How do you function around emotionally unstable people?
You know who I’m talking about. That one person who dominates the conversation talking about their problems, yet cuts you off when you mention something about your own life. Or that coworker who relies on you to be emotionally supportive while they go through their divorce, yet offers no support when you’re dealing with something in your own life. Or the person on Facebook who comments on every single one of your posts like you’re besties, but you’re really not.
How do you cope with those who are emotionally draining? How can you keep communication with your loved ones when the relationship feels one-sided? Is there a way to have healthy boundaries without cutting the person out of your life?
These are hard questions, yet realistic problems. You love the person but aren’t sure how much longer you can carry the weight of the relationship entirely on your shoulders. Here are four tips on how to function around emotionally unstable people.
1. Don’t take their problems on as your own. I’m a great “fixer” of problems. People often come to me for advice, but there is a fine line between being a good listener and taking on their problems as your own. If you find yourself doing more work than they are, you need to take a step back. Rather than taking on additional burdens, help them process through their dysfunction or pain by asking thought-provoking questions. If they try to put their burdens on you, respond with “I’m so sorry for your pain. I hope you get help with that.” This is a healthy way to be a good listener without owning their problems.
2. Put up healthy boundaries. The healthiest relationships have the best boundaries. This isn’t always fun or pretty, but if an emotionally unstable person is infringing upon your basic rights, then this is necessary. The best way to define boundaries is: This is OK, and this is not OK. If they are dominating your time or always asking for help, it’s acceptable to let them know you’re willing to be available to them, but not at their every beck and call.
3. Communicate clearly, even if they don’t. Emotionally unhealthy people may not know what healthy communication looks like. Regardless of their choppy approach to communication, you can still be a good listener, use reflective listening (“So, what you’re saying is …”) and be honorable, even when it’s not reciprocated. You’re responsible for you. You’re not responsible for them.
4. Love them through the eyes of Jesus and not your own. This is by far the hardest one, but essential in preserving a soft heart. Emotionally unstable people are walking wounded. Whether it’s something recent that has punctured their heart or a longstanding emotional pain that’s festering and bubbling over, they are needy because they’re still healing. Pray and ask God to show you how He sees them. Get His perspective on their heart and mind before you harden your heart against them. Give compassion a chance to extend grace. Remember that mercy always triumphs over judgment.
If someone’s toxicity is bubbling and spilling over, then you may need to prayerfully step away from that relationship. But you also have the opportunity to be gracious to them and help them in their need, without sacrificing your own emotional health on their behalf. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for you. You are in charge of your own emotional health.