I’m sick of being the office therapist

A reader writes:

I have brought a burden upon myself, and I know it’s completely my own doing. I’ve been in my current role for a year and a half. In that time, I’ve become the de facto compassionate listener and person who coworkers turn to when they want to confide in someone.

Everyone comes to me to pull me aside and vent about their personal and professional problems, stresses, and anxieties. Every week, I endure stories about fights with boyfriends, wives, and girlfriends and drama about annual reviews, salaries, and promotions. I’m very good at keeping secrets and I don’t ever offer solid advice, just lend a listening ear and support for when people are upset. That said, I’m seriously sick of performing this emotional labor for everyone when it’s not a mutually beneficial relationship. I don’t share these kinds of things with coworkers when I have issues. Playing therapist is costing me hours that I could spend at my desk doing good work.

It happens at least daily. Not all of my coworkers are offenders, just the majority. They will ask me to go get coffee, come downstairs, walk down to a neighboring hallway, etc.

How do I set boundaries now when no one has any with me? It’s gotten to the point that my coworkers text me obsessively during my time off to demand to know when I’ll be back at the office again and I know it’s because they want to dump on me, not because they need anything work-related. Is there a way to distance myself without hurting feelings? Help!

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. RUKiddingMe*

    No advice in how to stop it beyond Alison’s suggestions but for future incidents …

    “Sounds rough but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

    “Wow, bad deal/tough break/etc. Hope you figure it out ok.”

    “Yeah that sucks but you’ll figure it out.”

    “Etc., etc., etc….”

    Take note that in each of these the onus is on them to “figure out” their own lives/problems. That’s a feature, not a bug.

    1. Zona the Great*

      This doesn’t work when you’re already in the thick of it but I have a friend who will say, “oh that sounds personal” and it ends the therapy session.

      1. skylight*

        With my students I say “I am uniquely unqualified to help you with non-academic problems. But I can recommend that you go to the student counseling center and don’t try to tough it out on your own.”

        Don’t think OP can use that with co-workers but maybe it can be modified.

          1. Lady Heather*

            Even if not, suggesting someone seeks an actual therapist (and not OP-the-office-therapist) or other professional help might be an option.

            Going broken record on the unpopular opinion might help in general. If they talk about mental health, recommend therapy. (Make your only response a variation of ‘try therapy’. Don’t engage further.) If they complain about their romantic partner, suggest breaking up. (Make your only response a variation of ‘if it’s that bad, maybe you should break up’) If it’s about work, suggest they talk to their boss or EAP. (Make that your only response. Repeat as necessary.)
            You’d say it in a definitive/firm kind of way, not in an overly sympathetic one. I’m not sure if I’m describing this right – but I mean that your ‘if it’s that bad, maybe you should break up’ should convey exactly that, and not ‘your spouse is awful, how lucky they are that you haven’t divorced them yet’.

            It’s a little bit like saying ‘stop talking about your problems and start fixing them’ and it’s very likely that if you’re consistent with that, your coworkers will either do as you say (and stop talking to you) or get tired of you offering solutions instead of empathy (and stop talking to you). Especially if you offer the same solution over and over again.

        1. Admin of Sys*

          My last two companies had a special employee based therapy offered as a benefit, so it still may be an option to pass along the information of the company based support network?

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Yeah, one my best responses to anything like this is “What are you going to do about it?” because I can’t really do anything about it for them.

      Also, for work-related tasks:

      “Have you googled that?”
      “Did you read the SOP?”
      “Have you checked the knowledge base?”
      “Have you RTFM?”

      1. Phyllis*

        Per my late husband, in the Navy it was ‘RTFQ’. I’ve muttered it under my breath many, many times.

        1. Nea*

          I used to own a bumper sticker that said, in two lines:

          Read the Furnished Materials, Sir!

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I agree with you, that for work-related issues Googling it, checking SOPs etc ought to be the suggested response.

        I just wanted to add though, that I was chastised at a previous company for asking “did you read the [SOP]” (pretty much exactly those words except an SOP had a slightly different acronym in our place) to someone asking me for help. She went away, complained to my boss; I was chastised for being “unhelpful”.

        I explained to the boss that that is literally the purpose of the SOP/knowledge base/etc. No dice. No, apparently even though we have SOPs etc and they are the basis of our industry accreditation (!) I can’t just refer someone to them, I have to hand hold the person through the whole process.

        I went along with it on the outside but mentally marked that boss as an idiot (although of course I was aware of that already from our previous interactions).

        It was gratifying when he was ultimately laid off as “what exactly do you do here?”

        1. EmKay*

          did he shout “I talk to the engineers so the clients don’t have to! I’m good with people, dammit!”

      3. TootsNYC*

        having had someone use that phrase (“What are you going to do about it?”) on me, I can tell you that it works.
        The key is to sound genuinely curious about their answer. Sort of as if you asked about their remodeling plans for their new house.

    3. MicroManagered*

      Yep! I’m that person. EV-ERY-ONE tells me “you give such great advice, you should be a therapist!” and I’ve had to learn that step one to stop being everyone’s free therapist is to stop being everyone’s free therapist. When someone tells you about a situation, don’t expound on it! I think that’s learned behavior for some people, especially those of us who are very empathetic and give heartfelt advice naturally. (Alison would know *nothing* about that, right? Right?)

      1. TootsNYC*

        the funny thing is that a good therapist doesn’t really give that much advice. They listen, and ask strategic questions, and provide insights occasionally, but mostly they try to position you to give YOURSELF advice.

        I’d be a horrible therapist. I can’t shut up without advice long enough.

    4. Coco*

      I tend to say things like ‘sorry to hear that’ and ‘i don’t know what to tell you’. After that, change the subject to something work related. But yeah, their problems are not yours to solve and it is completely okay to say ‘i can’t get coffee with you, I’m working. ‘. You don’t owe being a sounding board/ therapist to your coworkers. Good luck

  2. Jean*

    I feel this, OP. Saying no is SO. DAMN. HARD. But if you want this to change, you’re going to have to do it, a lot, over and over, until it sticks. People are going to be miffed. But it’s on you to protect your time and energy. Practice saying no. “Can’t get coffee, I’m sorry, I have too much to do.” “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to talk right now.” It does get easier. Good luck! (Also you sound like a truly caring person, which is a rare and wonderful thing, so good on you.)

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes! OP’s colleagues got into the habit of coming to her with their problems because she allowed it. So she’s going to have to re-train them to stop coming to her by repeatedly saying no. And train herself to not allow the guilt to creep in. I wonder if there was ever an update on this one?

      1. FrenchCusser*

        I was this person – everyone dumped their problems on me and it got to the point I was needing therapy myself.

        I finally just flat out told the worst offenders, ‘No more bitching. It’s costing me money and I can’t afford it.’

    2. Sally*

      I want to second Alison’s “5. Know it’s going to take a while to retrain people.” From my own experience with friends and family (I haven’t had this issue at work), there are some people who continue to push my boundaries, even after I’ve made them clear. At least, they now take it in stride and don’t act surprised when I enforce a boundary. That’s progress! :-)

    3. Bostonian*

      It does get easier over time! And, interestingly, I think you’d be surprised how many people will quickly take the hint/will move on once they realize you’re not a fun venting partner. (Yes, there may be a few intense ones you have to be more terse with…)

      I was not the office therapist, but I did successfully pull away from a venting coworker who was draining in other ways (brutally negative and judgmental, no matter how many times I tried to respond by giving reasonable explanations for what they considered “rude” or unacceptable behavior in others). You really do need to be primarily all-business with them. Yes, go through *some* polite niceties, but you can limit how much you engage with these people.

    4. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      It’s easy to say no, if you know that you have the power to say no. Where most people (including myself sometimes) struggle is knowing whether you have the ‘power’, or if you’re expected to go along with it.

      For example you can’t usually just say ‘no’ to your boss without a pretty good reason.

      1. allathian*

        That’s true. However, unless it’s a completely dysfunctional workplace, a supervisor is highly unlikely to vent about their personal life to a direct report. Wouldn’t be professional. If there ever was a reason to enforce a boundary with a boss it would be this one, the first step would be to try and redirect to a work topic: “I’m sorry, I’m on a tight deadline with the TPS report. I can either get that one ready on time or listen to you, but I can’t do both.”

  3. Don*

    I was the office problem solver in a programming job a few decades ago – go ask Don, he’s been on this project a long time and can answer that question rather than spending time to find the answer yourself. My solution might be helpful for this too: be less immediately available.

    I’d happily help people with their thing. But oh I’m right in the middle of this and need to keep my momentum. Can we talk in 10/20/30 minutes? Thanks!

    What I found was that the bar to entry didn’t have to be high, it just had to not be convenient. Faced with needing to wait a bit most people would solve their easy problems themselves with a little legwork. Actual serious problems they’d happily wait till after they went for a walk/lunch/worked on something else for a while.

    1. hamsterpants*

      You are generous. I’m used to telling folks to wait until tomorrow! That and asking people to set an appointment in my calendar has done a great job of winnowing down requests to things that actually require my help.

  4. Qwerty*

    I’ve done well with this by speaking plainly about how I’m feeling. “I’m starting to feel like the office therapist”, “I want to be known for my teapot painting skills, not my therapy skills”, “Spending so much time hearing about everyone’s problems is starting to really affect me and I need a less negative atmosphere”.

    They might feel a little defensive at first, because they think they are underestimating both how much time they use personally and because it’s a knee jerk reaction to finding out they’ve overstepped a boundary. But there is also a good chance that they don’t realize how much of your time is taken up by this. It won’t stop everyone, but the more reasonable people will figure it out, and word might spread to back off, and then you’ll only be left with the more persistent people.

    1. Chili*

      Yes! I also had success when I spoke plainly about how doing all this was affecting me. I didn’t talk about the emotional toll/labor aspect, I focused more on how the scale of people talking about it was interfering with my work. That seemed to cause the least offense: it’s not you personally, it’s that I get this from everyone so all my time is occupied by this instead of work

    2. TootsNYC*

      I’m often a fan of dragging stuff right out into the sunlight. So I agree.
      None of these things are awful to say, and it might really do people some good to hear that information. They might start to observe themselves, and to see what dynamics are developing.

  5. Kelly*

    Start saying “I need to focus on my job/work/project”. How can people possibly know if you dont tell them? Other than common sense of course.

  6. Clorinda*

    If someone has become truly dependent, it would be a kindness to let them know this relationship has changed rather than just fobbing them off with “not now” over and over. It’s not a comfortable conversation but “I realize I’ve been spending way too much of my time on personal conversations rather than actual work, and going forward I really need to focus on my job a lot more and avoid these side discussions” is a reasonable thing to say. And then, once you’ve laid it out, “I don’t have time to talk about that right now, I have to work” every time from then on.

    1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

      Yes, this. The OP is the one who let this situation develop, and it’s their responsibility to change it now. The coworkers almost certainly aren’t thinking of OP as “our communal unpaid therapist,” but as “my individual work friend” and likely don’t realize there’s a larger pattern (I know I don’t pay attention to how frequently/socially other colleagues interact with each other).

      It’s understandable that OP is starting to feel resentful, but the only person they have to blame for this situation is themself, for not putting up professional boundaries in the first place. Don’t punish your colleagues by suddenly flipping a switch and blowing them off. You owe them an explanation, and kindness. You could even enlist their help (“hey, you know I enjoy chatting with you, but I really need to focus on work. Can you help me with this by not stopping by so much, and know it’s not personal when I’m less available?”)

      And in the future, keep in mind that it’s always easier to relax over time than it is to build boundaries that haven’t previously existed. That’s what I always did as a teacher: if you start strict, there’s lots of room to get more lenient as students prove they’re responsible enough to deserve it – plus it’s an exciting treat for them. If you start out as “fun, chill teacher,” it’s really hard to get tougher later when you realize they’re walking all over you, and they’ll be annoyed/hurt by previously nonexistent restrictions.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I completely disagree. OP’s coworkers should have picked up on the one-sided nature of it. If there’s no reciprocity, you don’t keep unloading on someone.

        1. Lady Heather*

          ‘Should have’ doesn’t really help anyone. Not everyone has the ability to pick up on that – I don’t, as long as people keep nodding and smiling and engaging I think everything is fine. That is my inability (and disability) and this might be the coworker’s inability/disability, but saying ‘they should have picked up on something’ is about as useful as saying ‘that blind person should be able to see (because seeing is the norm)’ and doesn’t help. What does help is when someone who is sighted accommodates the blind person – such as by describing what they aren’t seeing, or by moving out of the way so the blind person doesn’t walk into them.

          Of course, OP is under no obligation to accommodate her coworkers’ inability-to-pick-up-on-cues, but if she doesn’t move out of the way or communicate with her coworkers in a language they understand, the coworkers will continue to metaphorically walk into her.

        2. pamela voorhees*

          Honestly, if people understood if there’s no reciprocity, you don’t keep unloading on someone we wouldn’t need 90% of advice blogs. People who like to unload get very comfortable with “you are my friend, which means that you sit there quietly while I vent, and because this is satisfying for me, I see no reason to change it.”

          1. EmKay*

            and getting hung up on or interrupted by same friend when you try to share your crap. ask me how I know.

      2. Jennifer*

        I guess I don’t understand how they could think of her as a friend when all they do is talk about themselves, not to mention calling her relentlessly when she’s off. It sounds pretty one-sided and a bit parasitic.

        1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

          Why on earth would they be contacting OP outside of work about personal stuff UNLESS they considered them a friend? If OP has never pushed back before, has always been available, has happily joined them on all invitations and coffee excursions, why wouldn’t they consider it a friendship?

          I get that OP is frustrated by this dynamic, but this is an extremely one-sided perspective and it’s hard to imagine that all of the coworkers are gleefully conspiring to drain OP’s life force.

          1. Jennifer*

            “Why on earth would they be contacting OP outside of work about personal stuff UNLESS they considered them a friend?”

            Because they’re self-centered and are using her for free therapy. Kind people ask how others are doing or try to reciprocate in some way instead of just running on and on and on about themselves without any concern for other person.

            1. Bostonian*

              Yup. Or they only briefly ask other people about themselves as an opening for them to talk about themselves for the next 20 minutes.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Not gleefully conspiring. More like happily oblivious. There are lots of people who don’t recognize that they’re getting a lot out of a “friendship” and giving nothing in return.

            1. Jennifer*

              I honestly don’t believe that unless there’s some sort of medical reason for not picking up on social cues.

              1. pamela voorhees*

                I promise you, they exist. It’s not that they lack empathy, it’s that they choose not to use it. It works so well for them! Surely if OP was upset, they would have said something! Of course, if OP does become upset and say something, now it’s their fault for being so MEAN and RUINING THE FRIENDSHIP that was WORKING SO WELL (for me — see, choosing not to use any empathy). It’s like if you found a broken ATM where twice a week you could get $50 for free. A lot of people would think hm, I shouldn’t do this, this might be coming out of someone else’s account, but so, so many people would go, woohoo! There’s no need to think any further on this, because it benefits me!

              2. pamela voorhees*

                These are also people who will tell you with a straight face that they need to set boundaries, by which they mean “you should never bother me for anything, but any boundary you have means you hate me.”

      3. Fikly*

        The OP is not the only one who let the situation develop. The people unloading on the OP are quite involved as well. After all, if they weren’t talking to the OP about their woes, the OP wouldn’t have this problem.

        The other people are equally to blame for having conversations at work that are completely inapprorpiate for the workplace. Repeatedly. And even more because they never do the same for OP.

        As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango.

        1. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

          “even more because they never do the same for OP”

          Where is the evidence of this? OP says they prefer not to share personal stuff at work. Should the coworkers pry into their personal business when they don’t want to share? Sounds like OP has never given them an opportunity to reciprocate!

          And there’s no way that people immediately, day one, started dumping their most personal business onto OP. Trust develops over time when somebody is willing to lend a sympathetic ear. This is clearly something that has built up over time, because the OP never previously took a stand against it, and will now have to do so in a way that respects the apparent suddenness of the change.

          1. Fikly*

            They don’t have to do so in a way that respects the suddenness of the change. Everyone has free will and can make their own choice.

            The consequences of each choice are different.

      4. allathian*

        In my son’s kindergarten PTA, there was a guy who taught in vocational school. He’s a big guy and looks like a biker, so he’s made a point of always growing a beard before the fall semester starts. He can look really intimidating, but he seems to be a great dad and he was great as our PTA chair. Anyway, by Christmas he’d usually shave it off to look less intimidating and more approachable. Many if not most of the kids he’s teaching come from underprivileged backgrounds, often with violence and substance abuse in the home. For some, he’s probably the first adult they can respect rather than simply fear. I’m sure he’s made the lives of a large number of kids and young adults better. He’s proud of the fact that his classes have the lowest absenteeism rates in his school.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I think this is a brilliant way to stop the behaviour while not making it awkward for the other coworker. Making it sound like it’s a performance issue the OP has discovered about themselves and needs to change has the implication that they’re being a responsible employee by not indulging in office therapy, not that they hate doing it.

      Pair this with Don’s suggestion (above) to be inconveniently unavailable in the moment, and I think most of the OP’s therapy-needing co-workers will find other ways of getting their therapy fix.

  7. Not A Manager*

    Taking something away from people can feel different from never offering it in the first place. I do understand the advice of “maybe someone will be miffed or their feelings will be hurt; that’s too bad,” but I also think that the LW might pay a price for that, even though it’s not fair.

    I think if possible it is better to be explicit about what you’re doing (rather than just always being “busy” or “away from the phone”). I’d lean harder into the scripts that Alison suggested that flag the larger picture.

  8. Lady Heather*

    I think the book ‘Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office’ recommended that you put a pile of paperwork on all the chairs in your office (except your own) so that people don’t sit down.

    Also, google ‘The toilet function of friendship’. Psychology Today etc. have some articles about how to deal with people who unload their crap on you and leave you feeling shitty.

    1. Lady Heather*

      Huh – apparently it was just the one article. I do think ‘the toilet function of friendship/relationship’ is a good way to describe the phenomenon.

      If this is something you experience a lot in work and in personal relationships, it might be something worth exploring with a therapist. Sometimes these patterns go back to childhood, for example if adults habitually overshared with you or if you were subjected to covert incest/emotional incest or parentification. (Covert/emotional incest does not refer to sexual abuse here, but to situations when a parent asks/expects their child to provide the emotional support a spouse would normally provide)

      1. Sleepy*

        Oh my gosh. I was totally a work friend’s toilet–what a perfect way to describe it.

        I pulled back hard from that by always being busy. Now our relationship is cordial, and that’s fine.

  9. Jennifer*

    I’m torn between thinking these people are really rude and feeling sorry for them. Venting to someone once or twice in a dire situation is one thing but turning them into your permanent emotional dumping ground and not giving them anything in return is so wrong.

    At the same time, I wonder why there are so many people at this job who seem to have no emotional support system outside of the OP? Does that say something about the company, the field they’re in, or about society in general and how lonely and isolated so many people are?

    I’d tell them that I no longer had the bandwidth for the discussions because work was piling up and refer them to the EAP if they persisted.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I don’t see them as rude. And the not giving them anything in return is based on the fact that OP says she doesn’t share personal info with them, not that they’re unwilling to listen to her problems. If OP is a good listener, they may not realize the amount of time they’re coming to OP because she’s made it so easy, and if it’s multiple people, it adds up. OP just needs to be honest. As long as she’s kind about it, any hurt feelings are on the others to figure out and OP shouldn’t allow them to make her feel guilty for saying no.

      1. Jennifer*

        You can give something in return in many ways, not just by giving advice. Getting her a cup of coffee or tea, encouragement or commendation, a thank you card, helping with her work if that’s possible, etc. I think expecting someone to be a friend to you but not being one in return is rude, unless you’re paying them for therapy.

        I get that some of these people may truly be suffering, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t behaving selfishly.

        1. fposte*

          I suspect the people who would do that are the people with a good sense of boundaries, but people with a good sense of boundaries probably wouldn’t be the OP’s long-term regulars, either.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I get that, but you’re making assumptions, and I don’t see anything in the letter to confirm that they’re not giving anything in return. It could simply be the fact that OP is overwhelmed because there are so many of them that come to her. It’s also possible that they’re all selfish jerks. But without that information in the letter, we can’t be sure.

      2. fposte*

        Yes, I suppose they each think they’re the only one whose problems the OP listens to like this, not that they’re part of a group phenomenon.

      3. Roy G. Biv*

        This type of relationship, whether work, family or friendship, always makes me think of a tick on a dog. The tick is happy, cozy, well-fed … and draining the dog of his literal life blood. Maybe not a lot of blood, but blood none the less, and the tick will continue to do so until forcibly removed.

        1. Jennifer*

          Exactly. Even with my spouse and true friends, sometimes I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth to help them and I have to tell them so. They’ve had to tell me the same thing at times. Heck, even therapists have to limit the number of people they treat so they don’t get burned out. We’re all just human.

    2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      The LW might be like me and have “resting friendly face” combined with some aura of “please tell me all your most personal details”.

      I’ve always ended up as the “office confidante” anywhere I’ve worked – Dairy Queen, bartending, typical offices, wherever. I also attract new friends any time I have to wait in line for anything – people just start talking to me.

      It’s a good thing I’m a gossip-dragon and not a gossip-monger. I just collect all the shiny tidbits and keep my hoard warm, jealously guarding it for my own pleasure.

      1. Jennifer*

        I have the same issue in a way but only with strangers so I can distance myself from it.

  10. ProdMgr*

    Good suggestions here. It might also be a good time to go on a very visible productivity kick of some kind. Maybe try one of those Pomodoro timer apps or something.

    I also try to timebox conversations because my day is full of meetings and I don’t want to be late, but also don’t like cutting people off. “Do you have a minute?” “I have four minutes and then I need to run.” People value your time more when you seem a little busy but not overwhelmed.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      That’s not a bad idea, especially at first. I have a pomodoro timer I use to keep myself on track and I will absolutely tell someone, “I can talk after this sprint,” and point to the timer all the time and 99% of the time folks are totally OK with it. I actually mean it in the ‘I can’t talk until I finish this piece of my work,’ but I could totally see it working for something like this as well. Also, if someone is willing to wait 20 minutes to get four minutes of your time (that’s my time between sprints) then you know it probably is important, so you don’t end up blowing off people who do actually need something important.

  11. TheyDon'tPayYouForCounseling*

    Once you’ve explained that you can’t keep doing this, maybe direct the complainers to one another!

  12. HelloHello*

    You can be perfectly polite while turning down these types of conversations! Alison’s suggestions above are all great, and I think a chipperly said “Sorry, but I’m super busy and really can’t talk right now!” and if they keep trying, a followup of “I’ve realized I’ve been spending more time chatting at work than I’d like so I’m trying to cut down, but I hope you feel better soon/ [whatever the appropriate, short sentiment is]” can work wonders.

  13. Sharbe*

    I had a friend who needed exceptional amounts attention and time from me. I listened to her problems in great detail, and she never asked about me. In fact, sometimes I was going through some of the things that she was but I never brought them up because I know she’d just bring the conversation right back to her. I wanted to step way back from the friendship but felt guilty about actually doing it. Then one day, out of the blue, I just blew up at her because I couldn’t take one more moment of hearing about her problems.Mind you, this is not my recommendation, but I mention it because I realized afterwards that this blow up had been a long time coming. I really should have bowed out of the friendship a long time before I ever pushed myself to this point. It would have been kinder for both her and me. People who monopolize your time and attention without ever giving back need to feel the natural consequences of their behavior. It’s a clique, but that’s literally how we learn to function in a group. You are doing them no favors by sacrificing your mental health and well being. Would you feel good if you were wittingly or unwittingly forcing a friend to so the same for you? Of course not, right? So don’t feel guilty about putting up some boundaries around them. Trust me, they aren’t going to fall apart if they don’t have you to listen to them. They are all adults and will find some other outlet for their woes – hopefully a licensed mental health professional who has the time and boundaries necessary to deal with them.

    1. annakarina1*

      A friend did that to me many years ago, and while it stung (especially when she called me boring), it was a wake-up call that I was being way too narcissistic and not being considerate of whatever was going on with her. I was about in my mid-twenties at the time, and it did force me to be more considerate of my friends’ feelings, to not just emotionally dump all over them without hearing about their lives, and learning how to be more mature and handle my problems in a more constructive way.

  14. Orange Juice*

    I wonder if it could also be helpful to speak with a boss / manager / supervisor about it? Not in a ‘get people to stop talking to me’ way, but – if you have regular check ins or performance reviews, perhaps you could say “I’ve noticed my work is impacted by the amount of office chat seems to revolve around vent sessions that occur. I want to work on not engaging with those as much, so I can focus on my own projects.” And if your boss is the helpful sort, they might offer back-up. Even if they’re not, then you can honestly say the next time someone tries to borrow your ear, “Oh, sorry, my last performance review with [boss] ended with a new goal of limited the amount of office chitchat, so I can focus on work. Conversations might seem fleeting, but they end up taking hours out of my day if you can believe it!” Then smile pleasantly and turn back to your screen!

    1. fposte*

      I think that depends on the OP’s level. Lower level that might be okay, but the higher you go, the more this would be a problem you’d be expected to solve (or forestall) on your own.

    2. Lurks @work*

      That is exactly what I was thinking! I’d like to add cya element: if you do pull back and someone takes offense, the may say in their 1 on 1 or performance review that “Letter writer seems really unfriendly nowadays.” Looping in a manager will give context that situation that takes the heat off you.

  15. Veronica Mars*

    I’m aware this isn’t the most mature way to handle the problem, but maybe you could work on being a less talented therapist? There’s a reason people go to you and not others, and removing that reason could get them to stop. Instead of listening quietly, maybe try interrupting them to share one of your own stories? lol.

  16. No Regerts*

    One thing to think about here (in addition to the great comments above) is that your emotional support is enabling them to postpone the development of an appropriate support systems in their personal life (which might or might not include an actual therapist). Unless you plan on working with these people forever, that’s really not doing them any long term favors.

  17. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    “It’s gotten to the point that my coworkers text me obsessively during my time off to demand to know when I’ll be back at the office again and I know it’s because they want to dump on me, not because they need anything work-related.”

    Good god, step one is change your phone number (or block these people and tell them you’ve changed it) and be extremely selective who you give it out to but vague with those you aren’t giving it to.
    “Oh, just an FYI, I’m going to be changing carriers and getting a new phone number…ok look at the time, I’ve got to go.” and then just…forget… until they wean off

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      That’s what really got flagged for me too when I read it. That’s….absurd, OP! I don’t know that I’d go and actually change my number, but I would be blocking just as obsessively as they’re texting.

      1. Ali G*

        Yeah I would definitely stop responding. I suspect that those people who are truly only wanting to talk about themselves will find other outlets if they don’t know when the OP is back and they don’t get a response.

    2. Leisel*

      It’s never ok for a coworker to demand to know what you’re doing and when you’ll be available, especially during your time off! If they don’t use their personal phone number for work, they have every right to block the numbers of the coworkers who are abusing their kindness.


    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Also, although you didn’t mention it, lock down social media too — not just what you see of theirs, but also what they see of yours. If you don’t to go into full unfriend and block mode, put them on silent and restrict their ability to see.

    4. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I would just blatantly call them out on the behavior when they text. “I’m out of the office, if this is a work related issue, email me/Jane can help you.” If they fess up that it’s personal, just state “Hey, this is really not appropriate as I’m trying to enjoy my day off.”

      Or, you can always just ignore it.

    5. Sleepy*

      I have a REALLY hard time not responding to texts without feeling guilty, so when a coworker was overstepping her boundaries, I created a Google Voice number and told her I would be using that with coworkers from now on (other coworkers, in reality, still use my personal number). Then I blocked her on my phone and set Google Voice not to send me notifications on my phone. It makes it easy for me to honestly say, “Oh, I was so focused I didn’t see your text.”

  18. E*

    What about recommending them to the company’s EAP (if available) or an actual therapist? Sounding compassionate about their horrible situation while pointing them in the direction of help.

  19. remizidae*

    Also: stop asking about your coworkers’ lives. I know I’m sometimes inclined to confide in people just because they ask about me so kindly that I feel I have to say something. So stop doing that. That’s not advice for everyone, but in OP’s situation, she might need to learn to be friendly without the “so how are you doing”?

    1. fposte*

      Agreed. You can be the person who gets asked about your weekend and doesn’t ask back, or you can digress into the weather instead of asking, or you can just wish them good morning in return.

      I do think that some people will see this as their “friend” being “cold” to them and they’ll be hurt. But they’ll get over it, and I don’t think there’s a way ensure nobody’s feelings are hurt without the OP agreeing to sacrifice her life here.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      I’ve learned this the hard way. There are a couple of people I always say “Good morning!” to instead of “Hi, how are you?” because the latter always ends up in a twenty-minute diatribe about their SO’s lumbago and their cat’s psoriasis.

  20. Much Ado About Nothing*

    It you want to curb this without bringing in HR or bosses, their manager or even your own feelings in the matter, I’d just begin changing your level and type of support.

    Instead of listening and offering (essentially) non-verbal support, I’d start giving advice! Start with, “Oh my Jon Snow, that’s got to be difficult to bear, having just killed your lover/wife/queen…you should really, really think about taking to the counselor from work’s Employee Assistance Program (or I’ve heard from others that a marriage counselor really helped work through some challenges and they couldn’t be happier, you should try it!)” And stay firm on that recommendation- nudge them to other ways to get help. Two things will likely happen, (one) you will no longer be as in-demand because, frankly, they want what you have always been giving them and now that you have changed the formula, they may not be as keen. Or (two) they may get a wee bit miffed that you dare to tell them to *cough* get professional help and not come back or tell you they don’t like that you are saying. Now it’s hooray time because you can legitimately say that “You are right, I’m no expert, you shouldn’t really discuss this with me because I wouldn’t know what to do” and then continue on the next round with “You know, we talked about this last week, I am not an expert and don’t have any suggestions for you aside from taking to an expert.”

    Keep on and on with that scrips as it is 100% truthful and IMO, directly handles the issue. Sometimes having a cover like, “Oh I got work to do” or “I big boss says I chat too much” are really more stress on you because you are putting effort into making it plausible.

    I think that the, “Dude, I got nothin'” is effective. If the well is try, camels won’t come to it.

  21. Stephanie*

    Oh no, I had a boss that did this. It’s funny, because things were kind of awkward at first between us (large age gap, different genders, different races, and we’re engineers and are kind of awkward by nature anyway)…and then he got more comfortable with me. Too comfortable.

    His wife did have cancer and I asked how she was doing in a 1:1 and then it just turned into a therapy session for him. He actually said some terrible things (complained about how she wouldn’t shave her head and wear a wig at home among other things) and I just was stuck there listening to it. After that, every 1: 1 he would just talk about whatever personal problem he was having that week. I was the only woman in our group, so I think it was just like “Oh, Stephanie will be a stand-in for a female presence.”

    I have no real advice. Pretty much what stopped it was getting reorged to a different group and getting a boss who might as well have been in the CIA given how little info he shared. But yeah, I may have eventually gone to his boss.

    1. Stephanie*

      That being said…he was not texting me outside of work. He respected that boundary at least…

    2. James*

      I suspect part of the problem your boss was having in this case is medical. Being a primary caretaker of a sick person is extremely difficult, and the person doing the majority of the caretaking usually needs to vent to someone. Ideally this would be a professional, but our culture has an aversion to seeking aid for mental health. So what ends up happening is that the caretaker latches on to someone–ANYONE–and vents to them. A drowning man will grab anything that floats; a person who’s sanity is in real danger will do strange, often self-destructive things to try to maintain sanity. I’ve seen this destroy relationships, even marriages, before.

      Your boss’s behavior is perfectly normal, but none the less pathological. It should be considered part of his wife’s illness.

      The comment about making nasty comments is what brought this to mind. It’s extremely common for the primary caretaker to say/think/feel nasty things–up to and including “I wish this person was dead”. This doesn’t mean that they don’t love that person; it’s a normal part of the process. But it takes a professional to really help the person through this stuff.

      I’m sorry you had to go through this. It’s no fun at all. And I know that this won’t help outside a very specific circumstance. But in this circumstance the right thing to do is push the person towards a qualified medical professional. No one would expect a random coworker to treat them if they had cancer or scarlet fever, and this sort of mental issue can be just as deadly.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I got where it was coming from to some extent; there were some misogynist comments (it was breast cancer and he had some feelings about this specifically he shared), where I have no clue how I kept a straight face (and felt a bit bad that I didn’t go all feminist on him…but then this was my boss). I just said “That sounds tough for everyone” repeatedly. There was some crying involved as well.

        I just sat there thinking “Sigh, you need a therapist. Or just a buddy you can talk to about your feelings at the very least.” This boss was very much a macho type, so I assume he had no one to share feelings with except his wife.

        It was very awkward when I met his wife at his retirement lunch.

        1. Stephanie*

          Crying from him, not me. I just asked how his wife was doing, he started crying, and that just set everything off…

    3. allathian*

      Whoah, that was unusual… Bosses don’t usually vent to their direct reports about their personal lives, that’s hardly professional behavior. Of course, he was probably not at his best dealing with his wife’s illness, but still, that was really not OK. And in a 1:1 at that! As the employee, you’re pretty much cornered in those situations. Glad you got out of it.

  22. AllYourBaseAreBrlongToUs*

    I am the same way. It’s hard to be an empathetic compassionate person without absorbing all those vibes. I noticed it actually started to give me anxiety and I had to learn how to block that out. How to not start to care and invest energy into it. It was hard for me to also be there for so many people and realize that doesn’t mean we’re friends or they necessarily care. That shit was hurtful. So I learned to put up my wall and be rubber. Let all of that bounce off of me. That didn’t stop the questions. The next thing I did was definitely change my replies. I started saying, “oh that sounds frustrating, I hope you figure it out” and “sorry I’d really like to talk but my boss doesn’t want me to chat/be away from my desk” (she’s truly awful and everyone knows that – I’m working on getting out) and similar phrases like other commenters above have posted. I put my instant messenger to “busy” or “DND” so people can’t ping me to vent or ask to talk. For me at work (and also since my current mgr is toxic) it’s just easier to not to be close to anyone. I also actually stopped being open or really talk about myself. People are curious, they don’t actually care. It’s only something I’ve realized at age 33 and been working on for the past 10 months. It’s been so helpful and really helped my work life.
    Just wanted to share in case it helps anyone. Cheers.

  23. TinyLibrarian*

    Ughhh the firewalls at work have started blocking Inc. I can’t read any of this and I am sad.

    1. GovSysadmin*

      I’ve had a similar issue that prevents me from reading any of your Inc. columns these days – Inc. has changed their site so it now prevents you from viewing the content if you have an ad blocker on, with a link to show you how to disable it. Unfortunately, the web proxy at work is what is doing the ad blocking, so I have no way of turning it off. Unfortunately, I’ve had to just accept that I can’t read any of these articles.

  24. Bopper*

    “You have been coming to me alot about this issue…is it time to talk to the EAP people for more help?”

  25. Phony Genius*

    This is definitely an extreme example of this. I’ve seen it happen, but never to the point of contacting somebody away from work.

    I’m tempted to suggest taking a page from Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts whose sign offered “Psychiatric Help 5¢.” Get a can with a slot in it, and put up your own sign. But instead of 5 cents, list the price as $500. Insist on payment up front. If somebody actually pays, you’ll still have to help. But at least you’ll have $500.

    (Don’t actually do this if you’re not a licensed psychiatrist. In that case, follow Alison’s advice)

  26. Holy Moley*

    Ignore the texts/calls but make sure you turn off your read receipts!!!! And disable your status indicator on FB messenger too. That green light is a go for some people :)

  27. iwouldlikeacookie*

    If your company has any kind of employee health/wellness resources please consider offering that up as an alternative! Especially if there’s some kind of confidential mental health/therapy service offered to employees.
    “I have a really busy week and won’t be able to get a coffee with you, but I’m sorry that you and Lucinda aren’t doing well. Have you checked out the company’s *insert wellness program name here*? Maybe talking to them will help?”

  28. Lucia*

    You have to be really clear! It may seem rude, but actually they are rude. If someone asks if they can stop by and chat, tell them “no, I’m working like mad on a deadline and am too busy”. If they stop by anyway, you stand up right away, look at your watch, and turn them around saying “I’m so busy and behind, I’m sorry I simply don’t have a spare minute right now”, and sent them away. If they insist on talking, you put up your hand like a stop sign and say “no really, I’m serious, I have only a few minutes to finish this work task so you need to leave, now”. Keep doing this and they will find someone else to moan to.

  29. Tommy*

    My two go-tos are:
    1. Hmm, I don’t really see it that way.
    2. So what are you doing to fix it?

    That often is enough to send people away — they want a sympathetic ear, not criticism/rejection.

  30. Karo*

    In addition to Alison’s second point, I would try to make it clear to whomever you’re talking with that they’re not the only person treating you as their therapist. If any of these people think that they’re the only person relying on you, they’re not going to get why you’re treating it like it’s a big deal.

  31. Internal Discord*

    How I wish I had read this sooner. A few years ago I had a coworker who was a total emotional vampire, and I hadn’t figured out how to manage my empathetic tendencies. This person became so dependent on me that I began to dread going to work, and it progressed to the point that I went to work one morning and ignored them completely. For six months. It’s in the past now, but I’m sure you can all imagine how awkward that was!

    1. Mommy-MD*

      I had an acquaintance who tried to do this with me because I was friendly and had to just cut her off completely. Thankfully not at work. I don’t want to get too much into people’s personal lives with coworkers. That’s situational friendship.

    2. allathian*

      Emotional vampire, love it! I’ve had a few encounters with such people in my private life, especially in my 20s I was a real people-pleaser. Fortunately I’ve learned to set firm boundaries in the 20 years since. But I have broken up with a couple of “friends” who were just simply too much for me to handle. A particularly bad example was one who’d call me up at 3 A.M. on a weekday, drunk. This was before cellphones, so I had no DND option. Worst thing is, she didn’t remember the next day that she’d called me, and when I called her on it, she was always very apologetic. But what really ended the friendship was that when I was facing some difficult times in my life, she was never there for me. And of course there have been others who’ve drifted in and out of my life without a conscious decision to not be friends anymore, at least not on my part.

  32. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    This sounds so draining!

    I haven’t yet read the reply from Alison and I realize it’s an old letter, so my comment really applies to anyone else who finds themself in the similar position of ” I’ve become the de facto compassionate listener and person who coworkers turn to when they want to confide in someone”

    It can happen quite easily that you become ‘this person’, it’s insidious like that. It could be ‘toxic’ depending on the workplace and the particular dynamics of the people involved (but may not be!). Maybe you’re perceived as discreet and ‘one of the team’ and people take you into their confidence. You have broad shoulders. You [say that you] don’t offer advice, as such, just listening, …. but often when people offload onto someone like this it’s in the same way that they have vague worries about something (I’m not talking about clinical level anxiety) but benefit from a “dose of doctor” by receiving reassurance or even just feeling ‘heard’.

    (Asked as a general question to others who find themselves in this position, rather than the OP of the original question who has presumably either resolved this or is no longer reading). What do *you* get from it (or what did you get from it)? I find there’s usually some internal motivation, may not be obvious at first sight but you can usually pull it out with introspection (what am I saying, as a self stated extrovert!) .. e.g. to feel needed? To be nosey? To feel part of the ‘inner circle’? To seek out solutions? To distract from your own problems? Something else? I could go on listing motivations all day, as there’s probably as many as there are people.

    The key to “I’m sick of being the office therapist” as the title puts it (or really, most “I’m sick of X situation” scenarios), I think, is to figure out how/why (especially why) it was able to become this way. Then to decide that X situation isn’t working for you any more, so how do you shut that down?

    Depends what X situation is. Maybe you always get hit up for a loan (which somehow never gets paid back) by colleagues who say they are struggling. Maybe you become the de facto therapist, as happened here. Maybe you’re the one every issue gets escalated to because “no one else here knows how to do this, but Jane here can figure out pretty much anything”.

    If it’s gotten to the point where co-workers text (etc) off-hours to offload.. it really depends on how much assertiveness/directness you are able to access and how you want to approach it. A direct/assertive approach you would perhaps reply directly, or maybe just not reply in the moment but then have a conversation with them back in the office on Monday. As a less direct approach you could gradually step down the involvement to statements like “hmmm… that sounds difficult! Sorry to hear you are going through this!”, “Yeah it’s awful when people do X isn’t it?” and then respond with less frequency etc.

    Personally I prefer the direct approach and would probably bring this up with the person, but I can see that that’s not always ideal and you have to ‘judge your audience’ if it’s someone you need to continue working with.

  33. Mommy-MD*

    I nicely tell my colleagues I need to decompress on my days off and can’t talk or text unless it’s a come to work now emergency. Also with chatty people at work I nicely say “I need to finish these charts”. Fill in the blank. “I need to finish this report”. Polite boundaries.

  34. inoffensive nickname*

    Coworkers are not your friends. You can have coworkers who are friends and friends who are coworkers, but do not make the mistake of believing that everyone you work with has your best interests in mind or wants to be your friend or that they even value you as a dumping ground. People like that generally move on to the next willing ear once you set boundaries. I used to be the emotional dumping ground. It took about a year of therapy for other reasons to learn how to establish healthy boundaries (including how not to be a dumping ground) and most of the toxic relationships in my life melted away. The hard part is losing the illusion of being everyone’s hero. Being a savior is a huge burden and when you finally let that burden go, you can focus on improving your own situation. I lived as a savior (codependent) for years to avoid dealing with my own mental health. Also, even therapists need therapists because their job is to get dumped on all day and dealing with other people’s pain all day can be a drag. So what I’m suggesting is that perhaps the OP could benefit from some therapy or coaching, herself.

  35. BowTie*

    I had a colleague who used to talk at me for about an hour a day. I got so sick of it. I wasn’t even engaging in the conversation with him or even looking interested. I finally got to a point where he would come to my door and I would tell him he had 5 minutes. I did that every time for about a week and he finally stopped. We still had to work together on projects so I couldn’t alienate him altogether. Just give them a time limit and stick to it.

  36. Eh-nonymous*

    This is a timely letter.
    I am also in a very similar situation as the OP.

    I’m going to retire in the next five years so I decided to put all my ‘experience’ to good use.

    On April 14 I start my Introduction to Counseling course at our local college. It will take two years, part time, to get a diploma.

    Now I’m looking at all the interactions at work as pre-reading assignments. LOL

  37. Anonymous at a University*

    Ugh, I have someone who does this and takes every attempt to divert her as a personal attack: “I thought you were my friend!” It doesn’t help that she’s absurdly jealous of everyone for everything (one person for getting paid more than she does “even though I have more debt,” one person for being popular, one person for…I dunno, being married?, one person for getting an elected position she basically thought she should have gotten despite not even running, and on and on). She’s alienated almost everyone except me and two other people, and then accuses them of being misogynists, “because they all hate me and I don’t know why.” The toxic jealousy has a lot to do with it!

    1. pamela voorhees*

      It will always be someone else’s fault, it will never be hers. I know two of these ladies. Anything other than being a personal therapist/assistant is an unforgivable betrayal. It hurts, too, because nobody likes to be seen as the mean one. I genuinely thought that we were friends, because they’d say that — but again, in their minds, being a friend is being their servant.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Maybe it’s time for her to alienate you!

      The next time she says, “I thought you were my friend!” you can say, “I thought so to, but since you’re attacking me because I don’t have time to be your unpaid therapist, it’s better if I’m not anymore. Bye!”

  38. Leela*

    This is me to a T. Not just in the office! Every friend group I’ve ever been in, any group of people I’ve been around, this ends up happening. I think it stems from both of my parents treating me like I was their parent but whatever causes it, I do just naturally listen which a lot of people don’t get.

    I’ll say one thing: even if you did vent back, based on my experience, these relationships would still not be mutually beneficial. That unpaid labor still doesn’t get repaid, instead people tend to zone out, talk over you, or be way less helpful than you if you try to vent back!

    It can be very draining, emotionally supporting everyone in your surroundings. I have tried varying things with varying success and that nothing works across the board and multiple tactics usually need to be tried with each and every individual to find something that works, but what Alison lists here have all worked for me for at least one person! Good luck OP

  39. Beth*

    This used to be me, not just at work but in basically every context in my life. I’ve always been good at doing the “listen, offer a sympathetic ear and some comfort, give common sense advice if it’s wanted” deal, and for a long time, I thought that was my main selling point as a friend/partner/classmate/coworker/whatever. But just like this OP, it eventually hit a point where I really couldn’t handle the level I was doing anymore! I was spending way too much time, energy, and mental space on other people’s problems, to the point where 1) I really wasn’t enjoying most of my relationships, and worse, 2) I was neglecting my own needs.

    So, out of necessity, I backed way off. I started saying things like “That sounds rough, what do you think you’ll do about it?” instead of making comforting noises at complainers. I stopped answering late-night “Are you up?” texts. I started telling people “I need to go in 15 minutes, I can listen until then but wanted to let you know upfront.” For repeat offenders who kept wanting to vent about the same problem, I started asking what they’d tried since the last time we talked about it. On days when I felt overwhelmed, if people started to pull me in, I started saying things like “I’ve had such a crazy day today, can we keep it light?”

    And it worked! Most people got the message fast and never pushed back on it. I lost a few friends (people who apparently didn’t have much interest in me when I wasn’t offering them unconditional, unlimited support, so…’lost’ in air quotes), but overall it was a really easy and smooth transition. Nowadays, I still have those skills…but no one expects me to take that role without them asking first, and I feel in control and able to say no when I’m not able or willing to put in that work. It’s honestly great. And my relationships haven’t really suffered at all for it.

    So: everyone saying this is you, my strong advice is to figure out a way to nope out of these conversations. Any way, whatever you think you’ll actually be able to get yourself to say. Start saying it often (maybe even try saying it to everything for a month, if you think a hard reset will help your relationships). Almost everyone will go along with it, and the few that will push back aren’t worth your time and effort.

  40. Arts Akimbo*

    Ugh, I am so sorry you work in an office full of Colin Robinsons! I hope you’ve used Alison’s scripts to deflect these psychic vampires by now, or at least driven them off.

  41. Julie S.*

    Does this employer offer an employee assistance program? A larger employer or government agency usually have EAPs. If there is, coworkers can use the EAP instead of relying on a coworker. That’s not healthy for you or them. Last thing you want is to get written up or fired for not doing your work.

  42. Batgirl*

    This sounds like a very odd culture. Motioning someone to come walk down a hallway with them? I can see someone coordinating their coffee break with a friendly, supportive co-worker, but summoning her to be a hallway venting machine?
    If this happened to me I’d respond in a very perplexed way: “Is this why you called me over here? I thought the meeting room must be on fire at least.”
    But since OP is already in this pattern, she should get eyes glued on screen and be ‘I can’t chat now, sorry!’
    It’s not at all rude to resist such an odd pattern. If anything it’s going to rescue you from a reputation of gossiping.

  43. EmKay*

    I’d be curious to know if OP is female, and if most of OP’s friendly ear seeking colleagues are male. The letter mentioned wives and girlfriends, but also boyfriends, so I can’t tell.

    But if my gut feeling is correct and that is the situation, there’s a whole sub-layer there to contend with, that being that men in current north american society have been indirectly conditioned their whole lives to lean exclusively on the women in their lives for this kind of unreciprocated emotional labour, and never, ever, on other men. And if OP suddenly stops doing the emotional labour that she has been doing for these men, for no reason apparent to them, there might be more than “hurt feelings”, they might get righteously angry at her.

    Or I’m completely wrong and none of this features into the problem at all. I’m just musing.

  44. ElleKay*

    Oh, HI, me-from-my-last-job!
    Alison is spot-on for most of this but the only thing I can add (from waaaaaay too much experience) is that I started “reviewing” the last conversation with people:
    “Oh, is this the same issue we talked about last week? Yes? Did you try any of the things we talked about then? Did you start keeping those records I suggested? No? Well, I don’t have anything new to suggest & I still think you should try that!”
    Eventually they only come in if there’s something constructive (IE a change!) to add. Or, ideally, not at all once you stop engaging with them.

    Side note: I was NOT HR but we didn’t have an on-site HR so I was in a position to send a lot of HR reports based on these conversations. Including making sure people got “out of the blue” (to them) from HR when they were violating something b/c I’d heard it from someone else. So… there can be positive sides to this but you HAVE to draw a line.
    For me, I didn’t dead with personal life stuff, but our work environment was so dysfunctional that I did listen to a lot of the work issues in order to keep the place running.

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