Is there someone in your life who no matter how energized you feel, by the time you’re done engaging, you feel drained out and if you’re feeling low, they max out the last of your energy? When you encounter people who seem to sap your energy, you’re dealing with someone who is a drainer. A combination of you not recognizing where your body is alerting you to discomfort around your boundaries along with dealing with somebody who is full-on and so emotionally, mentally, spiritually and even physically taxing, they Dump and Charge Up – offload their stuff on you and then feel energized to continue.
I have come across many conversations lately of clients and friends, both alike, having voiced the conundrum they find themselves in repeatedly. I think we can all relate to some degree, you know “them”, I know “them”!
- They tend not to take a real interest in you because everything is prelude to talking about them. This isn’t just when they have drama– this is whether it’s a good or bad day. They do the whole asking how you’re doing in the first or last thirty second to a minute of the call for instance and before you’ve really had a chance to say anything, they’ve swung back to what they really want to talk about. Makes me think of Bette Midler in Beaches… “But enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?“
- They might claim to feel badly about their draining ways… and then repeat it.
- You get the Ikea feeling – It feels as if you’re going round and round in circles either listening to the same thing on loop or feeling as if you have to talk about or explain the same thing again and again in one discussion.
- When they ask for stuff, they don’t take you at your first no so you can end up being exhausted from trying to politely but repeatedly declining them.
- They might do the run-around thing of not asking for what they want straight up and instead, they piecemeal the favor and so in effect drip-feed a request and then have the brass neck to be annoyed when you’re rightly annoyed about how the original request has ballooned.
- You get that held hostage feeling either because they keep barreling on when you try to end the conversation or because you hold you hostage by feeling obliged to take the call, continue the conversation etc.
- You likely feel resentful about the imbalance or the drain on your time, energy and emotions. You probably feel exhausted just thinking about them. Heck, when you see their name ringing on your phone, in your text or when they’re making a beeline for you, you might even feel a bit queasy, defiantly quickly trying to figure out what they want and what your excuse is or just straight-up overwhelmed.
- It might feel as if they cycle from one drama to the next and that your role is to play armchair psychologist and/or rescuer. They seem to thrive on negativity or thrive on having a certain role.
- They don’t have ‘levels’. If you imagine drama and how you respond on a scale of 1-5, 3 being middle of the road and 4-5 being serious cause for concern, everything is a 5 or a 20… This makes it difficult to know what the hell to take seriously.
- They’re not keen on taking responsibility so even if they keep telling variations of the same story, just with different people, it’s everyone else who’s the problem. They also see it as your responsibility to make them feel better which is why they feel indignant if you won’t drop everything.
- When you have your own stuff going on, you’re met with tumbleweeds or dismissed with what can be a scary lack of empathy. It’s also possible that when you have an issue, they’re nowhere to be seen.
The subject of drainers is a little dicey because on one hand, you may recognize what’s so unhealthy about this person or the dynamic between you both and on the other, you may feel guilty for regarding them as being a drainer because you may believe that you have been a drainer on occasion or confuse draining with healthy confiding and support. It can also be very guilt-inducing for one very particular reason – often, the biggest drainer in your life is a family member or someone who claims that it’s your duty to be their dumping ground or that if you love and care about them, you’ll have no problem with them sapping the life out of you.
It’s important not to mix up being genuinely there for someone with not having boundaries with somebody who you’re afraid to speak up with and who there might even be an element of intimidation and codependency.
Sometimes we can mistake being a dustbin or charging station for for being a ‘good listener’ when this can be code forover-empathetic, Florence Nightingal-ing people pleaser who is afraid to appear “rude” and “selfish”.
So what can you do?
1. Be honest about who the drainers are in your life so that you can be more protective of your energies. Sometimes we’d rather play Columbo or Jessica Fletcher trying to understand what they’re doing. It’s one to understand and then do something but it’s another when you’re seeking further understanding because you don’t like what you already know. Note how your body feels, your thoughts, the typical situations and let this invaluable info be your warning signals so that you can take care of you.
2. Own your role. Don’t own their behavior but take care of your end of things. I’ve worked with many who used to let family members drain them because they needed to be needed and it allowed them to feel ‘relevant’ and even in control. Same people also rendered themselves helpless to improve the situation and then complained about them. Realizing and deciding to like oneself, having healthier relationship with these types of people may mean choosing to exclude them. While it may come as a surprise, you’re not the only ‘supply’ in town – Don’t feel aggrieved, feel relieved!
3. Know your line. Resentment will build (that’s if it already hasn’t) if you don’t take ownership of your feelings and behavior and take the necessary steps on your end to protect and limit you from their impact. On some level, we hope that the person will appreciate us or change and then feel very short-changed when they don’t. If you wouldn’t be there in the way that you are if you didn’t think that you would get the reward or whatever it is that you’re hoping for, stop and revise your motivations.
4. Set a time limit for engagement. Don’t hold yourself hostage on calls or in situations. This works like a dream for me – say how long you’ve got when they get on the phone and stick to it. No more than 10-15 minutes, give them a couple of minutes warning before you’re due to go and no matter how much they try to plough on, be firm and say that you have to go and say bye. It can be excruciating initially but also one of the best things you can ever done. It’s also a healthy way of setting boundaries without getting into a big discussion.
5. Have a ready-made list of exits. Only you know your time, energy and priorities and if you’re always on tap, drainers will take liberties. Value your time and have a quick mental list of things that you can use to opt out with. “I’ve just remembered that I’ve got to be at _______” or “Jeez! Is that the time? I’m gonna have to go because __________”… OR, be honest (gasp!)
6. Don’t fall for that obligations doo-doo. Yeah, I said it. In the past, I’ve heard what it means to be a “good girl, daughter, wife, employee should be doing…”. You name it! I don’t recall me signing anything when I came out the birth canal saying that we must have a guilt-laden relationship where others get to dump on me! The irony is that if you do fall for the obligations line, they feel resentful of you because they know that they’ve guilted you. Vicious circle!
7. Let them crack on with their stuff. Conversations with drainers are not about you providing a solution; it’s about telling them what they want to hear and/or letting them listen to their own voice. Listen with boundaries – don’t stress yourself out trying to find the solution or be the solution. “I’m sorry to hear that” or “I really hope you get it sorted soon… right, I’d better get going…” are easy replacements for trying to break your brain. Remember that you can be empathetic and supportive – honor your boundaries with compassion. They’re obviously going through their own stuff but don’t project or cross your own or their boundaries by making you responsible for changing their feelings and behavior.
You don’t have to be rude, you don’t have to be mean but remember, being kind means being kind to yourself as well. Think of it as much like the briefing by the airline stewardess’ prior to flight. Help yourself to oxygen before helping someone else. YOU first!