In an earlier post, I wrote about how to support people without taking on their moods and emotions.
In this post, I want to talk about the warning signs to look out for that may indicate you are taking on other people’s problems.
If we ignore these signs, taking on other people’s problems can have a negative impact on our lives. We might start to feel buried under problems.
If you are a highly empathetic or sensitive person you might be more susceptible to taking on other people’s problems and feeling them as if they are your own.
Don’t get me wrong here, I believe in having compassion for other people. I believe in listening to them when they need it and helping out whenever we can but it’s important to point out that there is a difference between being there for someone and taking on their problems and feeling their problems as if they were your own.
This is about more than just feeling worried or concerned about someone.
Sometimes the signs can be so subtle they sneak into our lives without us noticing, particularly if you are speaking to someone about a problem on a daily/regular basis. Sometimes the signs are a lot more obvious.
The issue is after a while, we may have gotten so consumed by a problem that we don’t see any warning signs at all, big or small.
Important note – I’m not a medical practitioner. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or a mental illness, please seek help from a professional.
Here are some signs to look out for that might indicate you are taking on other people’s problems.
Heads up – This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
You talk about the problem a lot
When you are talking about other people’s problems all the time, it could mean you are taking on someone else’s problems.
You might think this would be an easy no brainer to spot, but you might be surprised how this can creep slowly into your life and into your conversations. It might start off very small and grow huge over time.
Just to be clear, this isn’t about gossiping about people.
It’s about when you are there for someone who needs to talk.
If you realize you need to cut back on talking about certain people or problems, don’t start conversations about them. Don’t be the instigator. If the other person starts a conversation about a particular problem, let them talk for a while but don’t add a lot to the conversation and try to change the topic onto something else as soon as possible.
This certainly isn’t about ignoring the other person or refusing to talk to them, it’s more about getting off a particular topic and onto something else.
You think about them all the time
This isn’t just about talking about people’s problems, it’s about thinking about them as well.
In fact you might be doing more thinking than talking, particularly if you are more introverted.
Last year I had a situation where I was trying to be there for a friend going through a serious family issue. The issue involved a married couple.
The problem had been ongoing for several months and after listening to my friend talk for an hour one night about it, my first thought the next day when I woke up was about the couple.
Immediately, I knew I was in trouble and had taken too much onboard. I was far too emotionally invested in their issues.
After that, I made a conscious effort to stop myself from thinking about the couple. Every time they popped into my head, I forced myself to get back to thinking about my business and the other things that were important at the time.
I controlled my thoughts, instead of letting them control me.
In my mind I wished the couple well, hoped things worked out for them but I accepted the fact that it wasn’t my problem to worry about.
We can be there for people but we sometimes also need to distance ourselves from their problems (not from them but from their problems).
We need to watch out for ‘problems by association’ with people that we don’t know.
For instance we can be worried and concerned for a dear friend, but not take on every problem that each of their friends (whom we have never met) has.
Just a heads up – this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be donating to charities and lending a helping hand to people who we don’t know. That’s a whole different situation.
You are listening to everyone but feel no one is listening to you
If someone you care about is having a problem, they will most likely need someone to talk you. Since you are a good friend, family member or coworker you do the right thing and listen.
You let them get things off their chest. You have a laugh together if you can. You let them get the anger, disappointment or sadness out.
Sometimes they might even vent the anger that they feel for someone else in your direction and because you are trying to be supportive you take it on the chin, even though it can leave you feeling shaken.
But then something happens in your life and you hope that person will reciprocate by listening to you in return but suddenly you find that they aren’t prepared to listen at all.
Either that or they listen to you briefly then change the topic back on to themselves and their problems.
Consequently you feel affected by their problems as well as lonely and isolated because you don’t have anyone to talk to.
This is where journaling can help. Journaling can be powerful. Getting all of your thoughts and feelings in writing can be therapeutic. If possible, go old school and use a pen and paper. The physical aspect of writing can be very calming.
This is also where having that one amazing person who will truly listen to you is important. Treasure and nurture that relationship – they are worth their weight in gold!
Related post – Do People Care About Your Problems?
You ignore or deny your own problems
Taking on other people’s problems could be a distraction so that we can ignore or deny our own problems.
After all how could we possibly focus on our hopes, dreams, goals and problems when so much else is going on around us!
Whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not sometimes we might use other people’s problems as an excuse for not following through in our own lives.
I personally think this is one of the reasons many people seem to be so obsessed with celebrities. It’s far easier to point the finger, criticize and dig into someone else’s life instead of taking a hard look at our own choices and failures.
Related post – 6 Ways to Ditch Your Excuses
You feel miserable even though there is nothing seriously wrong with your life
While I absolutely support caring for people and being there for them in times of need and going the extra mile for
people (and animals), we do have to nourish and protect our own well-being.
I’m all for being kinder and more sympathetic to people. I’m a BIG believer in the world needing more kindness and compassion.
But that doesn’t mean that we need to absorb every bit of misery or bad news around us.
When life is going great for you – enjoy it!
Be there for people but enjoy the amazing things going on in your own life. In fact, the more you stay positive and joyful, the more encouraging and helpful you can be to people going through a difficult time.
Spread the joy. Spread the happiness!
Related post – 20 Inspiring Happiness Quotes
You feel bad because you are not doing enough to help
It’s hard but sometimes there is nothing we can do to help.
More to the point – it’s out of your control.
Let’s be honest here for a moment. A lot of problems are bought on by people’s bad choices. A lot of misery is self-inflicted, self-sabotage and the person could make it stop by making different choices.
When the person with the problem has the ability to change things but they are not willing to help themselves there is only so much we can do. When we have no control over what people do, it doesn’t serve us or them to take on their problems.
Again, this isn’t about abandoning people or giving up on them, it’s more about accepting that they need to take responsibility for themselves.
You like the drama
Most likely you don’t even realize you are doing this.
On the surface you might tell yourself that drama stresses you out and that you don’t want any drama in your life.
But when drama appears (even if it has nothing to do with you) you jump all over it and embrace it as if it was your own.
Here is a little test for you if you think you might struggle with this one. The next time you hear bad news from someone, take note of what your first reaction is after you think (that’s terrible, that’s so awful or the like). If your next reaction is to tell someone about it and more importantly you are excited to tell someone about it – you are digging the drama vibe a little too much and need to work on that.
While many of us (including me) likes to tell a good story now and then (I’m a writer after all!) make sure your primary concern is on caring, support and empathy for the person involved – not in sharing the drama with as many people as possible.
Need help minimizing drama in your life, read Are You Creating Drama in Your Life?
So what’s the main way to stop taking on other people’s problems?
Get the focus back on your own life
I’ve realized recently that I say this a lot on the blog. I say it because I am passionate about it.
This isn’t said in a selfish or narcissistic way.
This isn’t about not caring for other people. Not at all.
This is about your goals, your dreams and yes your own problems and issues.
It’s about your personal growth and growing as a person.
(To give you the edge on person growth, check out the CreativeLive Self Improvement page to see what great courses they have available.)
When you are being there for someone, it can be easy to lose focus on what is important to you. It can be easy to get distracted and get off track.
It’s important to get the focus back on your goals and what you are trying to achieve. If you need help getting specific about your goals, grab a copy of the Slay Your Goals Planner.
You can download the Free Slay Your Goals Guide to get started.
Absolutely be there for other people, but make sure you are taking care of yourself as well. If you see any of the warning signs that you are taking on other people’s problems, act fast and accordingly.
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