Let’s face it, people can be draining. Relationships also bring joy and fulfillment, and are necessary for us as humans. However, it can be confusing when you want to be around people or have relationships, but they don’t feel quite right.
You may be wondering why being around certain people feels emotionally draining. Listen to that intuition you’re having. It’s there for a reason. Allow yourself to explore the feeling and what caused it.
Why Do Some People Drain Me?
There are a whole host of possible reasons as to why someone drains you. Let’s get into some of them, and what to do about it.
The most obvious or stereotypical reason you may feel drained is because the person is needy or high maintenance. They have a lot of expectations or demands, either subtle or outright, that come up in the relationship. This can stem from past trauma, an anxious attachment style, or a personality disorder, among other things.
One of the more common personality tendencies that causes emotional drain for those involved is narcissism. I’ve written more on that here in this blog, but suffice to say that when someone is egotistical or entitled, you’re going to feel drained. It’s all about them, and there isn’t much space for you. This is a little warning sign, and you should heed it. We don’t call them red flags for nothing. Of course, the challenge comes in actually acting on them – and not ignoring them or assuming someone will “change.” It’s harder, and unfortunately more common, in covert narcissism. This means the narcissistic tendencies are harder to spot. As a note, these traits are usually mixed in with love bombing, flattery, and charisma.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter why someone drains you. What matters is that it’s happening. You can prioritize yourself while still having compassion for others.
Draining Relationships And Empaths
Relationships that feel draining are more common for sensitive people (also called HSPs) or empaths. Thought to make up about 20 percent of the population, empaths feel things more acutely than the average person. Their nervous system picks up on more, and they are more affected by other people’s emotions and energies.
Empaths also tend to have greater reservoirs of compassion and acceptance for other people. They can see things from any perspective, and thus are less apt to judge. This is a beautiful gift. However, the gift can turn into a burden if not honored and properly managed. If boundaries are not set, physical, emotional, and/or spiritual issues will inevitably arise.
How to Manage People Who Drain You
Here are 7 ways to manage emotionally draining people and relationships. These tips will help you regardless of your sensitivity level, personality type, or life situation.
1. Learn to spot it
The first step is awareness. Notice how you feel being around different individuals. Take note before, during, and after every interaction. Do you notice a difference in the negative direction afterward? Journal on it, or simply reflect. This can relate to subtle things, like your emotional state, or literal things, such as: they always ask me to do something I don’t want to do.
In fact, I recommend this exercise for many aspects of life. It may seem cumbersome at first to track, but it’s worthwhile. Who and what drains you? Who and what nourishes or elevates you? Look at daily habits, foods, drinks, people, tasks, jobs, etc.
2. Set boundaries by taking space
Boundaries refer to emotional and physical limits or standards. Many of us never learned about boundaries or how to set them growing up. Your feelings, needs, and perspectives are yours, just like someone else’s are theirs.
Creating healthy boundaries in your life can mean the difference between health and disease, well-being and chaos. With draining people, one of the best ways to set a boundary is by taking space or limiting time with them. Doing this can be difficult. You may fear their judgment or loss of the relationship.
And it’s indeed likely that you will experience resistance – subtle or outright – from others when you start to implement healthy boundaries. The only people who will make you feel badly for having them are the ones who benefited from you having none! This is one of the most important life and relational skills to learn, especially if you’re sensitive or a natural helper. Be prepared for emotional reactivity or drama to ensue. Keep in mind that people who are good for you will respect your boundaries, or at least be open to a discussion.
3. Say no without guilt
Emotionally draining people often ask for favors – or for you to compromise to meet their needs and demands. This can also be done covertly, meaning a loss of approval or connection is implied or threatened subtly. They are counting on this tactic working, but don’t let it. Many people don’t even know they are doing this, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable.
You are not obligated to do things for people if you don’t want to. You may not have the time or energy, or it simply does not feel right. Let any fear arise and say no anyway.
4. Reflect on what drew you to this person
One important aspect of cultivating healthier relationships is noticing your patterns. Ask yourself what you initially liked about the person who feels emotionally draining. They probably have a mixture of qualities you like and don’t like, as any human does.
Overall, does this person bring value to your life? Maybe aspects of them that drain you sometimes are okay because they have a lot of other great qualities. The amount of time you spend with them is a big factor. It’s not as relevant if you only see them once a month.
5. Practice self-care
It’s always good to take care of yourself. This looks different for everyone, but may include things like making sure you have some alone time every so often, journaling, exercising, napping, and eating healthy, balanced meals.
When you are drained, these practices become even more important. Alone time and naps (or a good night’s sleep) are especially helpful to discharge the emotional energy a draining person or situation can bring.
6. End the relationship if needed
Sometimes the only option is cutting off the emotionally draining person from your life. Feelings of guilt may arise in doing so, or even contemplating it, but push on through. It’s not your responsibility to unconditionally be there for others. You have to put yourself first. If someone seems toxic, it may be time to say goodbye.
You can care for people from afar, and wish them well. Draining energy and relational dynamics are not worth it because you’re ultimately putting yourself at risk. It can, and likely will, take its toll.
7. Get support
Again, seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s necessary at times. Just be discerning about who you seek help from. It could be a trusted friend, therapist or other mental health practitioner, or even a medical doctor if you are having physical symptoms.
Sometimes we need a little push of support to make hard changes or stand up for ourselves.
Manage Draining People for Better Health
It’s crucial for your health and well-being to manage the emotionally draining relationships in your life. As mentioned, you may find that it’s best for all involved to end the connection. You can do it with compassion and love. It’s not your responsibility to caretake other adults. If you feel like it is, check out my blog here about codependency.
If you are reading this, you are likely a kind soul, introvert, or empath. Empathy fatigue and burnout is a real phenomenon. And unfortunately there are energy vampires and other innocent yet inadvertently draining people out there. Your mental health needs to come first, above those relationships. Bravo for doing the work!
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