This is about people unloading it all on you.

Once I was talking with a retired pastor about addiction. I mentioned a friend of mine who was an alcoholic. “You can never make someone else more responsible. Anything I do to try to make him more responsible for his drinking causes ME to take some responsibility for HIS drinking. And that means now he has even less responsibility!”

This wise man responded, “Because now all he has to do is call you up and unload it on you.”

Alright folks. Now lots of you are nodding your heads, remembering times when other people unloaded it all on you. That sucked, didn’t it? OK, now it’s time for an uncomfortable truth. They unloaded it all on you because you let them. You damn-near taught them to disrespect your boundaries. And you know what has to happen for you to set firmer boundaries? What has to happen for you to heal from being other people’s emotional waste receptacle?

If you want to heal, you must increase your tolerance for other people’s pain.

See this is how it works. Emotional vampires, narcissists, codependents and parasites of all sorts can tell what you are. You are someone who feels other people’s pain. You are someone who hurts when other people hurt. And you can’t stand to see other people hurting. Maybe, just maybe, you’d rather be hurting yourself than see someone else in pain.

But it will never work for you to tell yourself to be less empathetic. You’ll just feel worse about yourself if you try that. So instead, I’m going to encourage you to replace empathy with compassion.

Here’s a truth that you can verify by reflecting on your own life and considering every time you’ve made a difficult change: People won’t change unless they experience the painful symptoms of their own behavioral sickness. Suffering spurs change. Has that been true in your own life? It has been in mine.

Imagine if you never felt pain when you injured yourself. The effects would be fatal. You would get infected after getting cut and not even realize it. You might have severe internal injuries or chronic illnesses that you wouldn’t even think to treat. You could swallow poison and it wouldn’t hurt. You wouldn’t live very long.

And sometimes pain is not only necessary, it’s good. Here’s another example. If you aren’t used to exercise, getting up and moving your body hurts. Here’s yet another example. Does anyone anywhere really enjoy the experience of brushing their teeth?

So when I try to remove someone else’s pain, the problem is that I remove the impetus for them to change their behavior or lifestyle. I also take responsibility for their problems, which means they don’t have to. But that’s not even the worst of it.

One of the most obvious things I noticed when dealing with abusive relationships and families is that the most abusive person is usually the one who shows the least symptoms. The abuse itself, the need to control, the violation of boundaries–that’s the sickness. Meanwhile, the chronic illnesses, gut issues, mental health problems and behavioral acting out are just the symptoms.

And in controlling relationships where one partner suffers from chronic pain, gut issues, or anxiety, and the other doesn’t, it’s the partner without anxiety and chronic illness who is being controlling. They are essentially using the other partner as their emotional garbage can. This turns out to be true every single time.

And what happens if the controlled partner starts to set boundaries and heal? Well, the controlling partner then suddenly has to deal with their own emotional trash.

This is so consistent it’s disturbing. I can almost expect it now, that if one spouse in a marriage starts to heal, the other spouse will start displaying negative symptoms. If one business partner starts to stick up for herself, the other partner will suddenly seem anxious, depressed or burned out. If one family member demands to be treated with the minimal amount of respect he deserves as a human being, suddenly the most controlling family members will start losing their cool, lashing out and acting out–just like the family scapegoat used to.

Controlling behavior doesn’t always look like yelling, threats or physical violence. It can also look like guilt trips, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair. A controlling person often looks like a victim, and in some sense they are a victim of their own sickness. But if you let them be controlling, they will never heal from that sickness. They may pass it on to you, but they won’t get any better.

So it’s not just about your own healing. It’s about everyone’s healing. If you want to heal (yourself or others), you have to increase your tolerance for other people’s pain.