Love and life

How to spot emotional quicksand (and get out, fast)

Header photo credit – Natasha Kerry Photography (@natashakerryphotography) 

Your time is the most precious commodity you have. Every day, every second every single interaction you make. If I could peek back in time to 26 year old me, the one thing I would tell myself, OK… I wouldn’t tell myself.. I’d shout at myself, through a megaphone and shake myself awake …. While pleading with little, drama filled blinkered little me to STOP WASTING SO MUCH TIME ON TOXICITY. To please, for the love of all things that matter in life, step away from emotional quicksand. 

Toxicity isn’t just the douchebag that ghosted you, or the friend who is going through stuff all of the time. Toxic interactions happen every day, they could even be how you speak to yourself, what you expect from yourself and the shit you replay in your internal cinema – the worst kind of toxicity because you’re literally stuck in it and somehow it’s also the most unkind. 

We talk a lot about how to be thriftier with your money to save on things that don’t matter so you can spend on stuff you actually want. But when it comes to time, we give it freely, sometimes even haemorrhaging time on toxic relationships, toxic interactions and people.

Let’s imagine these ‘time wasting’ situations are black holes. The closer you get to them… the harder it is to walk away, the more they draw you in and like quicksand you struggle but get pulled in further and further. 

Your time is so precious, and it’s up to you to choose how you spend it, it’s up to you to decide if emotional quicksand is worth trying to navigate or if you should step away. I get it, it’s hard to just say no, because sometimes emotional quicksand masquerades itself as love. You care about that family member, friend or partner. 

It masquerades as responsibility. You feel responsible to your colleague, boss or client and just have to stay late, answer their calls out of hours or listen to them go on, and on about situations that they should really just sort out themselves. When you give into emotional quicksand you’re hurting yourself, and you’re also hurting the person you’re trying to help because they will never sort out their issues for themselves.

Emotional quicksand, is not just just someone ‘going through shit’

We all go through stuff, right? I’m not advocating ignoring friends or family members or colleagues when they’re going through a hard time. I’m not doing the whole ‘please take all your negativity away from me because I’m in a place of zen right now’. 

You’d have to be pretty self-absorbed to not want to help the people you care about, and if you are that kind of person you’ll likely never come across emotional quicksand, you have a radar for that shit, you probably aren’t reading this blog either. 

This lesson is for the empaths, the ones who more often than not find themselves unable to step away and give so much to others the have very little left for themselves.

Quicksand red flag #1 - constant, repeated draining

Watch out for repeated draining, not a legitimate crisis but constant, endless conflict, you know that person who always has something dramatic going on, there’s always something they can’t cope with on their own, they need you. Without you listening, bailing them out, giving them money, time, advice… they won’t get through whatever the latest situation is. 

Emotional quicksand can take the form of a relative who needs your help but doesn’t acknowledge you are not always available to them, or value the time you take out to help them.

It could take the form of a friend who brings their drama to you and doesn’t limit how much airtime they give to talking through their boy trouble or acknowledge when you’ve listened to them go on for a full 48 hours about some dude who didn’t reply to their Tinder message. It’s 4am, you’ve assured them they won’t end up alone, reassured them they’re cute funny, blah blah and yet they still haven’t even asked you, by the way are YOU ok?

Emotional quicksand doesn’t care about how you are doing. It doesn’t even really care who it sucks in, it just knows it needs to offload itself onto someone and you happened to be the closest or most willing person. 

Quicksand red flag #2 - it knows no reason

I’ve recently left behind a personal relationship where I tried, really, in every possible way to help a person out of habits that harmed them and as a knock-on took me down with them. We talked, I explained, I reasoned, we made agreements, we signed them, pinky promised and swore we would do things differently. The next day they would be back to doing the very same harmful thing again and round and round it went. It was humiliating to talk about so I’d hide the extent of the relationship from my friends and family. If they knew how much I was putting up with, how could they possibly take me seriously?

It took a lot to step away, it was really hard, but there came a point where I realised there is no reasoning with emotional quicksand because while you’re looking for solutions, the quicksand has already hit self destruct. It’s going down and it’s going to bring along anything in its path.

The kindest thing you can do, in this situation, is to step away. Far away.

Quicksand red flag #3 - quicksand does not respect you.

The biggest red flag for me when I’m deciding who to give my time to is whether the person I’m interacting with is showing me a certain degree of respect.

There are ways of asking for help, and there are ways of demanding immediate attention right then and there completely irrespective of what the other person might be going through. 

Toxic interactions don’t necessarily mean that person doesn’t care about you or respect you at all, it doesn’t make them a bad person necessarily, it just means that at that exact moment, they have decided their need trumps yours, they are interacting in a way that only serves their purpose without acknowledging the effect of the interaction on you.

Emotional quicksand doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out relationship with a person, it could just be a single interaction where one human draws another human into their shit in an entirely selfish way. 

Recently (and I’ve had a lot of these incidents recently, hence the impetus to write this piece) I interacted with a family member who only seems to call me when they’re going through something or when they need to complain. The part of me that actually likes to listen and be there for people (and sometimes I can sit around for hours listening to my friends’ problems because I’m still partially a massive drama fiend but mostly because I genuinely care), so the part of me that likes problems and gravitates toward this quicksand will see the call and KNOW what’s at the other end. Just know that this will not be a fun conversation, this will be a one sided, let me hurl all of my issues at you and you just deal with them kinda interaction. I also know that this person has never, not once, not ever called for any reason other than to complain about the same specific problem, and will occasionally call ‘just for a chat’ only to, 30 seconds into the chat, circle back to ‘that specific problem’ and yet I still take the bait. Every. Single. Time.

Welcome, to the plains of emotional quicksand, where you see the signposts and yet you still find yourself compelled to dip a toe in. Because, maybe this time will be different. And it’s nice to feel needed after all, isn’t it?


This time, this one time I didn’t take the call. I ignored the ensuing messages and responded with a very simple, unemotional ‘sorry that much be hard for you’. To deal with emotional quicksand, don’t respond with cruelty, after all the person sucking you in might not even be aware of what they’re doing. It is OK to step away respectively without getting angry at them or frustrated at the quicksand for doing what it does naturally, without thinking, and probably without conscious motive.

Sometimes quicksand comes from within

Before I sign off here, I want to mention the most toxic relationship I’ve ever had, not with a guy or a friend or my family, but with myself. I’ve loaded problem after problem onto myself, going on and on and on about situations like a crazy carousel of negativity that goes round and round. 

I’ve shown little respect for myself and little respect for the drama free life I want to live. 


The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to say no to toxic interactions with others, but also toxic interactions with myself. I read somewhere that people are either drains or radiators. I actually think this applies to individual situations and individual interactions. If you’re not being spoken to with respect, if you’re being repeatedly drained and feel burdened under problems you don’t need to shoulder, step back. Say no, even if the person you’re saying no to is the part of you that likes to create drama and criticise yourself. 

It’s OK to say no to emotional quicksand, trust me. You will save yourself years of struggle.

Sending love and light, especially to anyone going through a toxic relationship. It’s hard to say no. But you can do it!

xx Siena

Thanks again to my wonderful photographer and amazing friend Natasha Kerry for taking the beautiful snap in my header. Follow her @natashakerryphotography


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