How Not To Be a Drainer

The drainer is a terrorist, holding someone hostage in conversation.

It is an unfortunate reality that when you meet new people, there are few perceptible signs before speaking to them that they are a drainer. Maybe you saw people they were talking to eye off the exit, or observed exasperated shrugs of the shoulders, perhaps you overheard others make numerous ‘anyways’ and ‘that’s good’ comments as they tried to close up the conversation. The drainer, for lack of better phrasing, just doesn’t know when to shut up.

They will just go on and on about a particular topic with apparent disregard for how interested you appear (or internally are). They certainly believe in what they are saying and unfortunately believe enthusiasm can be a substitute for skill. They really do think that vaccines kill, or truly believe that the climate emergency is just an overreaction. Whether they are pulling at whatever thoughts first float to the surface, or (as they see it) citing coherent arguments, stating facts, and presenting data, what makes them a drainer – that is, a drain on your very energy to continue speaking to them – is that they pay no attention to you.

Drainers, unfortunately, tend to be better at talking at people rather than with them. In the process, they undermine the most basic tenet of communication: to commune; to join and create something together. The drainer is so concerned with being heard they forget to listen.

One comes upon a sneaking suspicion that drainers aren’t really being honest with us or themselves. They are filled with such self-righteous anger at vaccine mandates or protestors fighting climate change. But the venom running through their incessant monologing about why this is ridiculous, or these people are fools, suggests that the problem might be more personal. Perhaps a vaccine mandate seems authoritarian, the same kind of invasive authority they were subjected to in childhood; they were always victimised, and rarely had a say in how they wanted to live, and maybe (and perhaps this is the real issue) they still don’t. Maybe they hate people fussing about the climate catastrophe because they have been poor, unemployed, broken and belittled, but nobody ever gave a damn about them; their problems are real while the climate problem is so abstract. Once again, they have been forgotten, and it makes them furious. The drainer (as they so often are), is angry, but because they don’t properly locate or expand on the sources of their own anger, they come across terribly boring, and even a bit neurotic. The problem isn’t that we want to hear less, rather, we want to hear more; less about the world, and more about them.

A good partner in conversation, therefore, will try their best to draw the conversation from the broader, more abstract and impersonal; into the more concise, specific and personal; understanding that beneath the rage about vaccines and environmental protestors, there was a personal story waiting to be told. A story, perhaps, that would be far more interesting and significantly less draining.

In seeing the personal beneath the impersonal, what people have to say becomes significantly less draining. When someone says vaccine mandates are a sign of fascism or that the environmental movement threatens the economic system, we won’t be as infuriated or even triggered, because we will understand where that person is coming from and just how much their personal experiences inform their present understanding, even if they might not realise it themselves.

Drainers are exclusively concerned with themselves. This comes back to the point about communing. Seeing very little interest in what you have to say unless it supports their point, the drainer is entropic, sucking the energy from conversation. At the heart of it, the drainer has an ardent desire to be heard. What we could do is hear them, or, at least, the parts of themselves that they may not be able to hear themselves. We could, as good participants in conversation, try to draw out the personal beneath the impersonal, and in the process, commune in a way that is gratifyingly more real, more intimate, and less draining in the process.

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