I’ve written about jerks before. I define a jerk as someone who makes life more difficult for others (nice people spend their lives trying to do just the opposite). But on the subject of dealing with difficult people, there is also a certain type of person who will suck the life out of you if you let them. They are not good for us, but for some reason we keep trying to work it out—to help them or “resolve” them.
Usually it is from some sense of obligation (which they definitely encourage), or a vow or promise we made in the past about our relationship with this person. Or, they are related to us or someone close to us, and it is very difficult to avoid interaction.
Whatever the reason, we stick it out, and over time they literally suck the life out of us.
How do you know you’re dealing with a soul sucker?
What’s playing in your head all day? What does your mind return to, over and over? What answers do you want to give, what emails or texts do you want to write, to convince them that what they are doing is destructive, selfish, or mean? If that’s where you are, there’s a soul sucker in your life.
Now, interestingly, sometimes the soul sucker is inside us. It’s a victim tape we play about ourselves, about how insufficient we are, or how the world is against us, or how that special thing that meant so much to us has been taken away and we can’t figure out why. The tape is usually left over from an earlier time in our lives, or because of things that someone said to us years ago. A recent failure of some kind can trigger this thinking, and there we are, wrestling with an internal soul sucker.
While this happens—regardless of the source—we are pretty useless. We may go through the motions of normal life and manage to get ourselves out of bed, but we don’t have much passion. We feel lost and disconnected. Everything pales in comparison to the drama of the soul sucker discussion.
Actually, it’s not a discussion; it’s an ongoing argument.
That argument will spill over into the rest of your life; you will be short with those you love and distracted by the movie playing in your head. You will also feel less than your best self, because you will constantly be trying to convince someone that reality is “over here,” when they are determined to convince you that reality isn’t there at all.
And you will not be succeeding. It will become a part of your life where you feel that you are failing, and given that this movie is playing constantly in your head, you will feel that your life is a failure, or that you are a failure.
This is not a good place to be. Obviously.
How do you avoid dealing with a soul-sucker?
As with most things in life, the answer is simple, but carrying it out won’t be easy.
You walk away.
It’s similar to the advice I give in my “How to work with jerks” article: “Don’t.”
But this is the only answer; the argument will continue if you don’t do this.
You have to move out if you’re living with them. Stop hanging out where they do. You have to hide their texts, unfriend them on Facebook, stop taking their calls.
Do you tell them you’re doing this? Up to you. But know that if you do say that you have to leave, they will argue with that, too. They will give you all sorts of reasons about why you should continue to be abused. They will:
- Appeal to your better nature: “I never expected this of you, of all people. You have always been there for me.”
- Try to make you feel very, very guilty: “You are my last friend, no one else understands me, everyone has left me. I must be completely unlovable. You’re all I have left.”
- Will use your faith against you: “This is not the way someone of our faith is supposed to act! What happened to ‘lay your life down for your friends?’”
- Ignore your own issues, and make empty promises: “Yes, I understand that your blood pressure is dangerously high and your husband is afraid you are going to have a major stroke or heart attack if we continue talking, but we can have less stressful conversations, I promise.”
- Get angry: “How could you do this to me? You promised you would be there for me, forever. How can I trust anyone now? I no longer have any reason to live.”
These are all arguments. This is what soul suckers do; they suck you into their arguments. Arguments are not productive; not loving; not a pathway to success and resolution. Arguments end up hurting someone, every single time.
Just walk away.
What if the soul sucker is part of who you are? What if you have these arguments with yourself, constantly? In fact this is usually the case; soul sucking starts internally and then spreads to the other people in your life. How can you walk away from yourself?
First you realize that it’s going on. Identify when it’s happening: when you’re playing “what if” and catastrophizing, believing the worst of yourself, of your life, of your work, of others in your life; when you’re questioning everything, constantly going back and forth on issues that get stuck in your brain. “What if everyone leaves me? What if I run out of money? What if I am unlovable?”
This is a soul sucker in your own head. It’s not you. It’s a tape that’s playing. Now, in this case, there is a special secret to walking away.
You can’t just stop yourself from thinking those soul-sucking thoughts; you can’t ever beat negativity with more negativity. Instead, you need to replace those thoughts. And the only way I know of to do that is to replace those thoughts with a new type of thought: thankfulness.
As you start to hear that tape playing again, pay attention to what you’re doing, and start being thankful. “Thanks for the hot water to wash these dishes with. Thanks for the dish soap. Thanks for my hands, which are still working, and the feet on which I am standing. Thanks for my eyes, so I can see what I’m doing.”
This is an amazingly powerful new habit to form. It has the added benefit of putting you into the present moment, and being grateful for the things you already have. Over time, you’ll be much happier and spread gratefulness instead of negativity.
What will happen after you walk away?
You will experience a mixture of emotions. Hang in there. Ultimately, the most positive emotion will come to dominate, and you will be able to go back to your normal life.
Of course you will feel guilty. Let that go. Guilt is a useless emotion used by others to control. Responsibility, yes. Regret or remorse when you have made a mistake, yes. But guilt? Another soul sucker.
You will find yourself actually missing the person, because some part of you did care for that person, or you wouldn’t have stuck it out as long as you did. Accept the fact that you do care for them, and you always will. But know that you can’t be with them.
Your life will seem somewhat quiet, and certainly less dramatic. Wait this out; it’s only because you have removed that movie from your head and your real life, your purpose-driven life, the life you were meant to carry out, will start to reassert yourself.
You will feel relief. This is the feeling that will grow and grow.
You will start to feel positive again, see situations in a new light, find that you have energy for everything, and feel that you are a capable and happy person. Even the little things will become satisfying again. You will embark on new projects with a delicious fervor. You will become passionate again about the things you want to accomplish in your life.
A burden will be lifted.
It’s difficult to walk away, but it’s worth it.