How To Deal With People Who Drain You

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson, and Ted Hagen Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Nice people want to help others, and that's good! But therapists point out, sometimes you need to know how to put on the brakes and protect your own energy.

Tribune News Service

Do you have individuals in your life who pull energy out of you? Do they park their problems at your feet or ask too many favors?

It's true that most people either feed your spirit or drain it. However, most of us have people in our lives who do both.

If you're a nice person, you likely have several relationships that cost you a lot of energy. Something just doesn't feel quite right as you contemplate what's going on.

Nice people want to help others, and that's good. But, you need to know how to put on the brakes. Otherwise, you might find yourself avoiding certain relationships or ending them altogether.

Remember: While you extend a helping hand, you can still protect your own energy.

"I have at least five people who use up all my time," says a friend of ours we'll call Patricia. "I avoid the phone and refuse to text them back. But then, they'll show up at my doorstep!"

We advised Patricia to think about these questions: -Do you give these people too much advice? If so, that can backfire. You can pump life into people you care about by acting supportive of them as a human being. But tell them, "I can't really fix your problems. Only you can do that."

-Do you hold people accountable? For example, a woman we'll call Jen is always asking financial favors of those around her. One of her friends finally told her she needed to get a better job. Sure, it hurt her feelings, but it needed to be said. We believe it will help Jen in the long run.

-Have you ever asked why a long-term problem never fades? For example, if someone is still in a destructive relationship after ten years, they may avoid acting because they've learned to find comfort in just talking about it a lot. Changing the subject or not calling them to discuss it might be doing them a favor. Why? It will force them to think about new options. We all like to seek out good listeners. All of us have problems we need to run by other people, but if we listen too much and offer too much advice, we can set up a cycle of hopelessness for our friends.

"My cousin's wife kept calling me to say he needed to lose weight," says a friend of ours we'll call Bill. Bill told us he was afraid to make comments, because his cousin's wife might tell the cousin Bill was agreeing he needed to slim down.

"I finally told her to invite her husband, my cousin, to go walking with her every afternoon after work," says Bill. "At first, I started to say I'd join them, because I live only two blocks away. But, I knew I'd get stuck with the problem if the wife didn't feel like exercising on a given afternoon."

Next, Bill told the wife to get a new, healthy eating plan going in their house. "I kept nudging her to take some kind of action, not put the problem back on me," Bill emphasized.

If you can encourage others and act as a cheerleader, you'll likely stay in a safe zone. If you try to push buttons for them to fix an issue, you'll be setting yourself up for failure. ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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