There are some experts who say that we all have six basic emotions — happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. I personally believe that a lot of us continue to stay in the emotional ruts that we find ourselves in because we don’t expand past these six when it comes to verbally expressing how we feel (for instance, are you angry or irritated? Are you sad or just tired? — you can download an emotional wheel here). What I will say is, because emotions are a human regulator, it’s always important to take moments, throughout the day, to “check-in” with your feelings to see where you’re at — and if where you are is drained, yeah…that ain’t good.
To be drained is to find yourself in a state and position where you feel…empty. And because we are, in part, emotional beings, that’s not good because being depleted affects our self-regulation and that can infect our processing and the steps that we need to take to do what’s truly best for us.
You know who knows this to be true? Emotionally draining people. Know what else? They absolutely do not care. All they can think about is doing whatever needs to be done to get their own needs — including their emotional needs — met. And if that wears you out in the process…so be it.
More times than not, these kinds of individuals are entitled, selfish, and oftentimes very emotionally immature. They don’t care about this either. That’s why it’s on you (and me) to become self-aware of our own relational needs and then to become aware of some telling signs that you are being emotionally drained, so that you can set boundaries and act accordingly.
For now, here are seven that are dead ringers that boundaries are needed ASAP.
1. You Feel Anxious at the Mere Thought of Being Around Them
There used to be some people in my life (and by “people,” I mean relatives) who I found myself damn near hyperventilating at the mere thought of having to be around them. They were controlling. They were manipulative. They couldn’t respect a boundary to save their life. And they liked to abuse Scripture to justify their behavior.
What made it even worse was, because a lot of people around them were either just like them or henpecked to death by them, they would try and make me feel bad for not wanting that kind of toxicity around me. And so, for many — FAR TOO MANY — years, I would stay on a vicious rollercoaster of feeling peace whenever those individuals weren’t around and totally stressed out whenever they were.
Listen, when you’re in the presence of people who are right for you, anxiety should be far, far away from your emotional space. The reason why I say that is because, by definition, anxiety means things like mental distress, uneasiness, and worry — and all of this is connected to thinking that you’re going to be in some type of danger or some sort of misfortune is going to happen to you if, in this case, those kinds of individuals come around.
In other words, in the context of this article, anxiety is signaling a red flag. So, instead of you trying to suppress it, the wiser thing to do is really stop and ask yourself, “Why is it that when [insert name here] comes to mind, I feel this way?” Then really listen to yourself when the answer presents itself — and then act accordingly when it comes to the steps that you need to put into place next in order to experience less anxiety and more calm. Take whatever steps are necessary too. Anxiety is not something that you want to play with. Stress either.
2. “Emotional Vampire” Tracks When It Comes to a Way to Describe Them
When it comes to everything that I just said, if there’s a term that would describe those people perfectly, “emotional vampire” would definitely scratch the itch. So, how do you know if you’ve got an emotional vampire in your life — I mean, beyond what I just described?
According to many mental health professionals, there are three telling signs that someone fits this particular bill:
- They constantly need attention and/or validation.
- They suck at self-accountability (and honestly, emotional self-regulation).
- They tend to stay in counterproductive — if not flat-out self-destructive — patterns.
Because of this, having them around typically results in them doing things like:
Gaslighting you — making you think that you’re insane for having the memories or feelings that are directly related to them that you do.
Being passive-aggressive — hinting around at issues instead of directly addressing them (which yes, is super draining). You know the kind: when you ask them “What’s wrong?”, they say “nothing” five times before actually getting to the point. LAWD.
Playing the victim — when you call them out on their ish, either it’s someone else’s fault or they start to act like you are bullying them by addressing what they are actually doing wrong.
Talking too much — emotional vampires SUCK at listening. Listening means that they have to let other people have the floor, that they can’t be the center of attention, and/or that they might hear something that they would prefer to ignore or avoid. That said, watch those who talk over you a lot. Not only is it disrespectful but oftentimes, they are telling you that they don’t want to deal with whatever you’re about to say (even if they know that they should).
Taking control — controlling people are draining because we aren’t designed to be controlled (or to control others). We’re adults and that means we are free to have our own opinions, perspectives, and even ways of doing things. Emotional vampires will always push back on this because, if the way you choose to live your life does not serve them in the way that they want it to, they will try and get some control over you, so that they can (continue to) manipulate you.
I honestly could go on and on with this point; however, what I will say for now is, if this resonated with you more than a lil’ bit, there is an emotional vampire in your midst and it’s time to get some distance and set some boundaries. FIRM ONES.
3. You’re Definitely “Keeping Tabs” on the Relationship
You wanna know a clear indication that someone is manipulating and/or using you? It’s when you bring up to them that you feel like you’re the one who is doing most of the “heavy lifting” in the relationship and they come at you on some, “If you’re keeping tabs, you’re not doing ‘it’ for the right reasons.”
Chile, please stop. The reality is that if there was true reciprocity, I wouldn’t need to keep tabs. Keeping tabs is what’s revealing to me that there isn’t.
There are some people in my life who, I couldn’t “tally up” what I’ve done for them vs. what they’ve done for me if I tried. That’s how seamless the relationship is on the give-and-take tip. Then there are those who, I’m honestly embarrassed that I did so much when they offered so little in return. For example, the day ones (of reading my work on this platform) might remember my mentioning a so-called friendship where I spent thousands of dollars (yes, literally) over the years and all I got from them (again, yes literally) was a $5 ring from some museum and a packet of lip gloss…that they actually lost. I used to chalk it up to them giving differently but c’mon — thousands in comparison to 10 bucks? Nah. I was played, for sure.
Someone who takes more than they give, even when it comes to tangible things, is eventually going to emotionally drain you because you will start to feel taken advantage of — and when that happens, it will eventually take a real toll on you. Trust me, I’ve been there.
4. They Treat You Like a Makeshift Therapist (Instead of Going to Actual Therapy)
Whenever I hear or read that Black people fear therapy, there is a part of me that’s like, “Maybe some of us; however, I think more are afraid of paying a therapy bill.” Just think about it — how many people in your life seem to constantly have something that they need your insight and counsel about? Almost like they think that your main purpose in life is to act like their on-call (and not paid) therapist. SMDH.
Do healthy relationships consist of being safe spaces for two people to share, vent, process, and get (hopefully) some sound advice? 1000 percent. However, if every time that you answer the phone, the same person on the other end has some sort of issue or problem that it seems they want YOU to put more energy into solving (or resolving) than they are even willing to — that will totally get old after a while.
Besides, I tell a lot of my clients that, although relationships can be therapeutic, they are not the same thing as going to actual therapy. And so, if someone seems to be in a hamster wheel of drama or trauma and it’s getting to the point where you find yourself avoiding them because they have nothing else to talk about but their problems, it really is time to let them know that you can be a friend but they should seek a professional — because those things are not the same…because they’re not.
5. With Them, It’s ALWAYS Something
Back in 2015, I went on an intentional “tour” to resolve some things with certain men of my past. I actually wrote about it for the site (when you get a chance, check out, “Why Every Woman Should Go On A ‘Get Your Heart Pieces Back’ Tour”). Anyway, the main purpose of it was to make sure that I got the FULL CLOSURE that I needed so that I wouldn’t move forward with someone new while still being “haunted” by my past. It was honestly one of the best things that I’ve ever done.
Currently, I have a friend who is doing something similar — kinda-sorta by default. There is an ex in her life who has always been able to come back in, in part, because they’ve both always felt like it was poor timing that kept them from having a long-term committed relationship. Although I’ve seen some, at the very least, pink flags about ole’ boy, because I know what it’s like to not be able to get someone out of my system until I’m personally ready to, I’ve encouraged her to be intentional about getting the answers that she needs — so that if/when she’s done this time…IT’S DONE FOR GOOD (and yes, I am yelling it).
It’s a slow crawl yet it seems like she’s starting to come around, because this guy? When I tell you that he’s always in some sort of crisis or he’s always got some sort of problem or he’s always “inconsistently upset” (meaning, he goes from hot to cold in a matter of moments) about something? And here’s the thing — life has moments of hardship, trials, and tests for all of us. Still, when someone is constantly in that space, at some point, they’ve got to be willing to accept that the common denominator in it all is them.
And if someone is always drawing conflict into their life, what do you think you’re gonna be dealing with, right along with them (especially in a romantic situation)? In fact, a lot of times, they will think that treading water (if not flat-out drowning) with them is a part of your role.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is, “Everywhere you go, there you are.” If someone’s always in some mess, you are only doing yourself harm by getting intimately involved with them. Yeah, some folks, you’ve gotta pray for and let them figure THEM out.
6. It’s Hard to Be Your Authentic Self in Their Presence
Walking on eggshells is also emotionally draining — and this is what tends to happen when you feel like you can’t be your genuine, complete, and unedited self when you’re around certain individuals.
For the record, I don’t mean that you should ever think that you have the right to be unhinged, rude, or disrespectful. All I’m saying is if you’re monitoring your words because they are constantly getting triggered or having their feelings hurt, if you find yourself backtracking or apologizing even when you don’t think that you’ve done anything wrong, if you are holding back when it comes to expressing your own views, likes or desires — that’s too much work and when relationships require a lot of stress, striving and toiling in order to keep them going, that too is gonna tap you out.
In fact, one of the greatest indications that you have found “your people” is when you can relax, exhale and be totally, unapologetically, and authentically YOU. If that’s not currently happening — I don’t care if it’s a partner, a friend, a relative, a job, a church…whatever, you are setting yourself up to be emotionally drained…if you’re not already right there.
7. You’d Rather Be Anywhere BUT Around Them
I’m proud of my friend circle. One reason is that they are out here doin’ the damn thing. They are thriving in their purpose. They are making big moves. Their schedules are full. And that’s why I’m almost honored if, when I call, they pick up — pretty much every time (or will follow up with a text that they will call when they can). One friend, in particular, shared why. He said, “Because I know that you’re not gonna drain the hell outta me.”
Again, when it comes to a topic like this, I could go on for days. For now, though, let’s just end it with this, if you’re avoiding someone because of how they make you feel whenever they’re in your emotional space, that’s another indication that they are probably emotionally draining you and so you need to go about the relationship differently.
Because why would you intentionally avoid someone who brings you peace, who makes you laugh, who brings encouragement and support, who helps to fill your cup rather than empty it?
Again, we’re all gonna have moments — possibly even seasons — when we’ll need people to help us through tough and trying times; this means that we need to be ready, willing, and prepared to return the favor. Yet if tough and trying are all that there is, something is…off.
Healthy relationships are supposed to be helpful NOT draining.
When it comes to yours — which is it? Really?
And if it’s Door #2 — set boundaries. QUICKLY.
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Featured image by Ekaterina Goncharova/Getty Images