Helping, but how and at which cost?

One of my former colleagues is very attached to me. She’s said and repeated that she never had a daughter (and therefore considers me as such). Problem is while I like her, I am not FOND of her. Since I’ve left my former workplace, she keeps calling with despair in her voice, saying again and again that she misses me, that she’s depressed, that everything’s going wrong at work. I’ve tried (clumsily, as her reaction troubled me) to calm her down, but then I realized that it didn’t help her, that she was still really down and did not accept the fact that I had left the workplace forever, and clang to me anyway. Now, talking to her or meeting her makes me feel very stressed and almost panicky, because I don’t have a clue as how to deal with her despair and her smothering attachment to me. For the next couple of days, she’s been calling like 6 times, and I didn’t answer the phone. And I felt guilty. Because, I used to be like her. Calling people I was overly attached too, too often. Most of them sent me packing. And I don’t want her to feel rejected like I have, but her distress and overattachment makes me utterly distraught. I am, myself, someone sensitive and delicate. So my mum ended up picking up the phone for me and had a long talk with my former colleague. She gave her the number of a social assistant so she can talk to her about her problems. She explained that I was delicate and couldn’t carry her problems and suffering as I had my own problems too.

I want to be useful. I want to help people when I can. But at the same time, I have to protect myself and my sanity. What is the good balance between helping and protecting yourself from others’ negative influence (even if they don’t mean to harm you?). I am lost. I hated people for letting me down and now I’m having the same reaction as them. My mum says I must not take this burden (my colleague’s suffering) on me. My guilt says I have to be less selfish. I wish things were easier…


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