she’s having an affair as well, and I had to turn off all the things on my phone that could possibly alert her to when I’m online or when I received or saw her messages. I feel like I’m sneaking around in my own home! She kept passively trying to ask if she could stay in my apartment tonight, she wasn’t asking out right but she kept saying she couldn’t stay in her apartment because she was too upset. I gave her numbers for apartments for rent, room shares, shelters, and hotels. That clearly isn’t what she wanted because she kept saying she couldn’t sleep and wanted to go out and get something to eat. She’d tried to have me ‘on call’ like this the past few weeks and I always feel really guilty but either tell her I can’t or I respond with something that offers a solution which doesn’t include me. It’s hard because it makes me feel like a bad friend. But I feel like I’m living in a very weird generation where my friends think we should all still have high school level friendships where we have sleep overs and drop our lives to go talk about our feelings at three in the morning. A lot of my friends will let their friendships impact their relationships at home and I won’t allow that to happen. I can’t allow a sad friend to sleep on my sofa for a week where it’s going to impact my husband, and I hate that I feel GUILTY about that!

    It’s also hard when they push at you so much for attention that you feel like you’re saying no to them every single day. I can’t not go online and I need my phone for work so it drives me crazy that I can’t just turn it off. I’ve just stopped replying to her texts until my ‘work day’ is over and anything else I want to focus on is over.

  26. I seem to be a lot of peoples “go to person” when they have problems. They unload their burdens at my feet, then the next thing I know, they are off enjoying life while I’m left feeling drained and often left out. Why do I attract these types of “friends?” Where do you go when you’re the “go to person?”

  27. I was a toilet for a number of so called friends and as I started to wake up to this and pout my foot down about it these people all fell away., One friendship of over 20 years just upped and left when I said I could not be this duming ground our whipping post or whatever. The thing is I hadn’t realised I had set up almost all of my friendships like this and so consequently I find myself alone because as a single woman in London England where we have no infrastructure about connecting with others, I did not have many outlets to find and form new ‘healthy’ friendships. I also found to very painful to be abandoned by these dumpsters despite the fact none of them ever really cared about my well being.
    This article highlights the issue but finding healthy relationships is hard. Plus I have become scared that I will juts attract more of the same because there is something inherent in me that is kind, that will listen and will give my time to people. ITs a fine line … Not sure how to go about it . but I am very isolated and unhappy right now. Like Leila said where do you go? I have had years of therapy , I always blame myself or seek out what I am doing but I don’t know , most people are quite clueless about their own processes and its hard to find genuinely mature are and self conscious people.

  28. There is a lot of good advice with dealing with friends who do this but I’m realizing I am the dumper. I find relief in talking to people about my problems, I just want someone to recognize and sympathize with my pain. I’m typically not even really looking for advice. In the past I have definitely had to check myself when i realize i’m overburdening the other person, even though there’s so much more i still want to tell them. I guess I am stuck in the “early mode of communication” you’re talking about.
    Anyone have any insights on how someone can learn to move forward from this?

  29. I love what I read, but I don’t really understand what the ideal/healthy response is to someone who is dumping their pain onto me.
    Since I am simply not able to listen and nod in support for hours on end, I assume this is not the healthy response. But certainly friends and partners can have time to discuss their stresses and pain without seeking advice, right? So if they aren’t specifically asking for advice, is this dumping every time? Or is it only dumping if they don’t let you dump back onto them? Are the boundaries purely about time? content?

    Basically, my question is: How can I be a supportive listener without giving advice or being a toilet?

  30. Hi there, this is a really interesting article for me as I think I am using people like this. I feel like when I am upset I need someone to witness my feelings then I have no further need for them – like a tissue. My sister (whom I have been using in this way) pointed out that I should update people about how I’m doing as they will worry about me and the difficult situations I describe. I realised that I felt a little resentful of this and didn’t want to have to worry about others’ feelings about me as well as my own concerns. I just wanted them to be there when I needed them. I can see this is exactly the toilet syndrome you describe. Obviously I have since been trying to be more aware of others’ concern for me. I think this is a big issue for me though as I think I basically avoid friendships because I end up feeling like I am depressing to be around and end up using people and feeling guilty and it is an effort to think of others all the time then feeling like I’m not being a good friend. I have noticed passive aggressive behaviours in others which support their feeling potentially like I’m using them – forgetting about arrangements to speak to share support, or just withdrawing from it. I don’t know how to change this (I can’t afford therapy). I am going through an extremely difficult time at the moment as my husband is extremely depressed and I am trying to support him and hold back my negativity about him as it sends him spiralling down; he also became romantically involved with a girl at work so i have been particularly struggling since I found out about this. How can I change and grow?

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