Oh hi, hello there, I’m that girl. I’m the one who thinks it’s my personal responsibility to fix every broken person on this godforsaken planet. I seem to love having hard conversations with emotionally stunted people who don’t want to change, heal, or grow. So, if you’re at all like me, here are 10 signs that you shouldn’t invest the emotional labor in that beautifully tragic person you’re thinking about fixing:
#1. They believe that their life is the exception.
Don’t invest your time and energy in people who sincerely believe that their life is the exception — the one situation to which the rules don’t apply. If you try to tell them how their choices are harmful to themselves or others, and they tell you that you just don’t understand their very unique situation, run.
#2. They love to talk about “gray areas”.
Of course, plenty of things in life aren’t black or white. Nuance is everywhere. But there are some things that are objectively good or bad, right or wrong. If someone insists that their harmful choices fall into a gray area, it’s time to walk away. It took them a lot of mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their behavior is gray and not just plain old wrong. Your emotional labor will do nothing to change that.
#3. They are always the hero or the victim, never the villain.
The woefully unfixable all see themselves as either the hero of the story or the victim. They see themselves as the hero when they are engaging in destructive behavior “for a good purpose,” like having an affair with a married person because that person is trapped in a loveless marriage. They see themselves as the victim when their destructive choices come back to harm them, caring more about the pain they’re in than the pain they’ve caused. It is impossible for them to imagine that, perhaps, they are the villain in their own story. Even if you try to put it delicately, they will never listen.
#4. Their story changes as you back them into the corner.
The moment you think you’ve got them pinned to the mat, so to speak, they change the story. They begin to backtrack on details they gave earlier, suddenly providing a “new recollection” they had, or “some missing context”. By changing the story, they knock you off your footing. Rather than being able to move forward with an honest conversation about their behavior, you have to go back and start from the beginning based on this “new” information.
#5. They attempt to put themselves on the moral high ground.
Let’s say one of your co-workers stole another co-worker’s idea and presented it as their own. As a result, they got a promotion. When you find out what happened, you confront them and say that they have to go to management and tell the truth. For integrity, you say. But instead, they say to you, “If I do that, it’ll hurt everyone involved. And I’m sorry, but I’m not like you. I can’t just go around hurting people just so that I can say I have integrity.” Obviously, this makes no sense. And that’s why you walk away. There is no use at this point.
#6. They point out your shortcomings.
They attempt to invalidate your valid concerns about their choices by pointing out the times you have made bad choices. Their goal is to make you seem like a hypocrite, someone who is not qualified to criticize them. Your emotional labor becomes all about defending yourself instead of holding them accountable.
#7. They accuse you of being a bad communicator.
The goal is to get you focused on defending your ability to communicate, or trying to “better” clarify your point, instead of on holding them accountable. They will say things like, “you are so hard to talk to,” or “I’ve made myself clear, but you’re determined to misunderstand.” Don’t take the bait. It’s a sinkhole you won’t get out of.
#8. They cycle between tears and tantrums.
Occasionally, they will cry, making you think they’ve had a breakthrough. They’ll tell you that you’re right, and that they’ll change. This is a tactic to try to end the conversation. If you continue, they will quickly turn angry and will lash out. You realize they never thought you were right – they just hoped you would stop talking if they said you were.
#9. They focus on their image, not their growth.
You’ll notice that they seem preoccupied with what you and others think about them, instead of focusing on how they can grow and change.
#10. They use gaslighting tactics to throw you off.
They will lie, deflect, accuse, and attack, all for knocking you off balance. They want to make you unsure of yourself and your convictions, making you wonder if perhaps you were unfair or too harsh. If they can convince you that YOU have actually done THEM harm, even better. Then you’ll expend your emotional labor apologizing, comforting them, and trying to make amends.
Take it from me, if you’re seeing these traits in the person you want to “fix,” just walk away. If you’ve already started the hard conversations, find a way to bow out. There is no healthy, happy ending with people who act this way. Save your emotional labor for someone who is ready to receive it.