I can't believe that I don't have a thread for this yet.
It all starts here:
Sometimes I meet somebody and I get the impression that if I utter a sound, they will unload a mountain of ugly hostility - directed at me. Each thing I say is offensive to them. The more I say, the more offended they are. Further, it will quickly become their life mission to stick to me and continue forever to pour out this nasty gick.
The only way to remain safe is to not engage.
Another possible tar baby is something I wrote about five years ago in a thread about living in community:
Perhaps some people might be a tar baby.
A tar baby might ask "may I borrow your drill?" and the moment they ask, you might as well give up. The tar is on you and you're DOOMED!
You think "this person probably won't care for it properly and I cannot help but think that if I let them use it, I will regret. If I say 'no' then they will get pissed and poison my relationship with the community."
Doom, doom, doom, doom.
So it turns out that the path to happiness is to own nothing. And to have no skills.
Hmmmm .... one possible way out it is to say "what do you offer in trade?" The response will probably be something like "I dunno." and then you can say "Well, when you have a suggestion come let me know. My drill and I will wait."
Your concept of a tar baby reminds me of narcissists, who try to control and manipulate those around themselves so that they (the narcissist) looks good. They always feel entitled to everything, too, and so think that that drill of yours should be their's, and that--since they are so wonderful--they shouldn't have to trade anything for it.
One way to avoid the leaches and narcissists of life is to be BORING (I'm thinking this won't work for Paul, but it does work for others). It's called "grey rock," where you become so boring in their eyes that they don't feel the need to associate with you anymore--they look for more interesting people to put in their little lifetime drama.
We avoid a narcissist in our family by being really boring and poor. We don't travel. We don't buy fancy stuff. We talk about stuff he finds boring (my husband goes on and on about fish and hot wheels and I blab on and on about gardening and being frugal). We also don't ask for favors, because that would make him feel like he owns us and we owe him. He went from calling every few days and dropping by unexpected and trying to burden us with guilt...to only calling once every few months without any of the passive aggressive tactics. We're boring, and it's a good thing.
Not all leeches (as my husband calls you tar babies) are narcissists. Our general tactic to avoid leeches is to not invite random people over. We have a small house and so they cannot stay the night. When someone tried to latch onto us as a money cow, and asked to borrow money, we gave it to them as a one-time gift. We also use the other spouse as the bad guy. "My wife doesn't like having people over." "My wife needs help at home." "My husband said he doesn't want to let anyone barrow that...." etc. My husband's motto is, "we don't bring home people." Having grown up and lived in poverty, he encountered a LOT of leeches over the years.
Being a boring introvert, people have rarely asked me for things over the years. I like to help people, and I help a lot of people, but I help those that are already contributing to the community and aren't leeches. For those that just want money or things, I offer them ideas on how they can do it themselves. Someone was moping about not having money to take his girlfriend out to eat and do fun things, so I found local parks they could walk to to have a picnic and shared the other fun free/inexpensive things I used to do. Someone was talking about how it was too hot for him and his baby and he needed money, so I mentioned walking a few blocks to the local library to hang out in the air conditioning. Usually, if people ask for money and you give them other solutions, they don't ask you for money any more.
In the case of someone wanting your drill. Maybe offer to show them how to drill something by hand with a screwdriver and a bit. They won't be happy about that. They will probably not ask you for your drill or other tools, because they got a negative consequence out of the situation.
Hornets: Will sting you if you don't give you what they want. They think they deserve it. They're the type that try to ruin your name if you don't just give them stuff. AND they always tell horrible jokes that you're supposed to think are funny, and will literally move into your house without asking.
The older I get, the more introverted and self-contained I seem to become. It's precisely because of the people that Paul and Nicole describe above: narcissistic, easily wounded, needy and demanding, and all-around incapable of engaging in a relationship with truly altruistic motivations. I work with college students and I'm finding that there is an increasing degree of neediness, inability to discern that their demands are self-centered, and they have such a limited capacity for resilience and self-care. I don't blame them: I do, however, blame their parents who put a screen in front of them from day 1 of their lives. I blame social media, which has made every person in the world the star of their own reality show. And perhaps I blame the longest run of prosperity in American history without a war to fight, or without any sort of significant sacrifice to make. We have the most medicated generation of college students ever who struggle with anxiety, at a time of unprecedented prosperity. We have the most narcissistic generation of college students in US history (as measured by validated instruments that track these things with each successive class of incoming freshmen in a longitudinal study that goes back 75 years). I don't doubt that this trend goes far beyond the college campus to the greater society.
I guess my "tar baby" detector has become more finely attuned than ever. I can sense the needy student coming and I find a way to set boundaries with them. Even beyond my students—I'm learning to sense narcissistic people from a distance and then take steps to set boundaries.
With students, I've learned to say (in the most polite way): "You have a problem and it's not that I don't care, but I don't believe that I'm the person who can or should fix it. It's a problem; it's your problem; here are some resources that you may with to pursue to address YOUR problem."
There are still more healthy people out there in the world than unhealthy. For those that are healthy and capable of truly engaging in community without becoming leaches, my door is open and my life is shared. But the challenge is discerning who is and who isn't. One unhealthy person can bleed you dry and cause you to become tremendously cynical.
We've been blessed with two great kids who have found their way in life and are now at that point where they'll soon be bringing a spouse into our family. I hope neither of them bring a narcissist into the mix. That's when it gets really toxic: when the sacred inner circle (the fam) gets invaded by a tar baby who bring their demands and easily bruised needy egos into the mix. So raise your kids to be wise, and have a great relationship with them so you can help them make these discernments for themselves.
Post Tenebras Lux
Until further notice, we will celebrate everything.
I call those people psychic vampires. They just suck the life out of you. Not having them in your life seems to be the safest option, and I figured out a way to accomplish that: hard work. Any time someone like that asks me for help, I say something like "I'll be glad to help you as soon as I finish broad forking my new orchard area. It shouldn't take more than 3 or 4 hours if you help me, and then I can help you out." The reason they can't help will be along shortly.