Best Friend Burnout: 12 Clues to Revealing Narcissism in Your Friend Circle (And How to Set Healthy Boundaries)

Hand Cupping Water

What if your best friend is contributing to your burnout?

Seeking and accepting love and support from the people who are close to you is a solid first step in healing from burnout. But what happens when you seek help from people who are emotionally draining or unsafe? How can you know if someone has your best interests at heart? How can you recognize the signs of narcissism and gaslighting in your closest relationships?

In this article, I'll share signs that indicate that a person you trust and go to for support contributes to your burnout. I'll also offer tools for dealing with a friendship with a narcissist or someone who is emotionally draining, so you can feel good and thrive again.

Burning out feels awful. You feel drained and exhausted, unable to do the tasks that once were easy for you. Your job and daily routine feel heavy and demanding; there seems to be little time left for yourself or anything fun. You feel down, depressed, anxious, disenchanted, disillusioned, and maybe even resentful and bitter.

Burnout is rampant. And we need new ways to address it. In my book, The Burnout Antidote, I look at it through a spiritual lens. Because the root cause of burnout is deep and existential, it is a crisis in meaning. A spiritual perspective offers a direct connection to who you really are, what I call your core essence and the reason you were born.

It can be heartbreaking to realize that a friend doesn't have the ability to be there for you in the way you need. But if you can see your situation with your friend as a gift, even just for a moment, you will heal, grow, and discover so much about who you really are. Burnout is intelligent. It is the way your subconscious speaks to you. When you see it as intelligent, it opens up possibilities, insights, and a new path ahead. Burnout, even the possible friend betrayal, is an invitation. Be curious about its meaning. 

Your subconscious holds old habits learnt in childhood. How you love others, and yourself, who and what you put your attention on, and your ability to maintain healthy boundaries are conditioned in you from the modelling of the adults around you when you were growing up. 

If there were mental health issues in the home, substance abuse, violence, negligence, or emotional and physical abuse, you would have learned that your needs don't matter and come second to the people close to you. 

If love was conditional, you learned to please others and be useful to receive love. Your needs and high sensitivity took a back seat, and service became a synonym of self-sacrifice.

As an adult, you don't feel safe being sensitive, so you keep your emotions to yourself or share with people who are not the right people. You grow up not having any points of reference for what an unconditionally loving and empowering relationship looks and feels like. You tend to invite into your life people who treat you the way you were treated as a child. And then, when you help others but don't have a strong self-love foundation, you often are doing so because of a conditioned belief to please and to be needed.

It is easy to forget how important it is to love ourselves first and foremost. Not in a vain way, but deeply and authentically. Because when our cup is always empty, we have access to a minimal amount of energy. And when we ignore our needs and allow people to take more than we have to give, we will burn out.

One of the first things you can do to resolve your burnout is to take a step back, a time out from the people you suspect might be contributing to your burnout. With space, you can examine what propels you to be there for them and how your relationship to love impacts your ability to discern healthy relationships. Because often, it is a person close to you that drains you the most.

If you suspect that a person close to you is part of the problem and not the solution, have a look at these revealing behavior traits:

  • They create a sense of urgency and make you feel like you must help them "right now" because something terrible will happen to them or you if you don't. 
  • They do nice things for you, but it is so that when they need you, you will owe them. 
  • They gaslight you, meaning they deliberately make you doubt yourself. 
  • They undermine you by not acknowledging your needs. 
  • They have ulterior motives and will ask you to do something unhealthy for you because they don't care that you could get hurt. 
  • They won't take no for an answer. 
  • They will try to involve you in projects you don't have an interest in because they can't move forward in their own life without you. 
  • They don't respect your need for privacy. 
  • They triangulate, meaning they don't talk to you directly but use another person to convey messages. 
  • They will test you by not engaging you when you confront an issue. 
  • They will push your buttons deliberately to throw you off balance, to keep you confused. 
  • They mislead you by not being honest about their emotions. 

If you recognize any of these behaviours in a friend, you have someone close to you who contributes to your burnout instead of helping you out of it. It is time to reclaim your sovereignty because this person does not have your best interests at heart, even if they say they do. They are more concerned about keeping things the way they are between you than addressing what you need to feel better. They might not know how to love themselves unconditionally, so they won't be able to support you as you work on loving yourself more.

So, the first step is to give yourself the permission and the space to stop seeing or talking to this friend.

And the very next step is to put a boundary in place. This step is non-negotiable. You can not heal if you stay in the presence of someone who takes from you when you don't have to give. Note that you might have a skewed view of what a full tank looks like; when was the last time you felt the exuberance of surplus energy? Remember, if love wasn't modelled in healthy ways, we don't have reference points for what it looks like to love ourselves enough to be healthy, happy, thriving, and fulfilled. We got used to surviving and getting by.

A boundary is a limit and rule you set for yourself in relationships. Like the womb is to the fetus, the bud is to the flower, a cocoon is to the butterfly, boundaries are necessary, even vital protection that enables growth and expression. Without boundaries, life can't expand and flourish. Without limitations, we build resentment inside. Boundaries are essential to interrupt the patterns of over-giving and depleting ourselves.

Often, what is required is completely removing yourself from that relationship for the time being, even when it is someone you serve. Your sensitivity and your commitment to being of service and sharing your gifts with the world demand that you steer clear of people with this type of attitude for now. You can still love them, but you must do this at a distance.

You can deepen your inner work, examine what their presence in your life mirrors, and take responsibility for the healing you must do, but you can't do this work with them. Safety is required for growth. Removing yourself from their presence is the only way to honor the gifts you came to share. If a toxic person were mistreating your child, you would scoop them away and bring them to safety. You have to do the same for yourself. 

For people with narcissistic personalities, which I often refer to as predator energy, your absence is a gift you give to them that goes beyond human love. It is divine love. When you love them in this way, by protecting yourself first, love goes beyond the human interaction relationship. This won't be obvious at the level of ego and intellect, and it might feel unpleasant, but it will pass. You'll love them in the field of divine love, where the greater good is considered. 

Pay attention, and be brave enough to say, "Enough. I can't explain why yet, but enough is enough." And you will begin to see how your body will communicate to you even more what it needs and wants. 

Can you stay in the presence of others' discomfort long enough to retrain your nervous system to know that it is safe to voice your needs? Because it is life-changing to choose differently.

Remember, taking time off from a person who drains your energy is the way to access a new layer of healing and awareness. If your body is always in fight-or-flight mode, ready to engage this person's toxic energy, you never give your body the chance to soften and relax, heal its burnout, and gain access to new information. What happens on the other side of this hiatus is more compassion and understanding. 

About Anne Berube

Anne Bérubé, PhD, (Nova Scotia, Canada) is a spiritual teacher with an uncommon ability to share her story and insights in a way that awakens the inner wisdom in others. She helps people free themselves from ...

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