Human leeches

Beware of those who take and take without reciprocation

Special to The TribuneSeptember 2, 2010 

Human leeches are those people who continually want more from us no matter how much we give them. Yet they refuse to reciprocate our efforts in any appropriate or meaningful ways.

Leeching possibilities are diverse and endless. A grown daughter constantly asks us to baby-sit and is incensed when we decline. A neighbor routinely needs us to perform favors or lend him tools, yet never offers to feed our cat when we’re away. A co-worker is always happy to join us for happy hour, but disappears when it’s his turn to pick up the tab.

Whatever the circumstances, the result is always the same. Energy in the relationship travels one way. Recipients of leeching feel resentful. They feel they’re being taken for a ride. They long to stop the drain on their time, emotions and finances. Yet they’re frequently at a loss about how to stanch the flow.

Leeching creates a subtle stress that’s often unrecognized until it’s out of control. Many report feeling guilty saying “no” to the leeches’ demands. They dread hurting the chronic takers’ feelings.

They worry about damaging the relationship.

In truth, leeches don’t respect us anyway. Our relationships are contorted at best. They only want what we can give them. When the supply runs low, they happily move on to someone else.

Most of us are happy to help others. We’re eager to chip in wherever we can. We have no problem hosting the softball pasta feed on our patio or buying groceries for an ill friend.

But if that giving goes on for an extended period of time or if our efforts are underappreciated, hostility starts to creep in. The process becomes one-sided. We know we’re being used.

Of course, sometimes the involved parties aren’t on an equal footing. They can’t give back as much as they get. A frail mother who has broken her hip is going to require on-going attention from her middle-aged offspring. She can’t possibly reciprocate their behavior.

In those situations, it’s necessary for the adult children to care for the parent, making sure that she is safe and adequately cared for. Hopefully their own children will follow in their footsteps and be kind and attentive as their folks age.

It’s important to remember that leeches can’t suck us dry unless we let them. Yes, leeches have poor boundaries. They don’t understand proper protocol. They see no problem continually asking for favors as long as others are willing to comply.

But they must have willing targets who cave in to their insatiable needs. They’re adept at scanning the emotional waters to learn who is willing to give them what they want. Then, once they’ve located a potential host spot, they attach their suckers and refuse to let go.

Tips for losing human leeches

Want to rid your life of leeches once and for all? Try these techniques:

• Recognize leeching behavior. Does someone always make demands on your money or time? Are they unappreciative about what you do? Do you feel resentful about what they’re asking? Do you have trouble setting limits on your relationship? Then you’re involved with a human leech. Do something about it now!

• Avoid overgiving. Leeches prey on people who make giving a way of life. Yes, charity is honorable. But don’t chronically overextend. Give only what you comfortably can. Save ample emotional and physical resources for yourself.

• Decide on your personal boundaries. Leeches want you to feel pressured so you’ll say “yes” to their every demand. Instead, back away. Say, “I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Next, go home and analyze what you really want to do. Remember, you’re in charge.

• Practice the 2+1+1 rule. Have trouble setting limits with others? Use this sure-fire ploy: When asked to do something you don’t want to do, say two positive statements (i.e. “Thanks for thinking of me. You know I’d love to help.”), followed by your limit (“But I’m not able to volunteer at this time.”) and one more positive statement (“Hope the event goes well.”).

• Quiet guilt. You fret that your “no” will damage the relationship. Calm your fears. You’re doing the right thing, protecting your boundaries while teaching your leech an invaluable lesson.

• Don’t cave in to leeches’ ranting. Human leeches are accustomed to having their way. If they put up a fuss, feel free to ignore them. They’ll eventually stop whining and move on to someone else they can suck dry.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com

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