The “Dependable Person” Urge to Shut Down When What You Really Need is Help

When did I, of all people, become the dependable friend? When did I start being perceived as the person to be trusted with everyone else’s troubles and needs? I am hardly able to take care of my own troubles. Why would anyone trust me with theirs?

Don’t get me wrong, I consider it to be an honor. I’m thrilled that my people like coming to me with their worries and trust me enough to give them advice and guidance. I just never saw myself as someone deserving of such high esteem. I get a lot of personal fulfillment out of serving my loved ones this way. I take it very seriously. But if I’m being honest, my relationships with those people sometimes feel one-sided, like a one-way street. The help and support only flow one way. For that reason, I’ve cut ties with many people I cared about. As I worked on my healing and personal growth, I realized these one-way streets were causing me pain and I needed to move on, to find better relationships where the support flows in both directions.

The thing is, the problem didn’t go away.

And at that point, I had to begin asking myself if the problem could be me.

The thing about being the “dependable person” in our loved ones’ lives is that we sometimes take it on as an identity, as a personality trait. We become so devoted to the role that we forget that we have our own problems, our own worries and support needs. Or, more accurately, maybe we just stuff our problems aside to make space for everyone else’s problems. Or, to be painfullyaccurate, maybe we haven’t quite mastered the skill of vulnerability like our loved ones have.

Ouch. I hurt my own feelings with that one.

I only have one person with whom I am completely vulnerable, and that’s my husband. He is my go-to person for strength and support, and I lean on him heavily. But when it comes to my friends and family, I am starting to see that I am a black box of mystery. I intentionally remain an enigma to them. Shutting down when I need support instead of asking for help is how I cope with the fact that I don’t want anyone to see me as weak or, God forbid, not as dependable as they thought I was. I value their perception of me as a reliable, dependable person. What if sharing my struggles makes them see me as less so?

What if my only value in their eyes is to help and support them? And if I begin asking them to help and support me, what if they drift away? What if, in seeking support, I learn that I never had any to begin with?

These are really difficult questions to ask. It hurts me now even to write them out. But I’m learning that if I’m ever going to be satisfied in my relationships with the people I love, I have to investigate them.

I think of myself as an open-book. All I have to do is show you my blog, my YouTube channel, and my Instagram and TikTok accounts, and you’ll be convinced of the same. I share just about every aspect of my life—the good and the bad. I tell embarrassing stories. I process my pain. I share about things I’ve uncovered in therapy. In so doing, I’ve done an impressive job telling myself that I am as transparent as they come. But in exploring what lies beneath my shutting down, I’m realizing that I’m not as transparent as I thought. My book is semi-open. I carefully curate what I share on social media, keeping the most vulnerable things to myself (as I should, by the way). The problem isn’t that I’m closed off on social media. It’s that I am just as closed off in my real-life relationships. Like my blogs and videos, I have the veneer of transparency, while never quite sharing anything that goes uncomfortably deep.

Recently, I’ve begun challenging myself to be more open with my loved ones. To hold space for myself, my needs, and my feelings. I needed to give the people I love the opportunity to give me their best. And they couldn’t give me their best if I didn’t give them my worst, so to speak. I’ve started sharing my worries, even when they seemed trivial. I’ve begun sharing my need for support, even when I wondered if sharing would upset the other person.

And guess what? Every single person has risen to the challenge. It turns out that they probably would have been walking a two-way street with me all along, but I had put up road blocks. How could the support flow both ways when I’d placed barricades on my side of the street? Now that the obstacles to help and support are gone, they can be precisely the people I need and deserve.

Are you a dependable person who shuts down instead of reaching out? If so, I urge you to examine why you do that. You deserve to have support, and the people who love you deserve to be let in. It takes nothing from your dependability to acknowledge that you, too, are a person with needs. And I promise you that your relationships will become so much more fulfilling when you allow the people who love you to show up for you the way you show up for them.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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