How To Deal With Extremely Needy & Emotionally Draining People
How to Handle Emotionally Needy Parents
Growing up comes with a variety of new experiences, such as re-configuring the relationship you have with your parents. As you age, you may confront the new problem of dealing with parents who are emotionally needy, or this may even be an ongoing issue you have dealt with most of your life. Emotionally needy parents may put stresses on you that can compound your existing responsibilities. However, by reflecting on everyone’s responsibilities, interacting with your parents, and communicating with them, you’ll be better equipped to handle your emotionally needy parents.
Assessing Abilities and Responsibilities
Ask yourself if you always feel like the parent.Do you often feel like you are the only grown up when dealing with your parents? Are they fixated only on their needs, asking you to help fulfill them instead of taking care of themselves?? Has it been this way for a very long time If this is the case, then your parents may be emotionally immature and you will need to set strong boundaries, work on your own reactions, and stop expecting them to change.
- If you feel like your parent has become more needy due to declining heath and being unable to functionally take care of themselves, then you will need a different approach. This will require greater sensitivity, and you will likely need the support of siblings and any other family members, as well as outside help.
Think about their health.If your parents' neediness is something new, you need to take their overall health into consideration. New behaviors indicate that something has changed in their lives. Ultimately, your parents may want or need extra emotional support because of their deteriorating health.When thinking about this, consider:
- Do they have a medical problem? A recent diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening disease may cause a parent to seem more emotionally needy. In the end, they may just want to spend more time with you, or they may need extra support.
- Have they been diagnosed with a cognitive or psychological problem? Parents with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive problems may need extra help and may come off as needy.
- Do they have mobility limitations? For instance, are they wheelchair-bound or have a related problem? If a parent is unable to move themselves around, they may feel frustrated and want more emotional support.
Consider logistics.When putting together your plan of how to deal with your emotionally needy parents, you need to consider basic logistical facts. Ultimately, logistics will determine a large part of how you’ll deal with your parents. Consider:
- How close you live. If you live far away, you may have to attend to your parents over the phone and via email. Let them know that you simply can’t visit them as often as they’d like. Let them know this by saying “Mom, we live so far apart and my responsibilities make it so I can’t visit as much as you want.”
- If they can travel independently. If they can’t travel independently (and you live far away), you’ll have to be up front about the limited amount of visiting you’ll be able to do. Say something like, “Dad, I want to visit more often, but I can’t get away as often as you would like.”
- If you have siblings or other family members who can help out. Work out a schedule with your siblings to ensure that your parents needs are being met without any one sibling doing all the work and getting burned out.
Reflect on your responsibilities.After logistics, your personal responsibilities will help determine the level of attention you can devote to your parents. Ultimately, you simply may not be able to provide the attention they demand.
Decide whether you've made substantial effort.Once you've assessed the situation, spend a little time thinking about whether you've acted as a caring and responsible child. This will help you determine if you're partly to blame or if your parents are indeed needy. Before deciding, ask yourself:
- Do you visit or contact your parents as much as your siblings or your peers? If you don't, you might be neglecting your parents.
- Do you respond to your parents in a caring and loving way? For instance, if you seem annoyed or rushed when you talk with them on the phone, they may feel neglected.
- Is the contact you have with your parents mutual? For instance, if your parents are always calling you, and you don't call them independently, they may feel taken for granted.
Avoid letting them control or manage your life.While it may seem mean or callous to limit the information your parents have about what you’re doing, you may need to do so to stop them from turning into ever-present and overbearing figures in your daily life. If you have ruled out a medical cause as the reason for increased "neediness," or this has been an ongoing issue, you may need to set very clear limits, or boundaries, with your parents.
- All contacts should be mutually-agreeable. Don’t let your parents dictate what or where you do something.
- Don’t let your parents know every detail of your daily schedule. If they do, there is a chance they could be present much more than you’re comfortable with.
- If you’re an adult, make it clear that you don’t want to micromanaged.
- Let them know that it is not okay to stop by your house, apartment, or dorm randomly. For instance, say “Mom, I love you, but I’m an independent person with my own life and responsibilities. I’d appreciate it if you’d give me some personal space.”
Accept emotionally immature parents.If your parents have a long history of being needy and interfering in your life, then you may need to simply accept that this is who they are. Instead of trying to change them, focus on how to protect yourself. Decide what you will and will not accept from them, and let them know that there are consequences for violating those boundaries.
- For instance, you might say, “Mom, I'm happy to go shopping with you once a month, but I don't have time to do it every weekend.” Or you might say, “Dad, I love seeing you, but you cannot continue to let yourself into my house whenever you feel like it. You need to call first and we can agree on a time and place to meet. If you do it again, I am going to ask for my emergency key back.”
- If your parents try to draw you into arguments, set a boundary by walking away. Say, “I'm not willing to discuss this any further.”
Talk to them about how their emotional needs are problematic, if necessary.There may come the time when you need to sit down with your parents and have a serious and prolonged conversation about their emotional needs and your life. If this happens, you need to explain how their actions and neediness interfere with your need to be an independent person.
- Schedule a time to talk with them, like over a coffee or a meal.
- Explain to them that while you love and care for them, their neediness or behavior is causing problems for you. For example, say “Mom, while I love you, the amount of time you want to spend together is causing me to neglect my own duties as a parent and a professional.”
- Allow them to explain how they feel. For instance, say something like “Mom, am I misunderstanding your needs?”
- Ask your parent if there is any underlying problem they want to talk about. You might discover that there is something like a recently diagnosed medical issue that has been influencing their behavior.
- Make sure to explain to them the importance of your personal boundaries.
Limit contact, if you need.At some point you may need to limit contact with your parents. Ultimately, this is a final and extreme step if communication and other ways of interacting with them have failed.
- Limiting contact may be necessary when you have parents that are mentally ill or abusive.
- If your parents are ill, then this may require an initial period of increased contact. For instance, as you work out their care (for instance, dividing the work between family members, hiring a nurse or other outside help, or moving them to a nursing home). You want to make sure their basic needs (including company and human contact) are being met and that they are getting the necessary medical care for their illness.
- If your parents are simply overbearing and refuse to honor your boundaries, then you may need to call them and explain that their actions have driven a wedge between you. For instance, say "Mom, I've explained to you how your actions are negatively impacting my life. I think we need to both take a step back.
- Limiting contact needs to be a unilateral step — you take it on your own without input from your parents. Don't allow them to try to negotiate with you.
- Explain that limiting contact will last a certain amount of time, or until you think they will permanently change their behavior. For instance, say "Dad, I'm very busy over the next month. If you can respect my autonomy, I'd like to get together next month."
- As part of limiting contact, you may need to recommend that your parents seek psychological help or support from a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Interacting with Them
Be polite.Whenever you talk to your parents, you should be polite and loving. While their neediness and actions might frustrate you, you need to remember that they love and care about you. Use this opportunity to return the favor by showing them politeness and respect.
- Don’t be abrupt or short when you answer their phone calls or emails. Instead of saying something like “I don’t have time for this now, mom” say “Hi mom, I’d love to chat right now but can’t. Can I call you back later?”
- Avoid snapping at them. While you may be very frustrated with their neediness, do your best to never snap at them. Never say things like “Mom, I just can’t handle your neediness anymore!”
- Remember that you can’t take back mean things once you say them.
Have a complete and productive conversation.Parental neediness problems may be resolved simply by having complete conversations with your parents. By having complete, full, and productive conversations, you'll show that you care.
- Ask them about their lives. For instance, ask them about their parents or their experiences as children.
- Demonstrate that you care about their opinions. For example, ask them advice about parenting, budgeting, or home improvement.
- Let the conversation progress naturally. For instance, try not to wind down a conversation or end it prematurely. Your mom may simply enjoy talking about many seemingly insignificant things with you.
- Make time to talk, so your conversation is not rushed. For instance, set a one hour block aside to talk to your parents every Sunday afternoon, and avoid calling when you're doing something else, like driving your kids to an activity.
Initiate regular contact.A great way to deal with emotionally needy parents is to head them off by making sure you keep in contact with them. By calling them on a regular basis, you’ll let them know that you care about them. You’ll also take control of the situation and establish a routine.
- Call them once a week around the same time. By calling at say, Friday at 5pm, you’ll establish a regular time during which you can call. This way, they’ll know when to expect your call and might feel better about it.
- Send them a greeting card occasionally, especially if they don't use a computer. Even if you only write a few lines, it is a gesture that can say a great deal with a few words. It's also something they can look at and re-read if they need reassurance.
- Consider sending them emails, if they can access them. Don’t underestimate the impact that a thoughtful email may have for your parents.
- Send them text messages, if they can access them. While text messages are easy to send off, they might mean a whole lot to your parents.
- Try to establish a regular schedule when you’ll visit with your parents. For instance, if you live in the same city, try to visit with them every Sunday, or more regularly if you want.
- Notice any significant changes in your parents' speech, ideas or approach to you. This may indicate a shift in their mental or physical well-being. Don't be too quick to assume they are just being annoying or demanding — really listen to what they are saying.
Make the most of your visits.The best way to make your parents feel attended to is to use every visit as an opportunity to spend quality time with them. By making the most of the time you spend with them, you'll potentially reduce their neediness.
- In-person visits are perhaps the most impactful way to show that you care. If you don’t visit your parents regularly, they’ll begin to feel as if you don’t care about them.
- Make sure you focus your attention on them and ask them questions about how they’re doing when you visit them. For instance, say something like "Anything new in your neighborhood?"
- Ask them questions about their interests, their friends, and their health.
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