Is your mom always pointing out how you should have done something better? Do you share good news with your brother but then he poops all over it? Do you have a friend who says, “Let me just play devil’s advocate for a second?” There are good points to these people, and you love them, but you leave conversations feeling drained, sad, frustrated or resentful. Today, I’m teaching you my five-step process to deal with negative friends and family so you can stop feeling emotionally drained and start feeling happier and more connected.
My siblings and I fall into two distinct categories. My one brother and I are glass half full types and my other brother and sister are glass half-empty types (I would say the other two are glass shattered and causing bleeding types, but I’m trying to be a glass half-full girl even as I write this).
My sister and I are close and speak often, which used to be hard for me. Everything in her life is seen initially through a negative lens, and I would get off the phone or read a text from her and feel emotionally exhausted and then resentful that she was creating this in my life. Now, my big sister is an amazing person in many ways: she’s long been my biggest supporter, she always remembers to send cards to me and my kids for every holiday; she sends gifts on birthdays and Mother’s Day and runs a charity helping homeless people’s pets in Southern California.
Despite her absolute love and affection for me, when I’d call, she’d answer the phone sounding pissed off and like I was bothering her. She’d complain or be negative about something and, if I tried to offer any advice or helpful suggestions, I’d get an earful about how she just couldn’t do it and how her situation was different.
I love my sister dearly so couldn’t imagine a world where I cut her off or didn’t speak to her. So I had to figure out how to change things. I’ve come up with five steps that have not only worked for me, but for my clients as well, so let’s get to it.
Step 1: Get into the Right Mindset
How are you feeling about your emotionally draining person? Likely you have many negative emotions attached to them and you might even notice that the loving emotions you used to have for them are starting to disappear! You might be blaming them for feeling bad after you speak to them or resenting them for overwhelming you with their negativity.
If you want to change the relationship, those thoughts and feelings aren’t going to work. You’re going to need to take responsibility and not act like a victim and blame them for how you feel. You’ve co-created every relationship in your life, including this one. Maybe you’ve tried things that haven’t worked, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibility to try again.
Here’s the thing I always say about relationships: The one in the most pain needs to change first. And that, my lovely, is you. If you want to grow this relationship in a positive direction, you’re going to need to make some changes in how you interact. You’re going to need to come from love, not fear; you’ll need to find your compassion and kindness. And you need to keep at it until things move.
Step 2: Be Lovingly Direct
It’s time to have a direct, loving conversation with your emotionally draining person. It’s time to tell them how you feel and what you need. State the boundaries you need them to abide by when interacting with you.
I strongly recommend using the I Feel Formula when you do this and to come back to it often in your interactions (scroll down to download the I Feel Formula). As long as you stay lovingly direct, you’re not responsible for how they react. They might get upset. They might feel attacked no matter how loving and gentle you are with your approach. Stick to the “I Feel” mantra!
Step 3: Hold Your Boundaries
You can make and share your boundaries all day long but if you don’t hold them, they’re useless. If your emotionally draining person doesn’t respect your boundary, remind them of it right then and there. They need to see, in the moment, how their behavior is trampling your boundary. If they won’t respect it, let them know you’ll need to hang up the phone, go home or even block their number for a while if they’re texting you over and over and not stopping when you request it.
You could tell them that you now need to only interact via email – that they’ve lost the privilege of having direct conversations with you.
The key is not to be angry with them while you hold these boundaries! Don’t ascribe meaning to what they’re doing (“He knows that’s making me angry and he’s doing it anyway!”). You have co-created the relationship to be this way. You’ve been letting them trample your boundaries for years – don’t expect it to change overnight. They’re going to push those boundaries unconsciously or unwittingly. You don’t need to be mad, just firm. Remember your emotionally draining person is doing the best they can with the tools they have, just as you were all those years when you allowed them to treat you poorly. It’s just time to change.
Step 4: Be the dominant vibration in the relationship
Why do we allow other’s negativity to “make us” feel negative? Why isn’t it the other way around? Why don’t we push them to be positive? Think about it: You’re in a great mood so you decide to call your dad and check in. But, when you start chatting, he starts being negative and pointing out what’s wrong in your life. You then get into a bad mood and blame your dad.
Why isn’t it the other way? Why can’t your dad come over to your good mood? What would that be like? I’ll tell you that I’ve been practicing it for years, and it’s a game-changer! Again, remember that you’re not a victim. Not only that, you are powerful too! Practice being the dominant vibration and keeping yourself in a positive frame so that others can calibrate to you, instead of you calibrating to them!
Step 5: Change How You Interact
Before you speak to your emotionally draining person, check in with yourself and make sure you’re at a high vibrational state. If you’re exhausted, don’t call them back! It’s OK to say “no” to your plans for tonight with your friend if you had a tough day at work and don’t feel like you can hold your boundary with them.
Stop taking on your emotionally draining person’s issues! Don’t offer suggestions, give advice or try to fix anything for them. If they complain about something, you can say: “I have complete faith in you. You’re smart and I know you’ll figure this out.” If they ask for your advice, turn it back to them: “The most important thing is for you to know your own thinking. What do you think you should do?”
Maybe you have that emotionally draining friend who’s always looking for reassurance. Don’t give it! Instead, be direct and say something like, “I’m not OK just reassuring you over and over because it drains me and doesn’t help you or you wouldn’t keep asking.”
Then you could offer other support:
- I’m here to support you, not to fix you
- I love you and I’m behind you 100% but I’m not going to give you any suggestions.
- Do you need a hug? I’ve got hugs, but no advice
- If it’s this bad, it’s time to get a counselor. I can’t be your therapist.
- I’ve already told you X, you keep asking, so I need to know what’s really going on.
- What do you need to do right now to feel better about this?
- Is there anything I can do to help you take action?
Following this five-step process is simple, but not always easy. When we’re not used to holding our boundaries or saying what we need, it can be difficult to change. However, change you must because improving this important relationship is key and you have every ability to make it happen.