Recently, I became a bit distracted by social media. I don’t mean my normal liking of memes on Facebook and looking at photos of people’s cats and meal prep on Instagram, I mean “I need to read every comment of this” distracted. Two people I know were involved in a disagreement that had made it on to social media, several venues in fact. When it was cooling down, one of the people said something along the lines of “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Lord, isn’t that the truth?
It seems that drama doesn’t dissipate with age. In my early 20s, I thought it was something that people grew out of but now, in my mid-30s, I realize that’s not always the case. Some people, it seems, have no real discernible personality. If they’re not gossiping, bitching about something, or starting shit, they have nothing to say. Neither of the people I mention fall into that category, but it did get me started thinking about those negative people. We all know someone like that: the coworker who only complains about the job, the other employees, the boss, as though they were obligated to work there and couldn’t find a job that disturbed them less; the parent who gives backhanded compliments and reminds us of any shortcomings their perception or otherwise; the partner who constantly worries about everything that might go wrong with the finances of what awful things might befall the children; the friend whose calls always begin with “OMG did you hear about ______?” The problem is, if you don’t thrive on misfortune, negativity, and drama these people are “energy vampires.” They drain the happiness and positivity from the room and even from us. If you’re an emotionally sensitive person or an introvert, there’s a pretty good chance that an afternoon or phone call with a person like this will make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon. Physically, mentally, emotionally, you leave the interaction worse off but the energy vampire is recharged! They’re full of all the energy they sucked right out of you. Many of these people don’t even know that they do this, the irony is that most of them profess to “hate drama.” They may not be self-aware enough or they may not care, as long as their needs are being met.
One thing I’ve long pointed out is that people who have to go out of their way to let you know they “hate drama” or want a “drama-free zone” or “won’t tolerate your drama” are always drama magnets. How do I know this? Because when something is not relevant to your life, you don’t need to keep mentioning it. I don’t make sure people know I “hate heroin” or make my life a “manslaughter free zone” because since drugs and murder are not a regular part of my life it would make no sense to specify that – it simply wouldn’t occur to me.
Sometimes we can’t escape these negative people. We don’t choose our coworkers or our family. Sometimes we might choose to have people in our lives who have some drama in theirs, after all many people are divorced and jave exes and children, a fair bit of drama accompanies those situations. How do we handle this drama or adjacent negativity in a way that doesn’t burn us out or drain the joy from our own lives? The trick is to limit the amount of time that we indulge them. If you know your coworker does nothing but bitch, change your lunch so you can’t eat with her. If you know your dysfunctional family becomes toxic, have an end point in mind – don’t spend all day Sunday with them, join them for dinner and then leave. If your friend’s constant gossiping brings you down, stop answering the phone and make some new friends. There is no one that we owe our own peace and serenity to; no one has the right to drain us emotionally, not even family members. Setting solid, immovable boundaries and sticking with them allows us to keep the people we want in our lives (because you probably don’t want to completely cut your family out of your life simply because they exhaust you) from ruining our day, or to keep the people we don’t choose (those coworkers and angry exes) from feeding on us.
Boundaries are miraculous things. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, as many of us did, you might not know where those boundaries should be or even how to begin setting them. You may need to see a therapist but it might be enough to read a book. Boundaries: Where you end and I begin is just one of many you can find on Amazon. It is deceptively simple: when you start to feel bad, retreat. That gives you an idea of where the boundaries need to be. You’re allowed to adjust them as needed, they’re YOURS. They’re there to protect you and preserve you, so you get to decide where, when, and how they fit. Note of caution: often energy vampires hate boundaries. They either have none or have no respect for the boundaries of others. When you start to set limits, people push against them, so remember if they are to be effective you must enforce them. Not just once, but every single time someone attempts to violate them. Eventually they will get tired and stop but only if you stay firm.
By this point you may be thinking “There’s no way Person X is going to let me get away with this boundary shit.” The good news is that it’s not up to them, it’s up to you. Boundaries are healthy and normal. If they cannot respect your boundaries they do not respect you and if they don’t respect you then it’s time to decide if they need to have a place in your life. Energy is a resource, and we get to decide how we use our own resources. How people use theirs is up to them. So energy vampires, negative nellies, liars and drama queens?
Ain’t no body got the energy for that.