Confessions of an Emotional Fluffer

Confessions of an Emotional Fluffer

For many years I was an emotional fluffer without realizing It.

What’s an emotional fluffer? Well loosely defined, an emotional fluffer is someone who basically is there for another person in the same role a romantic partner would be, but without the benefits of romance, sex or physical affection. I believe this happens most when the other person is in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable partner, but still wants to be with them and they us the emotional fluffer to satisfy their emotional needs of talking, venting sharing feelings, etc. Basically, the emotional fluffer sustains them and gives them the emotional energy they need. The term is bored from the porn industry, when back in the day before Viagra and penile implants, there would often be a person who performed fellatio or hand jobs on the male actor to get or keep them aroused between scenes.

My Story

When I was in my late twenties I was really interested in a young woman who was in a toxic relationship. She was beautiful, and sweet and being treated poorly by her boyfriend. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why she stayed with him, but I did understand attachment and later I started to feel like she had become financially dependent on him.

Her and I became friends and I wish I could say I only wanted to be her friend, but the truth was I was hoping that when she ended things with her boyfriend she would see me as more than a friend. Her and I became really close. She told me things about herself she hadn’t told anyone. She was open and genuine. She shared her fears, her hopes and her dreams. She was funny and not afraid to be vulnerable.

She had her flaws which she didn’t try to hide and all that made me even more attracted to her, both physically and emotionally. We talked all the time, sometimes every day, multiple times a day. We even hung out ocassionally, not as often as I would like, but about as much as I could expect since she was in a relationship. However, when we did hangout it felt good. It felt right. It almost felt like we were dating.

We went out for dinner, out for drinks, out dancing or just hanging out. There were multiple times we stayed out until the sun came up. We laughed together. We cried together. The bond I felt between us felt impenetrable and natural. I never wanted our time together to end. I felt like it was an escape from reality.

Physically we never kissed or became intimate. The closest contact we ever had was occasional hugs and even times when we cuddled briefly, her putting her head on my shoulders and in those moments, it felt as if everything in the world was right.

There were a couple of nights out after we had been drinking where we became flirtatious and I was tempted to make a move, but I didn’t out of both fear of rejection and fear of ruining our friendship. As much as I hoped she felt for me the way I felt for her, I wasn’t really sure. In the very early stages of our friendship when I mentioned us dating she always said she made a better friend than a girlfriend, but I always thought she was just being self-deprecating. As beautiful as she was, I knew she suffered from bouts of low self-esteem.

When we were together we talked a lot about her frustrations with her boyfriend, about how she couldn’t talk to him or express herself openly. According to her he wasn’t sensitive to her needs and reeked of narcistic personality disorder. It always seemed like she was on the verge of leaving him and each time they would get into a fight, I was there for her and slightly hoping this would be the end of their relationship, but she never left him. Instead just more and more time passed by with me feeling like her boyfriend without actually being her boyfriend.

Whenever she needed me I would drop whatever I was doing. I would listen to her vent and cry about her relationship and tried to cheer her up whenever she was down. I tried to treat her the way she deserved to be treated and I hoped she would see the difference between my love for her and the way her boyfriend claimed to love her. Still, she never left.

Years went by like this and the longer it continued, the more attached I became, but also disheartened that our friendship never developed into anything more. I felt like I was doing all the things her boyfriend wasn’t doing for her and at times it was exhausting, but I did it because I cared about her and yes, I was probably a bit selfish as well. I really wanted her to wake up one day and see me as someone other than her friend, but that never happened.

Eventually, I had to detach for my sanity. I hadn’t put my life on hold waiting for her, but I had compared ever woman I met to her which wasn’t fair. I was never angry with her nor do I think she purposely used me emotionally. I was a willing participate and sometimes there is a fine line between being a good friend and being an emotional fluffer. The main difference as far as I can tell is that being an emotional fluffer gets exhausting and frustrating where a friendship shouldn’t be that way. It’s like you’re satisfying someone’s needs without getting your needs fully satisfied.

Today her and I are still friends. I imagine we’ll be friends for life. We don’t talk or hangout as much as we used to which is a good thing for me. I still have feelings for her, but I no longer sit back and expect one day she’s going to leave her boyfriend. Yes, they are still together and she’s still unhappy, but she’s still with him.

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Earlier this week I was called to talk to a juvenile who had witnessed her boyfriend shoot himself the night before. He didn’t make it. She was obviously upset and making her way through the various stages of grief, but what was most pronounced were denial and anger. She is only 15 and he was 18. His life already over. Her life changed forever. As I listened to her talk, first with disbelief, then with anger at herself for not stopping him, then anger at him for leaving her, until she finally broke down in uncontrollable sobbing before returning back to anger and guilt directed towards herself.

Sadly, during my career I have dealt with a lot of death, but suicides always present their own unique set of challenges. People who have lost someone to suicide often not only feel the grief and tremendous loss that comes along with death in general, but they often also feel guilty that someone they knew decided that whatever they were going through was too much to bear.

A couple of years ago in an auditorium filled with crying high school students, teachers, and parents, after a popular student athlete killed himself, what I heard most was people blaming themselves for not recognizing signs that weren’t there. While sometimes suicides come with warnings, often they are very abrupt.

The irrevocable pain the loved ones of someone who committed suicide feel can cause them to become an emotional and mental wreck. Those of us looking in from the outside often want to help, but are unsure how.

You don’t have to be trained as a mental health professional (trust me, often times all the training in the world doesn’t make it easier), but here are some ways you help someone you know who has lost someone to suicide.

Let them come to you.

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As part of the Crisis team I had to go to several schools over the course of five years after a student had committed suicide. I would walk into a school I didn’t know and come face to face with distraught students, teachers, and parents I didn’t know. It is scary. The best thing I did was to be there and let those who wanted to talk come to me. If I saw that someone was obviously very upset I would go to them, hand them a tissue, sit next to them, and wait for them to open up to me. It always worked.

As a friend, try to normalize things. Let the moment be as natural as possible. When they are ready, they will talk as long as you are there.

Remember the good times.

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This is a lesson I learned from watching other, more seasoned mental health professionals during those crisis moments. While acknowledging the tragedy of what happened is important, it can be just as important and powerful to help them remember the good times they had with the person they lost. While this may seem counter-intuitive, I’ve seen it work miracles in helping someone stop reflecting on death and to start celebrating someone’s life. I’ve seen people go from sobbing to laughing and from being unable to process the tragedy to opening up completely. So, when they are ready, encourage them remember and talk about happy memories about the person.

Ask good questions.

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The young lady I spoke to earlier this week said what most people who lost someone to suicide say at some point; “I don’t understand why he did this.” Naturally I wanted to help her process that, but I knew it was more important that I resist that urge and get her to talk about herself.

It’s important to avoid statements like, “I’m sure you did everything you could”, but instead ask questions like, “Tell me what have you been thinking?”, “What was it like the last few times you were together?”, “What did you see?” These questions allow the person to open up as slowly and as much as they want to.

In the case of the young girl I spoke with earlier in the week, the last question was a big one because she had witnessed the suicide and it allowed us to process that entire scene at her own pace.

Be there, be mindful.

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When someone experiences such a tragedy, often they are inconsolable. That is one of the few things that bothers me about getting sudden calls to talk to someone when they have just lost a loved one. I know that generally, with everything so raw, there’s not much I can say that is going to make them feel better in that moment.

What I do, and what you can do as well, is just be there. I sit with them and make myself available. I allow them to cry or to say nothing if they don’t want to. As a friend, you can do the same. You can put your arm around them, hug them, or just be there as a source of comfort. That can be more powerful than trying to find the right words to say.

Find the balance between intrusion and distance.

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It is common after someone has lost someone that they will want to be alone so that they can figure out their own emotions and thoughts. You can give someone mental space while still remaining physically present.

What that means is, you can be in the same room with the person, but allow them silence if that is what they want. Allow them some space if that is what they need. You can even be in another room and remind them that you are there for them if they need you.

Offer practical help.

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After an incredible loss, the person suffering will need help if they realize it or not. After my father died I spent countless days not eating, not showering, and only wanting to sleep. I didn’t even realize I was doing those things, I just remember that my life felt upside down.

Allow the person to go through the natural grief and mourning process, but also offer to help do things to make this time in their lives a little more manageable.

For instance, go grocery shopping for them, pick up the kids, and remind them to eat, to shower, or even ask them how you can be helpful. They may not know that they need help or even have the awareness to be thankful for the help you give them, but trust me, it will help them make it through the darkness.

Allow them to problem solve on their own.

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Eventually, the person will ask more of the tough questions about why the person did what they did and what they could have or should have done. Try not to get caught up in problem solving for them, but allow them to work through that themselves. You can be there for them by asking intelligent questions like; “What thoughts did you have when the suicide first happened?” What thoughts do you have now?” But allow them to reflect and figure that out on their own so that they can put it in perspective for themselves.

Suicide is a tragedy and people who have suffered such an extreme lost need good friends to help see them through it.

Co-Rumination: Talking Too Much Can Lead To Depression And Anxiety In Adolescent Girls

4164756091_80f19ce3e2_zFor the most part, adolescent girls talk more than adolescent boys.  They just do. Little girls generally start talking sooner than boys and even as children are able to verbalize and express themselves much more efficiently. This ability to communicate has many advantages, especially in helping develop social-perspective taking skills (the understanding of other peoples thoughts, motivations, feelings and intentions).

Females are generally more gifted in the area of social-perspective skills which have great benefits including greater quality of friendships, better ability to get along with others, to show empathy and to be great caretakers. However, there is a downside to having well-developed social-perspective taking skills, including what is called co-rumination.

Co-rumination refers to extensively talking about and revisiting problems, focusing on negative feelings and speculating about problems with peers. While it is usually healthy to talk about problems, co-rumination generally focuses more on the problems themselves (especially negatively) and not on actual resolutions and therefore can be maladaptive.

Adolescent girls with good social-perspective skills are more likely to co-ruminate because they find it easier to talk to and relate to their friends about their problems and to understand their friends negative feelings about the problems. This type of understanding breeds closeness.

A  problem with co-rumination is that it exposes the person to their friends problems, worries and negative affect repeatedly which can lead to empathetic distress. Empathetic distress is feeling the perceived pain of another person. Which means not only does the youth have their own problems, they are also taking on the problems of their friends.

When I worked in the high school I would be amazed at how teenage girls would take on each others problems so much so that you would think it were their own. Some would see this as an endearing quality, but much of it was definitely dysfunctional. Sometimes the amount of enmeshment would almost seem pathological. Some teens would find it hard to concentrate because they were so worried about their friends problems even when in all reality, it had no impact on them.

I would listen to them discuss the same problems with each other over and over again offering no real resolutions, but instead harping on and internalizing them in ways that were more detrimental than helpful.

As a counselor, I would encourage problem solving and positive thinking. I would try to help them understand that their friends issue isn’t theirs as well as try to help them understand disclosure. Many teenagers today, in part thanks to social media, share way too much personal information with each other without understanding the impact it may have later.  Not understanding personal boundaries and disclosure is a crucial part of co-rumination and  both rumination and self-disclosure have been linked to increased anxiety.

Girls in friendships with a lot of co-rumination often view their friendships as high quality because there is a lot of understanding and empathizing, but there is often also a lot of internalizing of problems which leads to negatively and has been shown to increase the risk of anxiety and depression.

Boys on the other hand generally do not socialize and c0-ruminate as much as girls do. The trade off is that while they may be more protected from empathetic distress, they are also less likely to have high quality friendships. There must be a balance.

I also believe that the impact of co-rumination and empathetic distress affects people well into adulthood, especially those in enmeshed friendships or in the helping fields where we in some instances we call it secondary PTSD and burnout.

So what do we do with this information?

It’s hard to curtail co-rumination without discouraging social-perspective taking which also has very high and much needed benefits. One solution is to help the individual understand and balance their concerns for other people with their own needs. Helping an individual learn what is their problem, and what is not their problem also helps to start separating some of the negative affects of co-rumination.

Also, focusing on the positive would help a lot. Many young girls focus on and talk about their problems way too much and internalize them instead of resolving them which only makes them feel worse.

I’m not discouraging talking about problems or young girls talking to their friends about their problems, but there is certainly a healthy and unhealthy way for young girls to discuss, think about and solve their issues without ruminating and falling victim to empathetic distress.