Are you a drain or a radiator? How to deal with the drains in your life

drain1Dividing people into camps is a seductive and entertaining activity. Few of us can resist doing the quiz or taking the test which will show us the group we belong to.

Optimist or pessimist? Hawk or dove? Stressed Type A or laid-back Type B? And of course, we don’t cheat. Not us, even though we know where we want to be placed –particularly when it comes to identifying ourselves as drains or radiators.

Who wants to be a drain – someone whose presence depresses others, sucks away their psychic energy, and robs them of their joy and vitality?

A radiator is quite different. They are people who exude warmth and life, who enlivens and invigorates those lucky enough to benefit from their glow. Don’t we all want to be radiators?

Whatever the category, few of us are always consistent in our behaviour.


There are times when even the most vibrant, positive personalities drift towards the drain. When you lose your job, when your best boy or best girl goes off with your best friend, when the dog dies and the truck breaks down, it’s hard to be a radiator.

Life’s minor and major sadnesses can cause us to behave in ways which probably make even those who have our back feel that a blanket of gloom is descending as we talk obsessively about our problems, or sit in miserable silence.

These periods don’t last for ever, and living through them is part of the tapestry of supportive friendship. But what about those who are a fairly constant drain on our well-being?

Some advice tells us to ditch the drains in our lives, get rid of the toxic characters who bring us down. You should purge yourself of these pests but the trouble is many of those who fall into this category are people we can’t or don’t want to eliminate from our circle. They may be family members, friends, colleagues who are an intrinsic part of our lives.

Don’t dump, downgrade

Instead of cutting someone out, shift their position a little. Physically and emotionally, create some distance between you. Reduce the time you spend with people who don’t make you feel good. Giving them some space will protect you and give the other person a chance to develop different behaviours.

Know your personal limits

When you are feeling energetic and on top of your game, it’s easier to accept difficult people than when you are a bit down, physically or mentally. Recognise your tolerance levels, and if necessary try to delay interaction until you are on your best form.

Give feedback

Identify a specific aspect of the person’s behaviour which contributes to the draining effect. Try saying something like

  • ‘You might not realise it, Jack, but you have responded negatively to every suggestion I’ve made.’

  • ‘Do you know, Jill, you have been criticising everyone working on this project.’

  • Follow this with a statement about the effect on you:

  • ‘It’s actually bringing me down.’

  • ‘It’s affecting my enthusiasm for what we’re doing.’

Take control

Instead of letting a conversation or a meeting run its usual course, steer it in a different direction. Make a comment or ask a question which focuses on something less negative. If your companion notices that you are changing the subject or tone of the conversation, acknowledge that you are doing that very thing.

Don’t collude

You may be locked in a pattern of communication, with you always responding in the same way. Break the pattern by withholding sympathy, or by listening for a limited period only.

radiator2Hug more radiators

Your reserves of humour, understanding and generosity need to be kept topped up. Seek out people, activities, music, films, books which make you feel good. Don’t leave it to chance, schedule it in.

If this sounds as if all the burden is being put on you, well, you’re right. But you’re a radiator. You are a gift to your fellow human beings, and you have enough warmth to spare a little for those who need it most.

listencovermar14cjsmallerHow To Listen

by Mary Hartley

Using Listening Skills to Build Better Relationships Through Effective Communication

Listening is the least understood of all the communication skills. You can learn effective listening with this book which provides techniques for you to improve your listening skills.

How To Listen by Mary Hartley is available now at Amazon