When You’re in Imbalanced, Unfair Relationships – You’re the Free Therapist, The Supportive, Sounding Board Who Listens to Other People’s Non-Stop Complaining, But They Don’t Listen to You – re: The Toilet Function of Friendship

When You’re in Imbalanced, Unfair Relationships – You’re the Free Therapist, The Supportive, Sounding Board Who Listens to Other People’s Non-Stop Complaining, But They Don’t Listen to You – re: The Toilet Function of Friendship


There are several sites or blogs carrying the same essay by the same guy (or very similar content – looks to me as though one author copied the work of this Burgo guy but didn’t credit him that I could see).

I very much related to this guy’s essay, because over the course of my life, I have often played the role of being the “toilet” for friends to dump their emotional problems or complaints into.

I think what a lot of what this guy describes is more common among women than men.

Women are socially conditioned to be warm, nurturing, and to console other people when they’re hurting, sad, frustrated, or angry.

The phrase “emotional labor” came to describe this “empathetic listening” type role a lot of women are expected to play for the people around them, whether those people are men, women, or co-workers, strangers on the street, friends, or family members.

And if you’re like me and played that “empathetic listener” to other people for decades, it is mother clucking exhausting.

And as you grow older, you will look back on your life and realize all that kind-hearted listening and consoling you dished out to your hurting or angry friends didn’t do anything for you or to help you in your life.

I’m in my 50s now, and I no longer have any interest in playing this role most of the time for most people (nor in trying to fix, rescue, or save hurting or troubled people).

I’ve learned the hard way – and as I’ve discussed in other posts on this blog – that often, the people who contact you regularly online, or in real life, to sob, complain, pout, whine, or cry about their problems usually have deeply rooted mental health or emotional problems that you can never fix yourself; these people, in all seriousness (I am not being snarky), really should see a licensed therapist or psychologist.

I am a recovered codependent and a recovered people pleaser.

My mother was a codependent, and the branch of Christianity she raised me in – Baptist and evangelical – repeated the same toxic paradigms my mother taught me under a doctrine called “gender complementarianism,” which is built on sexist, traditional gender stereotypes, in which I was taught (among other things), that my feelings and needs do not matter, other people matter more than I do, and that it’s my duty and responsibility to always help, fix, and rescue other people.

I finally realized, especially by my mid-40s, how wrong and toxic (and un-biblical) all those teachings were, and I began my journey to healing.

Along the way, however, as I noted in two or three blog posts so far, back during all the years I was such a good (and empathetic, attentive, non-judgmental) listener, a people pleaser, and a codependent (I lacked boundaries and was not assertive), I kept attracting all sorts of negative people into my life.

Some of the negative people I attracted into my life were chronic complainers or “debbie downers” who liked to phone me regularly (or text me, or Facebook message me) regularly to use me to get their emotional needs met, but they never (or very seldom) cared to meet my emotional needs in return.

The form this most often took for me was that these negative, depressed, psychologically wounded, angry, or needy people (some of whom had really ingrained victimhood mindsets) would complain to me for hours and hours over months or years, as I just sat and listened and only gave non-judgmental emotional support.

I had to figure out by middle age that this sort of care-taking was a waste of my time, it was at times damaging to my mental health, and too many of these “sad sacks” or perpetually angry complainers never cared about me, they never asked how I was doing (because they didn’t care).

They’d just call me for three or four hours per week (or send me very long e-mails every so often) to complain about their financial, health, marriage, or job problems, then they’d feel relieved after they spent hours complaining, then they’d hang up on me.

They’d rarely inquire about me and ask how I was doing.

If I tried to talk about myself every so often, they’d quickly find an excuse to get off the phone with me as fast as they could. These relationships were definitely one-sided, unfair to me, and I was the “Toilet” in these situations.

I was the Emotional Toilet into which these pessimists, covert narcissists, perpetual victims, and bitter and angry people dumped their Toxic Turds.💩

They’d do all their dumping into my metaphorical Toilet, get up feeling lighter and more relieved, and not even bother to turn around and flush or say “bye,” but just skip merrily away… leaving me sitting there with those Turds  💩 swirling around (so to speak), leaving my mental health in a bad place.

Then they’d call or e-mail again two weeks later to start the process all over again, and the older I became, I really began dreading these particular people, ones like them, and this whole dynamic.

But for years, due to the things I was taught by the church and my mother, I felt obligated to put up with this from other people. I didn’t know how to spot such people, or how to avoid these situations, or how to extricate myself from them once I found myself in them.

In some cases, I was actually fast at spotting such people, but once they got into my orbit, because my parents never taught me conflict resolution or how to have boundaries, I had no clue how to remove myself from these people or these conversations.

Those years of listening to and consoling my sad, needy, complaining, or angry friends and family left me mentally exhausted, and once I noticed the pattern, it left me infuriated and resentful to see how I had been used for so long by so many people.

I really found myself resonating with what this psychologist wrote about “the toilet function of friendship.”

I’ve said this before on this blog, I will continue to say it, but while we all go through frustrating and painful times in our life, and it can help when the pain is fresh to phone a friend and complain for an hour…

And while it feels so very validating and so very healing for that person to listen without judgement or advice, that at some point, you have to make a choice to actually either do something to fix the thing that has you upset, or you have to accept it and make a deliberate decision to move forward.

If you keep calling a supportive friend of yours to constantly complain about the same two problems over and over again, or to just unload in general terms about how you feel life has been so unfair for you, and people have hurt you and let you down, you will forever remain stuck in life and in your psychological pain.

And, in the process, you will be driving your very sweet and kind friend (who is probably a codependent), who keeps taking these phone calls from you and just listening, to exhaustion and resentment.

🧻 The Links: The Toilet Function of Friendship 🚽

➡️ (Link): The Toilet Function of Friendship by Joseph Burgo, PhD

Some people use social conversation as a way to “unload” painful feelings

The person at this blog seems to be borrowing heavily from the work of Burgo but didn’t credit him anywhere on this page that I could see:

➡️ (Link): The “Toilet” Function of Friendship by  Shemena Johnson

May 30, 2017

Do you have friends that take a “dump” on you, dominating phone conversations or dinner conversations talking about their problems all the while showing no interest in you? When you have these interactions, do they leave you feeling “shitty”? Well then, you have been introduced to the toilet function of relationships.

… In the beginning of some relationships, the “seed” we think engenders a supportive and caring, reciprocal relationship sometimes turns out to be with someone that continuously dumps all their problems on you – which makes you feel like a “toilet.”

Is Being a Good Listener the Same as Being a Good Friend?
Relationships should contribute to the well-being and emotional growth of all those involved in the relationship.

While your friend or partner might seem happy to unload all their problems on you, what you are feeling certainly isn’t cathartic – it’s resentment, frustration and disappointment in yourself for being the “toilet” in a relationship.

…If your friend constantly complains about his or her life to you, understand that they are not learning anything about the choices they are making.

Of course, friends should support each other but support isn’t simply listening. It’s providing rational insights into why your friend is always experiencing drama in their lives.
— end excerpts —

This entire blog post is excellent, but I won’t be copying the whole post to this blog, but here’s the link, if you’d like to read the rest of it:

➡️ (Link): The Toilet Function of Friendship (and Other Relationships) by Jospeh Burgo

… 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.

… 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…

… 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.

… 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.
— end excerpts —

Edit – A Few Possible Solutions

If you find yourself acting as the “emotional toilet” for a lot of people over your life, and you’re tired of this dynamic, and you’re unsure what to do, I suggest that you start watching self-help videos on You Tube by psychologists and life coaches, and buy used books (or check them out of your local library) on topics pertaining to Codependency, Boundaries, Assertiveness, and People Pleasing.

You may have to ‘un-learn’ concepts and beliefs drilled into you by your religious community or parents, where they directly or indirectly taught you things in your childhood, like, for instance,

    • YOUR needs do not matter,
    • that it’s loving and “godly” for you to always put others before yourself, and that
    • you are supposed to ALWAYS meet other people’s needs, even if it’s at your expense, or even if it harms you in some way.

Of course, you can use a search engine and begin searching for words or phrases like “Codependency,” “People Pleasing,” “How to Have Boundaries” and so forth, too.

If you’ve served as other people’s emotional toilet, sounding board, or confidant for years, and you’re tired of it (especially if those who are leaning on you emotionally are not reciprocating and meeting your emotional needs in return):

I’d also highly recommend that you also do research on the topics of domestic violence specifically, and on personality disorders, especially what are termed “Cluster B” personality disorders (such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Anti Social Personality Disorder).

(Yes, even if you are Single – if you’ve never married – I would still advise you to read books or articles about domestic violence, because often, the concepts taught in those books will help you in troubled relationships with neighbors, friends, co-workers, and family members too. You don’t have to be dating or married to someone to benefit from books or articles about domestic abuse.)

Learn to recognize the traits of people with these ‘Cluster B’ (and other types of) disorders quickly so you can avoid them that much faster, or limit your time around them.

You need to realize that YOUR needs, time, and feelings matter as much as anyone else’s, and no, you are not required or under obligation to always meet other people’s needs.

If you say “No” to a friend, or cut their negative phone call short, for example, or if you ask them to only call you to complain for a certain amount of time and at only certain times of the month (rather than letting them call whenever they want and for however long they wish), you need to realize that this does not always, or necessarily, make you a mean, bad, or selfish person.

It is not mean or selfish to have boundaries, to put limits on how much support you’re willing to give to someone else, or for how long, and certainly depending on the person you’re dealing with and their particular situation.

(Link): “10 SIGNS SOMEONE IS USING YOU and WASTING YOUR TIME IN A RELATIONSHIP/LISA ROMAN– 35 minute long video – also embedded below – she’s discussing dating situations, but much of what she says is applicable regarding family or friendships. 

Pay special attention to the portion that begins around the 18.30 mark, ‘When your friend treats you like her therapist’:

(Link): 10 Signs Someone’s Always Playing the Victim (6.05 long video)

(Link):  The “Victim” Narcissist | How to tell who is playing the victim (17 minute long video)

(Link to Dr. Ramani video on You Tube): How empathic reversal makes you vulnerable to narcissists [and other selfish people] – 6.56 minutes long – also embedded below

I disagree with Dr. Ramani slightly on the point in this video I am sharing where she says that “narcissists do not have a radar” for picking up codependent, overly empathetic, people pleasing people –

I will take her word for it (regarding selfish people not having radar for codependents) that this may be true of some selfish people, but in my experience of having been a pretty extreme codependent until my  mid-40s, some selfish people (whether they have narcissism or whatever disorder, or are simply just very selfish and self absorbed), do in fact have such radar, and they use it to their advantage.

Some selfish people (I’d say most of the ones I encountered in my life)
were able to detect very quickly that I was codependent (i.e., very passive, lacking in boundaries, afraid or reluctant to say “no”),
and sometimes, when they realized I was a codependent, their faces would light up, beaming, (once they recognized I was a “push over”), because they felt they “hit the jackpot” any time they run into a boundary-less people pleasers like that, because they know how easy it is to exploit people like that.

Some narcissists, definitely sociopaths, and other types of selfish people can spot codependents (empaths) very quickly and are on the look-out for codependents – that was my experience for over three decades.

I had to learn at a young age to spot such people quickly, in order to protect myself (spot them to keep away from them as best I could), so that “radar” is a two-way street.

In other words, if you’re the prey (and empaths and codependents are prey for narcissists and other types of selfish people), you want to be able to spot the typical predators quickly, for your own safety.

Other than that one caveat I felt this was a pretty good video:

A follow up to this post:

(Link): More Thoughts About ‘The Toilet Function of Friendship’ – Avoid or Minimize Contact with the Rachels and Fletchers of the World 


Related Posts:

(Link): Why Women Are Tired: The Price of Unpaid Emotional Labor by C. Hutchison 

(Link): How to Recognize and Respond to Energy Vampires at Home, Work, and More

(Link): Pathologies of Victimhood by R. Gunderman – The Dangers of Victimhood Mentality

(Link): An Assessment of the Article “Why the Religion of Self-Care is Really Sanctified Selfishness” – Christian Author is Indirectly Promoting Codependency, Which is Harmful

(Link): They Put Their Faith in a God-Fearing Man Selling Them Tiny Homes. Now They’re Suing Him For Fraud – Christians: Please Learn the Red Flags, Research Cluster B Personality Disorders

(Link): Dear Abby – She Wants A Divorce From the Husband Who Hid His Vulnerable Narcissism (Emotional Abuse, Extreme Pessimism, Victim Mentality, etc) While They Were Dating

(Link): Single, People Pleasing Guy Murdered by Neighbor (Incident Triggered by His People Pleasing) – Another Precaution for Codependents (and for Complementarian Women)

(Link): Victim Blaming Codependents or Victim Blaming People Who Exhibit Codependent Behaviors

(Link): To Forgive Or Not To Forgive Your Abuser – The Unintended Fallout: Possible Emotional Abuse or Exploitation Of Your Codependent Friend or Family Member

(Link): Life Lessons After Recovering from Codependency – I Can’t Save You, and I No Longer Want To

(Link): Avoid Getting Entangled with Covert Narcissists – You Can Waste Your Time, Effort, Money or Giving that Exhausting Emotional Support and It Won’t Make A Difference to the Recipient

(Link): How To Deal With Chronic Complainers, by Guy Winch, Ph.D.

(Link): Mental Illness Doesn’t Make You Special by F. Deboer

(Link): When Narcissists Fake Being Sick to Manipulate You – Re: Boundaries, etc

(Link): Help! I Think I Made a Terrible Mistake When Helping My Elderly Neighbor (The Codependency, People Pleasing Trap)

(Link): People Using Fake Sickness or Hardship To Con People Out Of Their Money, Attention, or Empathy

(Link): Sick of the Chronic Complainer? Here’s How to Fix Their Behavior By Sophie Deutsch

(Link): Acceptance (vs. Denial, Anger, or Should-ing) – Helps in Healing and Getting Through Painful Events and Dealing With Things You Cannot Change

(Link): Offering Unconditional, Indefinite Emotional Support to Anyone and Everyone, or to the Same Person for Years, in Whatever Situations – It’s a Trap!

(Link): Emotional Labor and Female- On- Female Emotional Exploitation

(Link): Victim Syndrome (‘Are You A Victim of the Victim Syndrome’) – by Insead

(Link): Are You Stuck in the “I’ll Feel Better When” Cycle? by Diana Hill, phD

(Link): An Alarming Trend in Psychotherapy by Christine Sefein – (Woke Therapists Want You To Stay In a Victim Mindset and Miserable)

(Link): Clinical Depression Doesn’t Make People Incapable of Making Choices or Changes

(Link): Addendum – Mental Health and Treatment and the Goals of Mental Health Professionals

(Link): Chronic Pain and the Self Pity, Depression Trap

(Link): Are You Stuck in the “I’ll Feel Better When” Cycle? by Diana Hill, phD

(Link):  People Really Hack Me Off  (Part 1) The Hypocritical, Constantly Angry, Christian Ingrate (ex friend of mine)

(Link): People Really Hack Me Off (Part 2) The Clueless Christian Who Likes To Send You Upbeat Updates About Himself In Reply To Your Announcement of Your Mother’s Death (ex friend of mine)

(Link): Emma (my now ex friend) Responds – My Comments to Her – She Became Annoyed With Me For Sharing Tips on How to Lessen Depression (I had depression for 30+ years myself)

(Link): Emma the Ex Friend, Part 2 (I Won’t Play the Codependent or Rescuer Anymore – Some Life Lessons Learned)

(Link):  I Was A Potted Plant. Woman Writes To Ask Amy: Husband’s Incessant Monologue – Reminds Me Of My Ex Fiance

(Link): When Your Secrets Are Used Against You (Hax Advice Column) – sounds like one of my family members

(Link): Therapists and Whiners / Constant Complainers

(Link): The ‘Paralyzed in a Wheelchair’ Analogy – Regarding: Clinical Depression – Also: The Cynical or Victimhood Filter

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