Whether it's a co-worker, boss, friend or family member, having an emotionally draining person in your life is no laughing matter. People who don't seem to respect your time, your space or your need and desire to focus your attention on something other than them often don't pick up on the subtle, polite clues you give them. They also don't like to take no for an answer. Their needs are so great they are unable to recognize that you have needs too. Developing a few coping skills will improve your quality of life when being in a relationship with an emotionally draining person is unavoidable.
We've all had a friend, co-worker or relative who seems to have little else to do but talk to us. They call us multiple times a day and refuse to hear us when we tell them we need to hang up. They rehash the same problems over and over but rarely take our good advice.
Setting limits and sticking to them is an excellent tool to use on a regular basis with such people. By telling your chatty friend when she calls that you have 10 minutes to talk and then you have to go back to work, then she cannot use up your morning. Setting the limit is the first step. Then you must follow through. After 10 minutes say good-bye and hang up the phone, even if she ignores you or tries to talk you out of it. Resist getting pulled in by your overly compassionate self. It's OK to set limits. Be kind, but be firm.
When we say no to an an emotionally draining person we are saying, "I am as important as you are or, right now my work is more important than hearing about your shopping trip." It is not necessary to say these words out loud. All that is necessary is for you to acknowledge to yourself that you and your needs have value and then act on this belief.
Saying no, like setting limits on your time, will gradually improve your quality of life in a relationship with an emotionally draining person. Start with an easy, small no, such as "No, I can't meet you for coffee today, but I'll call you to set something up at the end of the week." The more you flex the "no" muscle, the easier it gets!
Emotionally draining people are people who have emotional limitations, such as low self-esteem. Chances are they have sought you out precisely because you are an accommodating, accepting person. When you begin to make changes in your behavior and begin to set limits they probably are not going to like it. Be prepared for this and resist the pull of guilt or anger to change back to your old pattern of behavior. Instead focus your thoughts and attention on yourself and your own needs and not on theirs.
Interrupt the Talker
Incessant talkers are extremely draining. Most aren't really interested in what the other person has to say nor are they likely to give him much opportunity to talk. As long as the listener pretends he is paying attention and interested, the talker will keep talking.
When you find yourself in this situation it is OK not to follow the "do not interrupt" rule of etiquette. Speak up in a firm, yet calm, voice, at a volume that is loud enough for the talker to hear you over his own voice ans say, "Excuse me. I'm going back to work now." Show that you mean it by walking away, even if he continues talking. Show through your actions that you value your time, even if he doesn't.
Don't Engage the Drama Queen
The high-energy individual, who is always in the middle of a crisis, actually thrives on the excitement of the crisis. Sharing the drama with others helps keeps it alive for her. An audience fans the flame for the drama queen. When you remain calm and refuse to get caught up in the drama the high-energy individual will lose interest in the drama or take the party elsewhere. Either way, you're off the hook!
Take an Assertiveness Training Course
Changing yourself is the very best way to change a problematic relationship. You can begin to do this by taking a hard look at how you are contributing to the problem. The emotionally draining person often seeks out caring, sensitive, non-assertive people, precisely because they are good listeners and are accommodating. Ask yourself if you are one of these people. Is your inability to say no and set limits contributing to the problem? If so, then learning how to be more assertive will help. An assertiveness training course provides the guidelines, tools and instructions needed to learn to be assertive. They also often include practice sessions with a trained professional so that you can test your skills and receive support and guidance as you learn. Your local library or bookstore will also more than likely have books on assertiveness and assertiveness training.
- Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders: Assertiveness Training
- Emotional Freedom; Judith Orloff, M.D.
Dorothy Sander has been writing for the over 50 market since 2001. Author of two books and hundreds of articles, she writes on topics such as elder care, aging, empty nest, health and wellness, personal development, loss and more. She holds a B.A. in Economics and a M.Div.