The Drainer. I am talking about the employee or friend who drains the life out of you, not the one in your sink. Have you ever had one latch on to you? Did you know it was happening? How did you get out of it? This is one of the mistakes you can’t afford to make.

A few years ago, someone introduces me to a Drainer. If the truth be known, I did not see it coming. It was my desire to help her. It was her role to need help.

My Drainer is an intelligent woman, yet socially inept. She thinks she knows what she wants. After awhile, it becomes frustrating. She believes her problems are unsolvable, despite generating lots of solutions. There is always a reason why it won’t work – even though she has not tried to make it work.

After awhile, you begin to wonder if you are adding value to the relationship. I finally figure out, it is not about me, she’s like this with everyone.

Web Spinner

The Drainer works best in one-on-one relationships. They want you to feel special; you are the only one they can trust. There is no one else who can help them. If we work on the problem a little more, we might just find the answer! Each hour you spend with them, they are slowing spinning their web of dependency on you.

In small group settings, the Drainer shuts down and becomes an inactive participant. They do not want to talk about their problems with more than one person, even though you may all be friends. You are sworn to secrecy. No one else understands their situations as well as you do. As their confidante, only you know about their problems. Is that true? Probably not.

Over time, it becomes evident the Drainer is talking to more than one person – and they do not want you to know about it. A mutual friend lets it slip. The Drainer is asking her for advice on the same problems! Both of you are giving the Drainer consistent feedback on how to deal with her problems.

You think back to that small group situation. You wonder why the Drainer purposely avoids discussing her situation with both of you together. Is your friend or colleague being sincere in their request for help? Or it is about something else.

Breaking the Cocoon

Step away from the situation. It is challenging; you feel drained from giving them constant attention. It is near impossible to help someone who lacks the motivation to make changes. You see that clearly now.

It is important to figure out if the Drainer is being honest with you. The first step is to ask if there was anyone else who could be of help. “No”, she replies, “you are the only one who understands”.

The next step is tricky – because “trust” will be broken with someone. Let the Drainer know you are aware she is seeking help from others.

She immediately gets defensive; betrayal is in her eyes. “It’s OK for you to talk to others, I just am curious why all the secrecy. We are your friends trying to help you.” Her response is she did not want to feel ganged up on.

Slowly, the Drainer sees you breaking the cocoon.

Web Free

The simplest way to break the web of dependency is to create boundaries. When the Drainer calls to rehash their problems, ask them what they have done to solve them.

Excuses will be the Drainer’s next line of defense. Follow up with: “I’ll be glad to talk to you about what worked and what did not work after you have tried a solution.”

If they become persistent, it is time to say: “I just do not have the time.”

It did not take long for my Drainer to approach me about giving our friendship some space. I think she thought I would be surprised at her request. I quickly agreed with the solution. After all, I was not giving her the attention she craved.

Conclusions on Drainers


  • Seek out people who naturally want to be helpful
  • Will stroke your ego by telling you are their confidante’
  • Swear you to secrecy
  • Value good listeners – they want the attention
  • Talk to you privately, rarely with anyone else
  • Are more interested in talking about the problem than solving it
  • Continuously find reasons why something will not work
  • Rarely take action to solve their problems
  • Suck the life out of you if you let them