Last week this blog had a series of search engine hits on what to do when other people dump their emotions onto you. I’ve seen this type of behaviour take many forms: extreme anxiety, anger, passive-aggressive comments.
A few thoughts on preventing emotion dumps:
Mark a Line in The Sand. There is definitely something to be said for explicitly setting boundaries. Not everyone responds well to this, of course, but it is a good first step in case the other person hadn’t realized he or she was imposing on you.
There Is a Difference Between Caring About Someone and Fixing Them. It’s ridiculously easy to slide from feeling compassion for someone else’s troubles to wanting to rush in with the solution. (I know I’ve done it!)
Relationships Are a Two-Way Street. This is not to say that we should give up on those who are going through a difficult time, only that healthy relationships are reciprocal. If you find yourself repeatedly coming to the rescue of or walking on eggshells around someone else there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
No One Is Owed a Season Pass to Your Life. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve known them or what kind of relationship exists between you – romantic, professional, familial, platonic or something else. No one is ever morally or ethically obligated to continue any harmful relationship.
You Have More Than One Option. There are an infinite number of ways to keep in touch. It’s never a matter of cutting someone completely out of your life vs. allowing them knowledge of and input into every decision you make. Yes, occasionally the healthiest thing to do is to stop associating with that individual entirely but many relationships can continue if you scale back contact and/or set firm boundaries.
What If You’re in The Middle of a Conversation?
Tell the Emperor He’s Still Naked. Do you remember the Hans Christian Anderson story about the emperor who was too embarrassed to admit he didn’t see his “invisible” clothing? Use this idea with care but I have seen some people back off when one person gathers up the courage to call them on inappropriate behaviour.
“No!” Is a Full Sentence. There’s nothing wrong with choosing not to participate in conversations on subject X or accept certain behaviours from those who are part of your life. Not respecting these boundaries is a huge red flag for a toxic relationship.
Make Bubbles. If someone else is dumping their anxiety, anger or other emotions on you and you cannot avoid the situation try imagining that your body has been encased in an impermeable bubble. You can see and hear what the other person is saying and doing but it’s muffled and will never be sharp enough to pierce your bubble. This might sound cheesy but it works well when I want to avoid becoming too enmeshed in an unhealthy interaction.
Do you agree with my advice? What other advice would you give to someone in this situation?