How to protect yourself when people dump their problems on you

By Michal Spiegelman

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You are at a social event, and you start a conversation with a stranger or even a person you know well. You simply ask him how he’s doing, and 15 minutes later, he is still answering your question, not only venting but actually dumping his pain, frustration, and struggles on you.

You are simply being you: a caring, empathetic person who feels when other people suffer. You are a good listener, and your facial expression and body language are energetically saying, “Bring it on, my friend! I know how you feel! I’m here to listen!”

When you are sensitive to energy, your sensitivity and empathetic tendency attracts toxic venting.

The person continues to dump his problems on you, and within a few more minutes, you feel sad, drained, and depressed.

There is a difference between venting and toxic venting. Venting is a process that is usually limited in time. The venting person feels relief after a while and is eventually ready to shift to a solution state. With toxic venting, or dumping, the person has no interest in taking responsibility for her part. She focuses on blaming others or the situation, and she ends the conversation feeling the same, if not worse.

When the person dumping her problems on you is also a narcissist, she is so self-centered that she has no sense of you and how the conversation might affect you.

There are times when a short script prepared ahead of time might help. If you are an empath or highly sensitive to energy, you have enough experience dealing with people who dump their problems on you, and preparing scripted answers might be a good idea.

I shared a few effective scripts in my in my blog post, “Dealing with Energy Vampires? Here are Your Do’s and Don’ts.”

But what do you do when the scripted sentences don’t help?

How do you handle situations where you feel so sad, drained, and depressed that you simply want to scream or run away?

Years ago, after losing six of my eight pregnancies, women who knew my story felt comfortable sharing similar stories. Many times, I felt trapped in conversations, especially when they went on and on and on, not knowing that the conversation opens old wounds for me.

My default was letting them dump their pain on me, and It took years to learn to set boundaries.

When you are sensitive to the suffering of others, you can easily neglect your own needs. But it is your sacred responsibility to protect yourself. That is the only way you can serve others better.

When you have a healthy relationship with someone, chances are you can stop her from dumping her problems on you by saying something like, “I feel that this conversation is really draining for me, so let’s talk about it some other time” or “Thank you for letting me know. How can I help you feel more supported?”

But when the person dumping her problems is not very close to you, the only way to stop her is to set a boundary.

Here are a few tricks to help you protect yourself when you feel stuck with a toxic venter, and you can’t tell the person how you feel:

  1. First, change your inner monologue.

    Stop saying, “I’m supposed to listen. I’m a caring person. I can tolerate it.” Instead, remind yourself that it is not your responsibility to save the world. It is also not your responsibility to save the person in front of you. Their journey is their journey.

  2. Understand the difference between escaping and detaching.

    Escaping is an automatic reaction that is based on previous experiences where you couldn’t handle something. Instead of dealing with the situation, you escaped it. Escaping carries victimhood energy. You feel powerless and not in control. Detachment, however, is a conscious choice that you make intentionally and mindfully.

  3. Want to detach physically? Change the subject.

    You are a good listener, right? Once you realize that it is time to consciously detach yourself from the situation, do something that might feel mean at first: pick one thing the other person said and use it as an opportunity to change the subject abruptly. “That reminds me of a movie I watched last week” or “Speaking about…I have to tell you what I heard last week.” It might feel unkind, but it may be your only way out of the situation.

  4. Another way to detach psychically: Make an excuse.

    “Sorry I have to stop you, but I must visit the restroom” or “I’m really thirsty so I’m going to stop you and go get a drink now.” Making an excuse might feel cheap or not up your alley, but sometimes, any other way takes too much energy. Once you remove yourself from the situation, you can take a few minutes to gather your thoughts, evaluate, and figure out the next step.

  5. Always end up with detaching emotionally and spiritually.

    Even when you are able to detach yourself from the situation and stop the process of toxic dumping, your work is not done, my friend. You need to clear your energy emotionally and detach yourself on a spiritual level. In a previous post, “How to Stop Absorbing Other People’s Negativity Like a Sponge (Part 2),” I shared powerful resources and offerings I created to help you clear your energy emotionally and spiritually.

I know that you are a caring person, beacon. I am too. But we must honor our sensitivity and our needs and learn to protect ourselves. That’s the only way we can truly serve.

Meet Michal
Michal Spiegelman

Michal Spiegelman is Medical Intuitive who helps women get to the root source behind disease, disharmony, imbalance, stress, and trauma-related conditions.

Having studied in Israel, Germany, England, and the U.S., Michal is a Certified Professional Coach, a Reiki Master, and a former social worker who brings years of experience working with a variety of modalities into her intuitive teachings, coaching and mentoring.

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  1. Catherine

    Great post, it really is hard to protect yourself from negativity especially when you feel it and you want to help others. But I agree that first of all you need to protect yourself, to be able to help others in the future.

    • michal

      Well phrased, Catherine. ME before WE. The rest can come later. Thank you for writing!

  2. Angela Ponce

    I have a friend,whom had a sick mother,and is not so nice. I have been a dumping ground,she vents 3 times day on phone and when we get together. I want to detach from friendship,your info has helped but I need more.

    • michal

      Angela: It sounds like you are in need of strengthening your boundaries. It can get draining if you allow somebody else to dim your light. This blog only inspires you and raises your awareness. If you’re ready to learn practical tools to protect yourself and get your power back, please email us at [email protected]

  3. Kareolynn

    I had a recovery friend who was constantly talking about her problems I felt she was feeling worse with no end in sight that she would change the topic So I would tell her You need to do your spottings and you will feel much better This person died from covid I was so upset in spite of her complaining She was a very nice person I miss her


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