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Context: I'm currently doing my bachelor's at a very small local uni. I'm usually known as one of the knowledgeable folks who's open to helping others (many people pretend to know nothing here just to trick their friends and "get ahead" in terms of jobs).

There is this person that is a little bit more than a stranger but not really a friend to me. She would text me once in a while and the conversation is always like this:

  • Makes small talk as though she knew me for decades (though she only barely knows me for ~2 years).
  • Then, she'd go on to praise me way too much, and ramble about how she wants to be like me but failed.
  • To this monologue, she'd finally attach her demands of what she needs from me.

Though I usually help most people who approach me only when they need something, I can't seem to stand this person. I just find her ways cringeworthy and fake. She's also known in the university as a clingy person who tries to force others to be friends with her. She's known to throw tantrums and compel others to treat her like they treat their best friends. So far, I've always helped her with whatever she wanted until I learned about this clinginess.

Part of me wants to help, but I also can't help thinking that I'm not meant to be used like this. How do I politely refuse/ignore this person over text who acts like they're my "fan", hopefully once and for all?

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  • Is it possible for you to block this user from texting you, or to set up a filter on your phone that deletes her messages as soon as they arrive? If you do block them, will they see any sort of "You're blocked" or "You can no longer send messages to this person notification"? If you can block/filter them without this happening, you have plausible deniability and can claim that something's wrong with your phone or the network.
    – AJM
    Aug 1, 2022 at 13:39

4 Answers 4

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These are techniques that I've successfully used and which allow me to protect my time while, at the same time, keeping a certain level of politeness and civility.

  1. Don't engage in the small talk.

    • Text messages are asynchronous communication. There's no need to answer right away. When your phone notifies you that you got a message from her, wait a few hours before clicking on it and reading it. Chances are that she will find someone else to bother in the mean time.

    • Write short responses, avoid asking questions:

      How are you? "Fine, thanks." or "Fine, a bit busy." (not: "Fine, how are you?")

    • If she starts to ramble, politely ask her to get to the point:

      You are so great, because ... "Thanks! How can I help you?"

  2. Make sure that your answer means work for her, not for you.

    • Help her help herself instead of helping her solve her problem:

      I don't understand how to solve today's homework. "You need to understand how to frobnicate foos first. I suggest you re-read chapter 7 of the course book." ... "Yes, if you have no idea where to start, re-reading the whole chapter carefully would be a good idea." (not: "Let me hold your hand and guide you through. You can solve today's homework as follows: ...")

    • If you don't know something right away, just say so:

      My phone says error code 0x12345 whenever I try to send a message. "Sorry, never heard of that." or "Sorry, no idea what that could mean." (not: "Hmm... let me google that for half an hour and get back to you.")

  3. If she is rude enough to directly ask you to do work for her, you are busy:

    • Can't you look up for me what this error code means? "Sorry, I'm a bit busy this month (and I'm afraid the next one won't be better). But you could try asking Google, that works for me sometimes!"

Unfortunately, there are some people that just "don't get hints" or just don't care. If she is one of those, you'll just have to bite the bullet and tell her directly "Sorry, can't help you", or, in extreme cases, stop responding.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – A J
    Aug 4, 2022 at 4:48
13

There is a word for what you are suffering from: Helper Syndrome. Google and you shall find a lot of advice.

In my personal experience (I suffered significantly from that for 20+ years, eventually ending in separate personal and professional burnout and significant private changes), this helps:

  • Remember the overarching principle that you can never change other people. You can only change yourself, and even that takes a lot of very dedicated work. Try to frame everything such that you are thinking about what you can do, and don't project your problem onto the greedy others.
  • While it probably feels great to be seen as the person who is knowledgeable and shares freely (it sure did for me), try to reign in the impulse to do so at any moment. If you are in a group of people, and someone is describing a problem or asking a question, do your best to fight the urge to stand at the front line and solve everything right there and then. Simply shut up, don't say anything, wait what happens. Generally make a habit of not replying in the very instant someone stops talking, or even interrupting them with a solution, but give them and yourself a second or three to think inbetween sentences.
  • Remember that, often, directly helping somebody is actually hurting them in the long-term. The old adage "Give someone a fish and they are fed for a day; teach somebody to fish and they will never go hungry." Repeatedly helping someone directly can shut down their own incentive for learning, and you surely do not want that.
  • Generally, whatever you do, try to stay true to yourself. Try to never lie or deceive. This makes it much easier for yourself - first of all you'll feel better, second of all the more lies or slightly deceiving things you say, the more difficult it becomes to keep all the balls in the air at the same time...
  • If someone asks you directly, there are some strategies:
    • If you actually do want to help them, make a habit of telling them to come back later. If you have a calendar system, find a common time slot, a few days in the future. This makes you still open for helping, but it also gives them incentive and time to work on the issue themselves. Sometimes the problem then goes away.
    • Give them a short, succinct tip on how to do the next step in their problem solving. Don't even try to understand the whole problem, just get a quick feeling for what their current immediate next task could be (i.e., Google something; or draw a conceptual map of their problem; or try to "debug" the problem by finding out more details depending on which field you're in).
    • Tell them that you don't really know much about that particular issue, and firmly but shortly tell them that you can't help them with it. I would reserve this for cases where you actually don't know much. Even if you are an expert in the field, whatever it is, you're likely not familiar with the very specifics of what they're asking, and that counts as "not knowing much". It's not your moral obligation to dive deep into their problem just because you're a domain expert.
    • If all else fails or the other options do not seem quite right (i.e. if you cannot use them without lying), simply (yeah, as if ...) tell them "No" with however many words as you like. Fewer words are better. By all means avoid any reason - anything you add gives them fodder to challenge you on it (i.e. don't say "No, I don't have time now" because they will answer "Ok, when will you have time?", putting the ball right back in your court). Practice ways to friendly but firmly let them know that you're not the right person. Something like "Ah, that sounds like a really bad problem indeed... I can't help you there." Give them the feeling that you understand their plight, but be firm and tell them "No" without explanation.
  • In general, if you are helping the same person multiple times, you are not a random friend anymore, but a coach. Convince yourself that being a coach is like a job; it is never something that you are somehow morally responsible for. At the least there needs to be some quid-quo-pro (which can be immaterial; i.e. if you really like them and the time you spend with them while you help them, that can be enough). If you are in a company setting, make sure your boss knows that you are informally coaching other people around you, and this is also great on a resume/CV.
  • Generally, meditation helped me a lot (the non-religious type, e.g. mindfulness without all the mystic baggage). Specifically, this makes it more likely that you can catch yourself before your mouth spills all the helpful words... also, it gives you time to really think about yourself; why are you so helpful in the first place.
  • Join a platform like Stack Exchange, Reddit, etc. and answer as many questions as you can, to get your "fix" of helping others on your own terms. :)

Good luck! You're not the only one with this issue, but there is light at the of the tunnel...

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  • 3
    OP should also google the "Karpmann Drama Triangle". It sounds like they've gotten stuck in the role of "Rescuer", and maybe need to ask if they've got any underlying issues which make them vulnerable to being used in this way.
    – AJM
    Aug 2, 2022 at 9:37
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    Fascinating, @AJM, this triangle matches plenty of social interactions in families with "weak" members that I've witnessed up close. I'm not totally sure that it's the best "diagnosis" for OP, so won't add it to the answer for now, but they surely will see your comment and research it further if they find it applicable.
    – AnoE
    Aug 2, 2022 at 12:24
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    @AnoE I think you're probably right about the helper syndrome. I'm definitely starting to see how I "can never change other people" in my interactions in general. I enjoy helping, just that I kinda don't want to help this person solely because they treat me like a search engine. I wouldn't hesitate one bit if they actually bothered to build a relationship first. As for the triangle, I guess the girl's act aligns with the Victim role, but it isn't like I will be too guilty if I don't "rescue" them. I might be stuck in the Rescuer role if it was somebody else I like, but not this person
    – Mayonnaise
    Aug 2, 2022 at 18:02
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    Yeah @Mayonnaise. It's awesome that you're generally helpful, don't change that aspect. Just channel your energies in a way that you're not the victim of "vampires"...
    – AnoE
    Aug 3, 2022 at 7:46
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In my job, I also am often the "helpful" one. This can be tiresome, but on the other hand puts you in a position of respect and authority. I wouldn't want to have anything to do with people who "pretend to know nothing just to trick their friends and "get ahead" in terms of jobs". If I were an employer, which I am not, I would seriously consider firing anyone showing such attitude.

That being said, I absolutely can't stand if a person texts me and, out of misguided politeness, tries to do smalltalk before coming to the point.

You are doing this person, and her future colleagues, a favor, in my opinion (unless this is really, really, frowned upon in your culture), if you teach them to text like this if they want help:

Hi Mayonnaise, I have problem/question X. Can you help me please?

You can in addition still say No, or point to someone else. Also, doing this now will make you more comfortable expecting the same later from other people who will inevitably come for help to you.

What I typically do when a colleague just texts "Hi", is to respond with "Hi xyz, how can I help you?". This gets the message across that they are allowed to come to the point.

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I had this happen to me. I solve this by keeping layers of social media to keep people from contacting me. So certain socials I keep public, like mail. If I find someone who I like and think they like me, I graduate them to a closer social e.g., Instagram and if still some sort of instant messaging platform.

I'd make myself so that I check the instant ones often (e.g., every hour or so).

It looks to me you have got to demote this person into only being able to contact you in a less personal social media. If you had evaluated before giving contacts in the beginning it'd been better, but at this point I think you have two options:

  1. Tell how you feel outright
  2. Or, if you feel they annoy you that much, block for the moment. When you feel better about them later, you can unblock. If they ask you in real life why you blocked them, just give them the reason plainly (say it nicely, though)

Good luck!


Also you should only help if it brings you joy. You shouldn't be helping for their validation, but rather your internal joy. If you find no internal joy, maybe you're not really fit for this type of role. It's not easy to be a person who can help others.

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    This is a great idea! With college, things weren't really in my control since things went online and stuff. My uni just made it too easy to get access to every freshman's phone numbers back then. I think I'll be setting these layers up for myself more concretely from now, sounds like a good way to manage priorities :)
    – Mayonnaise
    Aug 3, 2022 at 19:45

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