Best-Of Advice

On a broken-people magnet

I seem to be a broken-people magnet. They come to me with their problems and because no one else will step up, I try and help them and end up wasting time that I don’t even have to waste. How do I walk away from this? Some of these people are suicidal and refuse help, I can’t just leave them like that. I need to focus on my own life right now and I can’t keep doing this. What do I do?


You are a broken-people magnet because you yourself are broken. You don’t recognize your brokenness, of course. You think you are helping, and no doubt you provide a certain kind of support, but it’s not healthy, especially for you.

Here’s the thing you need to understand: People don’t come to you with their problems. That’s just your way of framing it, and it removes your agency from the equation. What you must acknowledge is that you allow people to burden you with their problems. You allow it.

You allow people to burden you with their problems because you are an enabler with boundary issues who feeds off of being in overfunctioning/underfunctioning relationships.

It makes you miserable, but it also validates you, and you’d rather be miserable than invalidated. That’s the part that cuts to the core of who you are. You’re a person who is so desperate to be validated that you let emotional vampires feast on your time and energy just so you can feel needed.

That’s where you’re broken. That’s the part of you that needs to be fixed, and ironically, there’s no one out there who can fix you the way you keep trying to fix other people. You have to do it. You have to learn how to establish boundaries. You have to recognize when you’re overfunctioning in a relationship. You have to find healthy ways to validate yourself without enabling people.

You say you can’t keep doing this and that you need to focus on your own life right now. Okay, then. Stop doing it. It really is that simple. Just stop. Refuse to allow all these broken people to burden you with their problems.

Oh, but wait. That little voice in your head is already crying out, “but no one else will step up. I can’t just leave them like that.” Yes you fucking can. Not only that, you should.

That little desperate voice is the sound of your brokenness, because it’s not coming from a place of healthy concern. It’s coming from a place of pathological need. It’s coming from your emotional void.

This isn’t about you becoming heartless. This is about you having enough self-respect, self-worth, and internal validation that you no longer need these sad broken people in your life.

If you recognize your unhealthy patterns that are filling an unhealthy need, if you find some internal validation, if you have a little self-respect, I promise, the broken-people magnet will shut off automatically, and you’ll be free to enjoy the company of unbroken people, because you won’t be broken anymore yourself.


20 thoughts on “On a broken-people magnet

  1. Rose says:

    This explains so many good friends of mine. It’s so obvious now.

    Side question: I know someone who isn’t this kind of person, but people dump on him all the time. People like strangers at bars. Most friends don’t go to him for advice because he’s too frank and honest, but people he barely knows will vent to him. What’s up with that?

    • Nina says:

      He’s probably more like the LW than you realize. If it he wants it to stop he needs to put up boundaries and be prepared to cut conversations short.

    • wat. says:

      There’s probably something trustworthy about him. That, coupled with friendliness, and a healthy dose of honesty and/or realism, is pretty much all you need to get people to open up. His honesty allows other people to be honest. It’s actually the entire premise of CT’s blog, even. She’s honest with us, so we’re honest with her. We sense that, so we open up. It may not necessarily be co-dependance, as Nina suggests.

      • Rose says:

        Yeah, I guess it’s his demeanor that suggests open mindedness and social intelligence, and randos respond to that. He’s not really the type who people come to for advice more than once because, like I said, he’s way too honest. People will vent to him one time, and after he gives the advice they don’t want to hear, they shop around for other opinions and never bug him again.

    • The Coquette says:

      Yeah. I’m like that too. People just tell me their secrets. They always have, even before I started Dear Coquette. (It’s probably both why and how I ended up doing this.) Everyone has stories and everyone needs to vent, but that’s different than taking on their burdens. Speaking personally, I have very clear boundaries, and I have zero problem telling people “no.” I’m happy for people to open up to me, but their problems never become my problems. Usually, I’m just an ear. Occasionally, I’m a teacher, and sure, that counts as help, but what I’m not is a fixer. If someone is in a legitimate crisis, I will point them to the nearest source of intervention, but I will not BE their source of intervention. That’s the difference.

  2. Liz W says:

    thank you for writing this – in a few paragraphs you have covered what I spent 10 years of therapy and several text books and self-help books to try and figure out – and it feels like it came at the perfect time – but it’s always the perfect time because this is my 24 X 7 life – fuckin a skippy – I’m going to print this and read it when the temptation – the compulsion – tries to consume me – I am literally aroused because this knowledge is threatening me right now – unreal – thank you

  3. Mellifluous says:

    Yes. All of the damn yeses.

    I struggled with intense co-dependency for most of my youth and early adulthood. It crippled me and shamed me and the day I finally laid down boundaries (and stuck to them) changed me forever. It also changed that flow of black hole, needy bastards I allowed to suck me into their vortex. OP: Listen to Coke. Do what she says here and do it now.

  4. Perspectivator says:

    I empathize with the OP. But I have my boundaries. My philosophy is one of helping people “within reach.” One might be qualified to throw a life preserver but not know CPR. Also, you can’t help people until you put your own oxygen mask on.

    Of course maybe I made my own mistake. I loaned an ex $2500 to probably save her life. It wasn’t my responsibility, and I might not see that money again. But it was worth it to know that she won’t be raped and killed.

    I tend to help people but keep them at a weird distance…haven’t figure that out yet.

    Validation is a helluva drug.

  5. sam galetar says:

    Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself
    by Melody Beattie

    that’s what they give you at Caron Institute (Rehab) (in Reading PA), where my daughter got herself straightened out from a major drug problem. highly recommended for cody’s of all situations. your advice is, as usual, perfect; but the book is full of wrinkles and techniques and examples and all that.

  6. Years into my career as a counselor, and I am STILL trying to figure out boundaries for myself in my non-professional life. Much easier to do with clients than with friends. I needed to read this today. The piece about needing to be validated is real. As I go through more therapy and gain a firmer sense of self, I less and less need to be so important and useful to others who are struggling. I can be more available for myself and for friendships that are mutually satisfying. I would want others like me to know this may be a long process, but the learning will stick over time.

    • The Coquette says:

      Read up on your Bowen. It all comes down to differentiation of self. Develop your solid self, the part of you that is non-negotiable in relationships.

    • The Coquette says:

      Okay. I think that one technically counts as grammatical preference, but I’ll give it to you. (Sharp eye, though.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *