Do you know someone who always seems to request a lot of your time and attention? Do you wish you could just run away and hide from this person or cut them off altogether? It feels good to be needed, but some people take it too far. If you’re not careful, emotionally needy people can drain you of your time, sanity, and emotional energy. These resources are just too precious to freely give away. If you are currently dealing with someone who is emotionally draining you, you’ll need to do something about it before you burn out (or act out).
State your boundaries
Make it clear how much closeness you’re comfortable with. If you don’t want a relationship at all, make that clear, too. Whatever you do, don’t string someone along and make him or her believe you want a relationship (whether romantic or friendship), unless that’s what you really want. Deliberately misleading someone about your intentions is not only cruel but could also cause you to make an unnecessary enemy.
Identify emotional vampires
Another key to handling an emotionally needy person is to be able to recognize one early on. It will be easier to identify the people you need to establish firm boundaries with if you pay attention to how you feel when you interact with them. Your feelings will tell you when you’re dealing with someone who has the potential to drain you, said psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter.
“Don’t ignore those feelings. Pay close attention to your instincts and your physical reactions after your encounters. If you find yourself experiencing muscle tension, loss of energy, headaches, irritability, sadness, mental confusion, or negativity, you likely have an energy vampire in your life,” said Carter in her Psychology Today column.
Once you’ve made it crystal clear what your relationship boundaries are, don’t compromise. For example, it will be confusing if you say you don’t want a friendship, but you continue to invite someone out to social events or accept all of their phone calls and attempts to communicate. Gradually distance yourself to reaffirm your desire for less contact. Carter suggests setting a time limit to conversations up front.
“If you can’t detach completely, as in the case of family members or co-workers, set firm limits. For example, for those who are intrusive or overly dramatic and end up consuming a lot of your time with their tales of woe or displays of theatrics, you should start off conversations with something like, ‘I only have a few minutes before I have to [fill in the blank] …’Once that time is up, politely disengage,’” recommends Carter in her column.
Know that there might be friction
When your emotional needs and relationship comfort level don’t align with someone else’s needs and comfort level, it can cause friction. You’ll have to be prepared to have some uncomfortable conversations and even lose some relationships in order to maintain your sanity and honor yourself.
Why we sometimes accommodate needy people
Guilt: You might feel sorry for someone who seems to have few social contacts outside of his or her interactions with you. Consequently, you may feel guilty about how much social support you have and how good your life is. Don’t let your guilty feelings cause you to put your own emotional health in jeopardy. It isn’t your job to make sure everyone is taken care of.
Obligation: Someone may have done something nice for you, and now you feel obligated to return the favor. Remember that everyone has a choice. He or she wasn’t forced to do something for you (at least we hope not), so don’t feel like you have to allow someone to take more from you emotionally than you have to give. You decide who gets your time and emotional availability. Don’t let someone manipulate you into giving more than you can or want to.
Altruism: You may feel that obliging someone who is emotionally needy is the right thing to do. You might have a mindset that it is your role in society to help those in need, whether emotionally, financially, or otherwise. Remember that the most important thing is to take care of your well-being first.
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