Helping emotionally draining people
As believers in Christ, we are to bear each other’s burdens. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming when someone constantly dumps all of their emotional pain and garbage onto us. How do we ensure that we do not become overloaded and burdened by emotionally draining people when caring for others in the Christian community?
Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Two types of emotionally draining people
We all know people who drain us emotionally. They often talk more than they listen, fixate on themselves, neglect to consider our needs and call us only when they are in trouble. They struggle with deep-rooted issues and seem to spin in vicious cycles of self-destruction.
They talk incessantly about their struggles or their mother-in-laws, bosses, ex-husbands, children and so forth. They keep venting about their circumstances but seem oblivious to their own issues. They may even question why God hasn’t rescued them yet.
In spite of the similarities, there are actually two types of emotionally draining people. On one side are those who are genuinely in desperate pain and want help. On the other side are those who like to “cry wolf”. The second group of emotionally draining people treat other people like vending machines for instant doses of comfort or punching bags for their frustration and anger. They simply use and abuse relationships.
Here are some ways we might be able to spot which type of emotionally draining person it is that we are trying to help.
|Ignorant of what God’s Word says about their circumstances and open to learning.||Refuse to submit to God’s Word, even after learning the truth.|
|Unable to process their emotions and thoughts and need help to do so.||Unwilling to learn what their emotions and thoughts show them about their own sinful nature.|
|Willing to receive edification, correction and counsel. Asks the right questions.||Just want a listening ear at their personal convenience. Stays condemning and hard-hearted.|
|Committed to knowing God and consistent in their efforts.||Come and go as they desire. No serious commitment to change. Want change on their own terms.|
Sometimes, we need supernatural wisdom from the Holy Spirit to distinguish between the two, because only God knows their hearts.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
At the heart of the issue is self-idolatry
At the root of such attitudes is always a spirit of self-idolatry. Instead of submitting fully to God and seeking comfort, healing and restoration from the Holy Spirit, emotionally draining people seek solutions on their own strength.
We can recognise self-idolatry by certain patterns.
1. Lack of a personal relationship with God
The “prosperity gospel” is a false teaching that is very popular today. It says that if we live a certain way or do the right things, God will reward us abundantly. Hence, many people make the mistake of focusing on what God can do for them, instead of seeking a personal relationship with Him.
God desires authentic relationships with His children that are based on love. Just as we don’t want people to be with us only because they desire to enjoy some benefits in return, how can we expect God to encourage such idolatrous attitudes from us? God’s first commandment is to love Him, not to use Him.
Matthew 22:36-38 ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
When we don’t have a personal relationship with God, we don’t know how to go to Him with our pain and issues. This is often the core issue for many emotionally draining people. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions and false teachings about God today that separates people from their one true source of perfect love, comfort, encouragement and healing.
2. Self-victimisation and indignation towards God
As a result of false teachings, people can become surprised or frustrated when they face hardships. We will start to doubt God and question, “Why would God let this happen to me? I’m such a good person. God has to answer me.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
3. “It should be done my way”
We all have a tendency to look for the nearest “exit sign” in order to escape from our issues or pain, without realising that the easiest way out may be the most destructive. People who are idolatrous in their ways often fail to understand that God has a higher way than theirs. They will demand that God gives them the solution they want, instead of asking Him for His good and perfect will.
Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
4. Stubbornness and full of defences
Emotionally draining people have lots of justifications for being the way they are. They may not be open to correction and counsel – and even less open to forgiving others. People’s offences are always greater than their own.
Proverbs 21:2 NIV A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.
5. Idol worship in the family
Such stubbornness usually occurs as a result of idol worship, witchcraft, fortune-telling and sorcery in the family. God’s Word repeatedly says that only when we turn away from all forms of idol worship, will we be able to receive a “heart of flesh” that is receptive to the truth.
Ezekiel 11:18-20 NLT “When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.
Helping emotionally draining people
It takes wisdom and patience to deal with emotionally draining people. We should not dismiss anyone we find emotionally draining too quickly but give everyone a chance to air their grievances at least once before we discern what we ought to do next time. Here are some other principles to keep in mind.
James 1:19-20 ESV Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
1. Simply be a vessel for God
While we are to share one another’s burdens, we are not meant to carry other people’s loads in our hearts. Jesus is the only One strong enough to carry people’s burdens and save their crushed spirits.
Psalm 34:18 ESV The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Therefore, let us prepare our hearts to be clean vessels for the God’s Holy Spirit to flow through. He will lead our time with hurting and emotionally draining people. First, pray to commit our hearts to follow God’s will, and then invite Him to provide us with the wisdom and words we need.
Psalm 32:8 ESV I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
2. Check for their relationship with God
One cannot assume that every person we meet in a Christian community actually knows God. It can be helpful to ask emotionally hurting people for their understanding of who God is and about their relationship with Him. We may find that we need to correct some misunderstandings and false teachings before we are able to help them.
2 Timothy 4:2 ESV Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Sometimes, it is the long-time Christians that have listened to too many “prosperity” messages who are the hardest to counsel. God’s Word hasn’t penetrated into their hearts because they haven’t studied it on their own but merely listened to the interpretations and personal perspectives of human teachers. They may have all the right answers on their lips but don’t truly believe it in their hearts because of spiritual strongholds. Such believers need to be asked to consider why Jesus chose to suffer so badly on the cross and what it means for them. It may help to ask them to close their eyes and ask the Holy Spirit for the answer because their natural fleshly instinct would be to give lip-service to the truth.
Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
3. Point to God, not to solutions
Our goal is not to argue with people what they ought to do or who is right, but to point them to God and ask them to consider their thoughts, attitudes and behaviour in light of God’s love and judgement. Always have Bible verses on standby. If their hearts are receptive, God’s truth will set people free from their attachments to sin.
Romans 14:1 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
Psalm 19:7 ESV The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
4. Check for a heart that is receptive to address sin
If emotionally draining people enjoy their sinful behaviour too much and are unwilling to repent or seek God’s will for them, we need to warn them that there is like very little we can do to help them, except perhaps to listen for short periods whenever we can spare the time.
2 Thessalonians 3:15 ESV Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
No one can save themselves. We all need God.
- Are they ready to turn to Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, instead of trying to control their own lives?
- Are they willing to receive counsel and discipleship?
- Are they willing to confess and repent of their own sins?
- Are they willing to submit to God’s will?
Only when someone answers yes to the above should we commit to sharing their burdens more intensively. Let us joyfully invest in those who are willing to invest in their own lives. Otherwise, all we can do is to pray for them until they are ready to commit to change. We are not obliged to help anyone who doesn’t actually want help.
Titus 3:10-11 ESV As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
5. Check for idol worship
Many people take part in fortune-telling, magic, witchcraft and idol worship for “fun”, without realising that they had voluntarily offered their lives up to demons to torment as a consequence. We must be willing to confess all types of idol worship that we and our family members have committed, in order to be free of such demonic strongholds in our lives. Another major foothold is unforgiveness towards other people – and possibly even towards ourselves.
1 Corinthians 10:20-21 ESV No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Emotionally draining people’s minds are constantly attacked with negative thoughts and toxic emotions; from hatred and jealousy to despair, hopelessness and thoughts of suicide. They may suffer from insomnia, depression and physical pains in their body. They do not realise they are being tormented by the enemy, partly because they or their families had bowed down to Satan through idol worship and witchcraft in the past. Even worse, they may even blaspheme God by blaming Him for their pain instead.
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
James 1:13-14 NLT And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away.
We can help our friends by encouraging them to repent to God and remove Satan’s foothold in their lives. Otherwise, Satan will continue to sabotage God’s plans and blessings for them. They need to invite Jesus to release them from the darkness in their hearts and their bondage under Satan. For details on what we need to repent of, please refer to the REPENT section of this website.
Psalm 107:14 ESV He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.
6. Do not fall for the same temptations
We are called to share in the joys and pains of our fellow brothers and sisters. But as we spend time with emotionally draining people, we may be careful not to fall to the temptation to despair along with them and judge those they judge. At all times, we must remain faithful to God’s Word, joyful in our perspectives and free of judgement towards others. Our speech should be without anger, gossip, grumbling or slander.
Romans 12:15 ESV Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Galatians 6:1 NLT Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.
Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
7. Cut spiritual ties
We can become “yoked” with emotionally hurting people as we empathise and come alongside them in their pain. The Bible warns us not to stay yoked with the rebellious, unbelieving attitudes of other people. We should pray to cut spiritual ties with emotionally draining people after each interaction with them.
2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
As we walk with emotionally hurting people, they will inevitably dump many types of pain and troubles onto us. Always pray after each interaction and give Jesus the loads we bear for others over to Him. Never take them home.
8. Don’t fall for emotional blackmail
Some people simply want to vent and watch people run to their rescue. It is a selfish attitude that is not submitted to God. Such people will cross boundaries and not care for our welfare nor treat us with respect. They simply use any available friend as a part-time crutch. Be careful not to become an emotional punching bag or slave to people’s stubborn hearts.
We can always firmly and lovingly explain that we will stand by them – only if they are willing to invest in themselves. Any relationship takes two sides.
If however, they appear to be happy to be held “captive by Satan to do whatever he wants” and not open to godly correction and counsel, then please feel free to cut off contact with such emotional terrorists from Satan.
2 Timothy 2:25-26 NLT Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.
9. Go to God and godly people for refreshment
Those who care for other people also need care. Do not hesitate to pour out our complaints and frustrations to God and seek His wisdom in dealing with emotionally draining people. He will answer us quickly when we humble ourselves and seek Him with all our hearts. We also need a small handful of people we can go to for encouragement and relief. Take time to have fun and enjoy the many blessings that God has given us.
Proverbs 11:25 ESV A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
10. Know when to refer them to a professional counsellor
There will be times we will need to stand aside and refer our friends to professional Bible-based counselling. Some things will be beyond our understanding and abilities to help. There is no shame in seeing a counsellor. It is absolutely biblical to seek godly counsel, both from God and from the wise and trained.
Proverbs 24:6 ESV For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.
11. Do not accuse ourselves when people take drastic actions
Everyone is responsible for their own decisions. We can only walk alongside someone who is going through a hard time, and pray that they choose God’s will for them.
We are unable to stop anyone if he or she decides to reject our love, leave the church community, file for divorce, harm themselves or attempt suicide, in spite of our efforts. Sometimes things will get worse before they get better. We just need to be patient and wait for God to work things out in His timing and wisdom. It may take months or years.
God has the power to turn all mourning into rejoicing when we seek Him with all our hearts. Let us never give up hope on our friends because Jesus never gives up on us. He is faithful and always close to the brokenhearted. He expects us to do the same too.
Psalm 30:10-12 ESV Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Galatians 6:3 NLT If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
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