Thursday, July 17, 2008

OFG VII: the energy suckers

The OFG today takes up the topic of energy suckers: the people in our personal lives who are in positions of relation or other involvement which makes it difficult if not impossible for us to simply be rid of them who seem to do nothing all day long except take the joy and energy out of every room they enter.

It is a dramatic description, and the truth is, there are all levels of behavior which can be problematic for those around someone of this ilk. Some are only a problem some of the time, and that’s not really who I am focusing on today. I’m going to talk about dealing with the chronic misbehavers, those who you know will have something bad to say or negative to contribute regardless of the topic.

First of all, it is important to recognize this kind of behavior for what it is. Most often, it is a cry for attention. It is an effort to prompt people to pay attention to, and pour their energy into, this poor soul. It is key to dealing with these types that we see this clearly, because it is the secret to curing them of it, or at least minimizing the impact to your own life.

Let’s face it: we cannot really change anyone in a meaningful way unless they decide they want to go the direction you hope to have them change. And, those who chronically see the world as treating them badly and have done so for decades are quite unlikely to change their view.

So, we’ll focus on minimizing the damage and creating a wall of “I don’t think so” which the person cannot suck your energy through.

Notice, when you engage this person, that there is always a dark cloud. There is an air of expectant doom, and you are invited—no, demanded—to join in this nightmare. What if, though, you lightheartedly grant the person what they need, while, at the same time, smiling and keeping your own energy full of love?

Here’s a comic example: you walk into the room, and the energy sucker says, “My arm has fallen off!! Aren’t you going to do anything about it?”

You smile and reply, “Darn! I’ll bet that hurts. Would you like a ride to the hospital?” Then, you turn and leave the room to go get your keys, whistling a little happy tune as you leave.

Here’s the important information from that example: you did not get drawn in, but you still were responsive to the real need the person had. You did not fall to your knees and begin wailing at their problem, you simply offered to help. YOU NEVER FELL INTO THE DEPTHS! No, you kept your attitude light even as you expressed the sentiment that you saw that they must be feeling poorly.

By refusing to join the pity party, you don’t allow the negative energy to build. In fact, it has nowhere to go without having energy to suck from those in the vicinity. That’s the serious weak spot of these people: without others being drawn in, they lose momentum and are forced to simply sit and sulk.

Eventually, there will come a confrontation as the person realizes you are not feeding their negativity, but are simply meeting the stated needs, be they food or medical care or entertainment. It is the unstated need which drives the interaction, and by not meeting that need, you will finally discover a very unhappy and confused person who demands that you tell them why you now hate them so badly.

The transaction has now completely reversed, as you are in command. You take a simple stance that you don’t have any idea what they are talking about, and list the last three things you did for them, exactly as asked, and that you feel badly for them that they are so upset.

THEN LEAVE THE ROOM, or terminate the phone call, or do whatever it takes to break off the conversation.

That’s my last advice on this topic: it is vital to disengage on your schedule, not theirs. Tell them you need to go get a breath of air or go to the store or whatever it takes to break off the engagement just when they are about to try ramping up the emotion.

By offering a conflicting type of energy, and doing so in gentle, small doses, not in the dramatic ones they use, you disrupt their program and cause them consternation at a level at which change is actually possible. I don’t say likely, but possible.

So…meet the stated needs, ignore the drama, act with a light heart and no direct engagement of the negative energy, and then disengage whenever there is an attempt to accelerate or build the drama.

This is not something which is easy, people! The temptation is to fight tooth and nail with such a person, to engage them with the same fury you feel because they can be such jerks. But that only feeds their need to be a seen as the victim, so you have to practice resistance to the little self who wants to hit back. Instead, offer nothing but gentle support, nothing but love, nothing but the lightest of engagements. It is not an instant solution, so be patient with it and try again, and again.

Then, go to your own private space and beat the holy crap out of your pillow.


Angela said...


thailandchani said...

Very true! I know one of those people and am only beginning the process of "training by example", letting her know that it has some limits.

Julie said...

I can think of a specific example in my life right now where this advice is going to come in VERY handy. It took me years to recognize this, but now that there is a term of sorts for it, I can set a plan in place.

Rick Hamrick said...

While I wish for the day that everyone won't chime in with, "Wow! I know that person!!" I know today is not that day. So, we'll figure out ways to minimize the damage someone like this can do.

Thanks, ladies. I'm honored by your presence and grateful for your comments.