6 Steps for Dealing with Emotionally Draining People

 

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Do you have a friend (or coworker or family member) who leaves you feeling exhausted and emotionally drained after you interact with him or her? You're not alone. Empathy and sympathy are incredible skills to have and maintain, but practicing them can, at times, be overwhelming and emotionally (and sometimes physically) draining, especially if you are a highly sensitive person who tends to absorb the emotional states of others. A friend recently emailed me and asked for my advice. What should I do, she asked, when my best friend calls me and shares traumatic events she frequently experiences frequently as a result of her career? How do I cope with the negative emotions I indirectly experience as a result of listening to her? Is this just what best friends are supposed to do, allow themselves to be emotionally hijacked in order to offer support and comfort? 
 
My first reaction to this was: no, friendship is absolutely not about being supportive and comforting at the risk of undoing your own mental wellbeing. My second reaction was: I've experienced this before, too, and I've heard others talk about similar situations as well, so it seemed like a great topic to dive into this week. If you haven't already, at some point you're going to encounter someone who feels emotionally draining but who, due to circumstances out of your control (or because you don't want to), you cannot completely remove from your life. Here are some of the best ways to deal with emotionally draining people. 
 
 
 
 
STEP 1 : CREATE PERSONAL PEACE
 
First and foremost, you have to be in a peaceful emotional state yourself, or it's going to be really difficult to cope with others' emotions. Of course, creating personal peace is no easy task (it's kind of the point of this whole website, in fact, and I'm still learning how to do it!), but it's important to make the effort. Your life as a whole (when you're not interacting with this emotionally draining individual) influences your interactions with others, so it's important to do the best you can to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally so you're in the best possible shape to cope when others come to you for comfort or counsel. This will always be a work in progress so don't beat yourself up if you don't have this down. Just keep trying to create as much personal peace as you can. 
 
 
 
STEP 2 : ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
 
Once you have personal peace (hahaha, jk, that's a lifelong journey, but at least you're trying!), it's time to establish your boundaries for what you'll allow to penetrate that peace. It sounds like this wouldn't be too hard, but it's actually quite a tough task when it comes to people you love (or people you have to work with and can't just avoid). Years ago I wrote Preserving Your Perimeter: 4 Steps to Set Boundaries, and it's worth a read if you're struggling to identify, set, and maintain your boundaries with others. Learning about personal boundaries has been life-changing for me, and it's one of the best ways to combat emotional fatigue. 
 
 
 
STEP 3 : BE HONEST + DIRECT
 
Now that you're perfectly peaceful (ha!) and you've identified what your boundaries are, it's time for the challenging part: communicating your thoughts and boundaries to those around you. It's important to remember that other people can't read your mind. Most of the time they don't have any idea that they're negatively influencing your emotional state. You don't have to be harsh or cruel when you communicate with others, but you must be honest and direct. You'll probably feel vulnerable (and maybe even a bit selfish) by expressing how you feel, but it's worth it to maintain your own mental health, and to ultimately be a better friend / coworker / partner / etc. 
 
 
 
STEP 4 : OFFER AN ALTERNATIVE
 
After you've conveyed your feelings, it may be helpful to offer an alternative. For example, let's say a friend is sharing her heartbreaking experiences with emotional abuse, pain so raw and real that it's difficult for you to cope with. After explaining to her that the emotional burden is too much for you, do some research and offer her solutions, information, or suggest a professional who can better help her deal with her situation. While it's wonderful to be a good listener and a empathetic friend, if someone you know is going through deep emotional stress, the best thing s/he can do is seek the advice and guidance of a professional, not simply the comfort of a friend. Friends ≠ therapists.
 
 
 
STEP 5 : COUNTERACT THE IMPACT
 
If you have to interact with an emotionally draining person (and, despite all of your efforts to create boundaries and honestly convey your feelings, you will), one of the best things you can do for yourself is to counteract the emotional impact with positive experiences. If possible, bookend your emotionally draining experience with uplifting and inspiring ones. These don't have to be grand activities -- just reading an inspiring quote, for example, could count as a positive bookend -- but they should be implemented as much as possible. Know you're going to have a tough meeting with a coworker? Treat yourself to reading a chapter of an uplifting book beforehand and schedule a meeting with an inspiring colleague after to make the experience more bearable.  
 
 
 
STEP 6 : CONSIDER DISTANCING YOURSELF
 
If you're dealing with a close friend, coworker, or partner, this can be challenging, but it's up to you to enforce your own emotional boundaries. It might feel like you have no choice (I can't dump my best friend! I can't leave this job! I don't want a divorce!), but you always have a choice. If someone drains you to the point that it's unbearable, you need to consider the possibility that this person isn't a good fit for your life. If you've done the five steps above and this person continues to drag you down emotionally, it might be time to remove yourself from the friendship / job / relationship. That's not easy to hear, but you'll know, deep down in your heart, if this person's impact is so great that it's preventing you from living an emotionally sane life. Yes, a great deal of your emotional state is up to you, but part of maintaining your own personal peace means making choices to eliminate the people who threaten the kind of life you want to be living. 
 
 
 
If you're currently in a situation with an emotionally draining individual, it's my hope that these tips with positively impact that relationship in some way. Always remember: You can be a good friend without being a therapist. You can be a good coworker without being a therapist. You can be a good partner or parent or sibling or child without being a therapist. You are not required (nor qualified, in most cases) to be anyone else's therapist or emotional dumping ground, and you can, with kindness and compassion, often find a way to maintain a relationship with this person without sacrificing your own emotional health. 

    

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the 2016 reader survey + GIVEAWAY

 Reader-Survey

All year long I've been thinking about how to make the most of Positively Present -- the website content, the books, the products, the new ideas -- and now I want to hear your feedback. I'm so incredibly thankful for each and every person that visits the site or buys my books or follows along on social media, and I want to continue making this site the best possible place for insight, inspiration, positivity, mindfulness, and self-love!

In order to do that, I need your help! Please take a few minutes to fill out the 2016 Reader Survey. If you do, you'll be entered to win all of this Positively Present goodness (some of which isn't even available yet)! A winner will be chosen on JUNE 20, 2016.

 

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If you want to enter the giveaway, be sure to leave your email address in the survey and you'll be instantly entered to win. (You can also fill it out anonymously if you prefer.)

I can't wait to hear your thoughts and feedback and, even more so, I can't wait to share some of the exciting changes I have coming to Positively Present later this year! 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading, commenting, emailing, and just generally being awesome. And an extra big THANK YOU to those of you who take the survey. I'm so grateful! 

 

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reader request : is forgiving a skill or a choice?

Forgiveness

 

Note: The following article is based on a request from a reader. If there's a topic you'd like me to write about, feel free to email me here, leave a message in the comments, or reach out to my via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram.

 

A few weeks back, I received a request from a reader asking me to write about whether I think forgiveness is a skill or a choice. It was perfect timing for me to receive this request because I happened to be struggling to wrap my head around the topic of forgiveness myself. Someone had hurt me quite unexpectedly, and the pain was making it difficult for me to let go of negative feelings and actually forgive. So, when I received this request in my in-box, I couldn't believe the timing. It was just the topic I needed to be thinking about, and the more I pondered the question, the more I realized: forgiveness is both a choice and a skill. 

In order to forgive, you have to actively choose it. (Which can be hard, I know!) And to become good a forgiveness you have to practice it, the way you would any other skill. If you're lucky, you won't have a lot of opportunities to practice, but most of us do encounter quite a few situations in which we can practice forgiving others. Whether it's forgiving someone who has cut you off in traffic or forgiving someone who has caused your heart to break, opportunities for choosing forgiveness are likely to crop up often. 

For some, forgiveness comes easily. They're all too happy to let go of the ways others have hurt them -- and this is a great skill to possess. For others (ahem, most of us), forgiveness is tricky. It's hard, sometimes, not to let being hurt or offended impact the way you think about and interact with others. It's hard not to let these pains (both big and small) influence your own mindset. But, as I've written about before, forgiveness is freedom. The more easily you forgive others, the more positive your life will be. (Keep in mind that forgiving others isn't the same as condoning their behavior. You can forgive while still believing the other person is wrong. You can forgive someone you never want to speak to again.) 

Though forgiveness is one of the surest paths to emotional freedom, it's often a difficult trek to make, which is why it requires both the act of choosing to forgive and the art of mastering forgiveness as a skill. Both of these can be challenging, the the skill part can be extra tricky. Saying you're going to choose to forgive is one thing -- actually putting it into practice is something else entirely. 

I believe there are four considerations when it comes to practicing forgiveness, and I'll outline them in a bit more detail below. Understanding and considering these four things can make practicing forgiveness a lot easier.  

 

  1. CONSIDER WHAT UPSET YOU. 

    First and foremost, it's important to consider what actually upset you. Focus on why exactly you're hurt. Try your best not to bring in anything else into this consideration. For example, if you're angry about something your partner did, focus only on that specific incident (not on all the times s/he has upset you). Don't bring in past grudges or your own personal baggage (e.g., the way that your last partner did the same anger-inducing thing). Narrowing in on exactly what has hurt you will allow you to assess why exactly you're hurting, if there's anything the other person can do to right the wrong, and will give you information you might need for avoiding similar situations in the future. 


  2. CONSIDER THE OTHER PERSON. 

    After considering the specifics of the situation, it's time to turn your focus to the person (or people) who has hurt you. Try, as best you can, to put yourself in his/her shoes. Is it possible that the pain caused was unintentional? Is it possible that the other person might believe he/she is doing the right thing or making the situation better in some way? Is there a chance that someone else might be trying to help you? Or that s/he might be dealing with his/her own pain? Sometimes the answers these questions will be no (and that's okay), but quite often we'll find that someone else isn't intentionally trying to hurt us, which can make it easier to forgive them. 


  3. CONSIDER YOUR OWN POSITION. 

    Once you've closely looked at the situation and the person who has hurt you, it's time to turn your gaze inward and consider where you're coming from. Why are you so hurt by this situation? Is it really about this or is something else impacting how you feel? (For example, let's say you're upset with your spouse for not following through but you're doubly irritated at him/her because you just had a really bad day at work.) This is not to say that someone else's actions are your fault, but it's merely an encouragement to look at where you're coming from. What's happened in the past that's impacting how you feel now? What's going on in the present that might be influencing the situation? These facts are not meant to condone another's behavior, but to help you see the bigger picture and how interconnected everything is. 


  4. CONSIDER THE FUTURE. 

    After taking the situation, others, and yourself into consideration, now it's time to consider what is going to make this situation better for you (and for others). Will holding on to anger and unhappiness make your world a better place? Will clinging to the past improve your present and future? The answer to these questions is definitely no. No matter what the situation, holding on to anger, disgust, or any other unpleasant feelings will not make your world a better place. It will only hurt your heart more and make it more difficult for you to live a positive, present life. Even if someone has treated you terribly, forgiving them will only help you. Choosing not to forgive will only continue to cause you pain in the future (and who wants that?!). 

 

These four considerations can really aid in the art of forgiveness. However, like developing any skill, mastering forgiveness takes time and effort. Don't give up on it, even when it's hard. Believe me, I know from experience that forgiving is always better than holding on to a grudge. It may seem nearly impossible to forgive, especially if someone has hurt you (or someone you love) deeply, but the more you practice forgiveness, the more freedom you'll experience. And remember: the act of forgiving is something that frees you, not the person who hurt you. You have everything to gain by forgiving and nothing to lose.  

 

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Forgiving others (and yourself!) is an amazing act of self-love. Want to empower yourself with some more serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.