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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Seeking Sobriety? 9 Tips for Getting Started


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A little while back, a friend reached out to me and said she'd reached a point in her life where she thought it was time for her to seek out sobriety. She was wondering if I had any advice for her, and, as I was replying to her an email, I realized I was basically writing a blog post (I surprised even myself with how much I had to say on the topic just off the top of my head!).

If you're trying to get sober or even just considering the idea, here are some things I think are really important to know as you're starting out. And if you're not seeking sobriety, these tips still might be useful for you if you're trying to break a bad habit (or even just trying to live a positive and present life!).

 

  1. Surround yourself with people who get it and are encouraging. A lot of people won’t get it, won’t think you have a problem, won’t be very supportive. It’s often because they know that if they say you have a problem, that means that they also might have a problem and they don’t want to deal with that. When I first got sober, I was really lucky to have a partner in my life who gave up drinking in solidarity with me. I honestly don't know if I could have done it while living with someone else who was still drinking. The people you're around make a huge difference in getting and staying sober. 

  2. Don’t put yourself in tempting situations, especially at the beginning. Avoiding parties and social gatherings wasn't too tough for me at the beginning, since I'm pretty introverted by nature, but I did have to learn to pay attention to when I felt most tempted to drink and avoid those occasions. At the beginning, I had to turn down a lot of invitations because I knew I would be way too tempted. Because I started drinking so young, I had to learn how to socialize without alcohol, and that was (still is sometimes) tough, but avoiding temptation is key at the beginning. 

  3. Find something to take up your time and energy. For me, this ended up being Positively Present. I was able to fill my weekends with writing and creating the website, which made it a little easier to not be out drinking. I never would have been able to focus on Positively Present if I'd been hungover, so it became it's own reward, accomplishing something (a blog post) each week that I wouldn't have been able to do while drinking. Distraction and filling up your time with positive, non-drinking activities is essential to avoid not slipping back into old patterns. 

  4. Take it one day at a time. Yes, I know this is the most cliched thing in the world, but it's stuck around because it's true. Whenever I would think about never drinking again, my mind would go into a panic. But if I told myself, I'm not going to drink at this party, it was much easier to cope with than I'm never, ever drinking again. Sometimes I even broke it down further (I'm not going to drink for the next hour / 30 mins / 5 mins, etc.) It sounds silly, but taking that "never ever ever going to drink again" idea away made it so much easier for me. 

  5. Know you’re likely to slip up or have a relapse. Almost everyone I know who has given up drinking has had a relapse. I was eight months sober and then my sister's wedding came around, and the back of the limo with all of that champagne and excitement (and nervousness about my maid-of-honor speech) was just too much for me. It was awful to feel like I lost all of that progress in one night, but the key is not to use a relapse as excuse to give up. I woke up the next day and decided I was going to start over again, and here I am, seven years later! 

  6. Consider going to meetings, like AA, or therapy. It wasn't until I found the right therapist, one with alcohol and addiction expertise, that I realized I had a problem. Because of my environment, I thought my behavior and the repercussions of it were normal, but the right therapist showed me there was a totally different way to live. I also tried AA, but as an atheist, it was a little too god-focused for me, but I know a lot of people who find that community really helpful. 

  7. Make a list of things you’ve done while drinking that were unhealthy. This was one of the first things my therapist had me do, and it was a game-changer for me. When I saw, in writing, all of the ways my life had been negatively impacted by my drinking, it became really difficult for me to justify mixing another drink. Almost every single bad thing that had ever happened to me was a result, directly or indirectly, of alcohol consumption. Once I saw this clearly written out in a list, it became really hard to rationalize my old ways. 

  8. Understand that it’s gonna be really hard at first. Especially at the beginning, it feels really bad. It feels like you're not having fun, that a whole big part of your life is missing, but, I promise, if you stick with it, it gets so much easier. I can't say it's ever easy (there aren't many days when the thought of a drink doesn't cross my mind), but every single time I say no to that impulse, it gets easier. This probably won't be too much comfort in the beginning, but it's always good to have hope that things won't always be as hard. 

  9. Think about your future self. Whenever I'm really struggling, I remind myself that I’ve never once regretted not drinking, but I sure as hell have a regretted drinking many, many times. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling, remember that you'll never wake up regretting that you didn’t drink. Of course, I try my best to stay present, but looking out for your future self — the one who will be waking up and dealing with last night's repercussions — can be really helpful. 


Staying sober is really hard work, but I've always found that the work always pays off. If you're looking for more insights on staying sober, check out the Sobriety section here on Positively Present or my 6 Lessons from 6 Years Sober video. And if you have any questions about how I got and stayed sober, feel free to leave them in the comments below! 

 

    

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For the First Time: A List of Things to Try

 
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Is there something you've always wanted to do (and probably could) but just haven't done? This week I was presented with the awesome opportunity to do one of my want-to-but-never-have things: a tarot reading! The lovely Kerry Ward, aka Tarotbella, Cosmopolitan's tarot expert, reached out to me and offered to do a reading for me, and it was eye-opening, filled with wisdom that I definitely needed to hear! Most importantly, it led me to ask the question, Why didn't I do this before? It was something I'd always wanted to try, and could have, but just never did. 
 
Like so many of us, I tend to stick to what I know and love, even when I'm deeply curious and intrigued by newness. It's often not until something pushes or pulls me out of what I know that I explore new experiences. Like with the tarot reading — it literally had to land in my in-box for me to take action! 
 
It's hard to try new things, especially if that's not your inherent nature. I totally understand the discomfort that comes with trying something unfamiliar, of being vulnerable in a different environment or experience, but I highly recommend pondering these questions: 
 
What things have I always wanted to try but haven't?
What's on that list that I could actually do this week? 
 
This is a great starting point for getting outside of your comfort zone because you're looking to things that are already appealing to you. (Which is different than, for example, trying something recommended by others that, yes, you'd probably enjoy if you gave it a chance, but that doesn't necessarily excite you right off the bat.) In addition, if you identify something you can do right now (or this week), you'll be more likely to actually do it! 
 
Trying new things increases self-awareness, stimulates creativity, helps overcome fear, increases confidence, provides wisdom, and allows you to see the world from a different perspective, but I know how hard it can be for some people (like me!) to do new things. This week, try to do something you've always wanted to, and see how it makes you feel! Here are some ideas for things you could do this week... 
 
  • Eat at a restaurant you've never tried before
  • Drive down a road you've always been curious about
  • Write an email (or letter!) to your favorite author
  • Sign up for a dance / yoga / photography class
  • Learn about the trees and plants around your home 
  • Apply to volunteer at a local organization or charity
  • Get a tarot or palm reading in person or online
  • Find a clear bit of sky to do some stargazing
  • Try out that Pinterest idea you pinned ages ago
  • Start a handwritten (gratitude?) journal 
  • Take photos of a beautiful thing you want remember
  • Learn to cook a meal you really enjoy eating
  • Tell someone about how you really, truly feel
  • Hang a string of fairy lights above your bed
  • Watch a tutorial on a skill you've wanted to master
  • Speak up online for a cause you fully believe in
  • Go to the library and check out some books (for free!)
  • Send flowers to someone you love just because
  • Chat with that cute stranger you've seen around
  • Donate money to a charity you'd like to support
  • Look up the answer to a question you've pondered
  • Adopt a dog or cat (or any other kind of creature)
  • Create something you've never made before
 
These are just a few ideas that came to my mind, but hopefully they'll remind you of something you've been wanting to try but never have. It's never too late to try something new, and, after getting that tarot reading last week, I realized it doesn't have to be something major. (And it's also really easy to do if it's something you've always thought about doing!) Get out there and do something for the first time this week! If you do it, let me know in the comments or on social media. I'd love to hear about what you tried and how it went!  

    

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