Years ago, long before the creation of the World Wide Web, when the Internets was still an idea stirring in Al Gore's brain, I belonged to an online community established using General Electric's company mainframe. GEnie had bulletin boards and chat rooms dedicated to people crazy enough to use a modem in their computer, dial in to a local node, and converse with people they didn't know in person about a vast array of topics. I used to hang out in the SFRT (Science Fiction/Fantasy Round Table) boards, mainly in the Star Trek topics. Yes, I am a geek. This is not news.
At any rate, I learned an important principle during my time on GEnie, called DNFTEC. "Do Not Feed The Energy Creature." The principle is borne from the reality that there are certain people in the virtual world who feed off the negative energy of others. They are strengthened and invigorated through other's anger or frustration and through choleric exchanges with people even if they don't personally engage every stormy response. As long as they can invoke outrage and vexation to the point that someone responds in kind they are happy. To that end they intentionally "flame" a thread (create conflict) by bringing up hot-button topics or just plain picking a fight.
It works incredibly well. You'd think we humans would be smart enough to stay out of pointless arguments and debates, but you'd be surprised (or not) how quickly you can get sucked in by an Energy Creature. All they have to do is find the right button in your head -- or heart -- and, boom!, you are screaming mad and using words you thought your mom had expunged from your vocabulary way back in grammar school when she made you spend two hours with a lovely bar of Lava soap in your mouth.
It took me a while to get what it really means to "not feed the energy creature" but finally I understood. The only way to "win" with ECs is to just not play. Don't answer. Don't respond. Don't take the bait. Just let their comments hang out there alone where everyone can see their futility, their ugliness and even their cruelty.
It's taking me a lot longer to understand that perhaps the same principle applies to dealing with the ECs out here in the real world. But out here it's simply called "Healthy Boundaries."
I have just said a word that tends to set the Christian world on end. Boundaries, healthy or not, are so often vilified by Christians because they can appear to others, especially those prone to co-dependency, to be quite selfish, self-serving, and even unfeeling, mean-spirited and unChrist-like. We Christians are supposed to be open and loving, allowing others into our hearts, not closed and holding others at a distance. Boundaries too often sound much more like an electric fence or concrete wall than the God-honoring self-defining borders healthy ones really are. And indeed, unhealthy boundaries, often are electric fences and concrete walls that hold people at a distance. Or they are floppy, wet-noodle sort of things that move all over the place, never providing any real protection or consistency. I have friends who's boundaries are so large that you have to scale six huge stone walls, cross three very deep crocodile-infested moats separated by miles of tall-grass fields and remember on which side of the rickety drawbridge it's safe to step ("walk on the left side!") just to get to know them. But then they turn around and let the skankiest, cruelest people of the opposite sex right in to the center of their heart and let them rule.
Healthy boundaries aren't floppy or nearly that big (think more suburban neighborhood than kingdom). They are like picket fences with gates or backyard wooden slat fences just tall enough to protect but not too tall for neighborly conversation (think Wilson from "Home Improvement"). There's room for interaction over the fence, and others can come and go into both my yard and my home. Yet who I am and what I allow/how I expect you to treat me are clearly defined and immovable. My gates can be shut and locked should you refuse to treat me with the kindness and respect I deserve. We can still have good conversation and friendship over the fence, you're just not allowed in to my private sanctuary places because you've proved I cannot trust you.
I'm still working on this whole concept of healthy boundaries and making it a reality in my life. I didn't grow up with them. I grew up in a boundary-less family where I learned that everyone but me has a "right" to define me. It's taking me a while to understand that's not at all the way God intended. I'm also discovering that until I define and build my healthy boundaries, I have a hard time respecting yours. I think this is why I have always had such a hard time not feeding the Energy Creatures.
Some people just need chaos/drama in their life. Have you noticed that? I don't get that - because I hate chaos. But there are some people I've run across in my life that just seem drawn to it and if they go very long without encountering it, they'll create it themselves. They love to suck you into their vortex of chaos/drama, tie you up in some argument and guilt you into apologizing and "reconciling." If it's not you this time, then it's someone else in their life, but you're still sucked into the drama through their constant recounting of their emotional stress and trauma.
What's wild is they seem to be at their thriving best through it all; as if all that chaos and drama brings out their strengths... or that the only time they can be who they truly are and feel good about themselves is when they are embroiled in chaos, drama or conflict. So they continuously sabotage and destroy the relationships and successes in their own lives to feed that need.
For years my co-dependent tendencies kept me from seeing that the chaos/drama/conflict in some friends lives was in fact created by that very person, and not just life getting out of control. Several years of intense counseling (at least it feels intense to me) and working to understand and change my own hurtful/harmful patterns has made me a lot more sensitive to the harmful ones in others. For this I both thank God and cry out to Him, "why???" Because now I can clearly see how some friends sabotage themselves on a regular basis. I desperately want them to stop but I cannot do anything about it.
I cannot just run from these people either -- though perhaps prudence would strongly advise it -- because I love them dearly. But I also cannot let their chaos continue to wreak havoc in my own life. So the only thing I know to do is develop healthy, durable boundaries that lets them continue on in their cycles of chaos as long as they so desire, but keeps the chaos off my lawn and out of my house. It sounds so simple. Doing it, however, has been the hardest thing in my life.
Online Energy Creatures can be ignored when they spew their drama, but EC friends cannot be. They get in your face and demand attention. Learning to walk away from arguments, to not perpetuate their drama by responding in kind; learning to say, "I'm sorry you feel that way" and mean it -- to truly be sad that they feel the way they do and not just angry that they refuse to listen; learning to state clearly how I expect to be treated and not treated, saying "this is unacceptable"; learning to guard my heart, holding these people at an arm's length, even though I love them deeply, so that my heart and soul are protected from getting tangled up in their chaos and drama --- these tools are helping me. They are some of the pieces of re-setting boundaries and holding those boundaries as sacred, even in the face of hurtful accusations of selfishness. This, I think, is the real-life way to "not feed the Energy Creatures."