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Prevent Chronic Complainers from Sucking Away Your Energy

2012 November 30
by Marquita Herald

You are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life or you can choose happiness instead. Take control and choose to focus on what is important in your life. ~Anais Nin

chronic complainersHave you ever noticed the physical side-effects of spending time with chronic complainers?

First your breathing becomes shallow, then there’s the throbbing in your head … just a little at first, but it’s progressive, so given enough exposure there’s the very real risk of implosion. Meanwhile, neck and shoulder muscles tighten and bunch up until you begin taking on the profile of the infamous hunchback Quasimodo.

Okay, so maybe I’m dramatizing – a little – for effect. But the reality is that people who drain your energy with their never-ending dramas will leave you feeling exhausted, frustrated, discontent and unproductive.

Most chronic complainers aren’t discriminating either, they will complain about anything and everything – the bus is always late, the customers are always idiots, the driver who turned without a signal is a jerk, the doctors don’t know what they’re talking about, the cafe down the block has crummy coffee and, for my fellow authors, there’s the never-ending “Amazon’s out to destroy us!”

Anyway, you get the picture … you name it, the complainer can and will complain about it. How people become chronic complainers is not our concern today. Today our focus is …

How to Protect Yourself Against the Effects of Chronic Complainers

It starts with you.

I am a firm believer in the “me first” approach to problem solving; meaning we begin by looking at whether or not we may have (unintentionally) contributed to the issue. For example, how have you handled chronic complainers and emotionally draining people in the past? Do you constantly feel the need to jump in and help? Are you trying to fill some of your own needs, or avoiding your own problems, by attempting to fill the needs of others?

Evaluating your own habits may open your eyes to how chronic people see you as easy prey for their energy sucking fulfillment. Learning how to recognize and to change these habits can be enlightening, and the most effective way to reduce the effects of energy draining people in your life.

Don’t take it personally.

Chronic complainers spread their negative messages to everyone they interact with, but if you’ve shown particular empathy to their dramas in the past, they may well treat you to a special extended performance. Please remember, what they say and do is a projection of their own reality and attitude – it doesn’t have to become your reality - unless you let it.

Focus on solutions.

Because chronic complainers often use their dramas as a way to get attention, it can be challenging to tell the difference between “the sky is falling!” water-cooler gossip and when there may actually a problem to be solved. When this is the case, the best thing you can do is to disrupt the flow of negativity by asking this simple question, “What would you like to do about it?”

People I’ve either managed or coached over the years learned two valuable lessons early on in our relationship. If you hear about a problem or issue that genuinely troubles you, take the time to do your homework and find out the facts rather than passing on gossip. And secondly, I do not tolerate “drop and run” tactics … I will give 110% of my attention and support, but be prepared to learn, grow and work with me to find the solution.

Live by example.

No doubt about it … when it feels like you are surrounded by negativity, it can quickly wear on your nerves. That’s why one of the best things you can do to keep your healthy positive attitude alive and well is to intentionally surround yourself with people who reflect the person you want to be. Choose friends and business colleagues who you are proud to know, people you admire, people who make your day a little brighter simply by being in it.

Get serious about your personal boundaries.

There are times when each of us has taken a turn feeling like a “victim” of life’s cruel jokes, but here we’re talking about chronic behavior. Trying to get someone in perpetual victim mode to see the good things in life is a no-win game and will exhaust you.

Of course, even energy sucking people can have moments when they are a joy to be around. When this is the case, the best you can do is learn to tactfully remove yourself from their presence when they default into complainer mode.

Let go and move on when you must.

As tempting as it can be to simply ignore complainers, you do so at the risk of your own emotional and physical well-being. Studies have shown that just the act of thinking a negative thought can adversely impact your immune system by inhibiting the good disease fighting cells to proliferate. The build-up of negative thoughts inevitably leads to stress, which has been clearly documented to have a direct link to the state of your health.

It isn’t easy to remain positive when negativity surrounds you, but remember that while you may not always have control over every person you come in contact with, you do have full control over your attitude and how you choose to live your life.

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36 Responses
  1. Justin
    December 9, 2012

    I have a low tolerance for chronic complainers. Yes, we all complain from time to time but it seems some of us are better at it than others. I usually try to shift the focus away from those things that are complain worthy and focus on what is good or what is working in life.

    Take care.
    Justin recently posted..Read This if You Want to Survive 2012My Profile

    • December 10, 2012

      Welcome back Justin … yes, I must confess my own tolerance level for chronic complainers has become quite low in recent years. Life is just too short, and there are just too many things to be grateful for to waste time listening to people complain about everything under the sun. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  2. December 4, 2012

    Your post is just what I needed considering my workplace stress these days. Being the Customer Relations Manager doesn’t come easy anyway; but I agree one has to maintain strong personal boundaries and not let the complainers cross those. Thanks for the share.

  3. richa permalink
    December 4, 2012

    Great piece of practical advice, Marty. Such people can be tricky to deal with. Thanks for this great share.

  4. December 3, 2012


    Yeah I have friends and some family members but they are so negative all the time. It just wears on me. But, then again I am the master of my own domain (whatever that means), but you can just think it’s their problem not mine. I’ve always looked at it this way if your going to complain than do something about, otherwise keep your mouth shut.

    Yeah leading by example is a good one. My nephews look up to me and it’s kind of odd. They act the way I do. Their minds are at the age where role models heavily influence them. Sometimes that’s a big drive for me :) I always like reading your post they’re always great :)
    Garen recently posted..Social Media Beats SpammingMy Profile

  5. December 3, 2012

    Hi Marquita:

    Great practical suggestions! The one that resonated with me the most was: Get serious about your personal boundaries. We can’t stop people from complaining but we don’t have to listen to it. We can choose to not to spend time with these types of people.

    Kevin Martineau recently posted..5 lessons on relationships from a love songMy Profile

  6. December 3, 2012

    Hi Marquitta,

    a lot of people could and hopefully will benefit from your great suggestions.

    My mother was a chronic complainer and I had to train myself out of it.

    Not taking things personally is good one.
    I recently heard the saying “It is happening for you, not to you.”

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post!

    Love and Light
    Yorinda recently posted..Sole Water and Salt A higher form of EnergyMy Profile

  7. Steve Borgman
    December 2, 2012

    Marquita, I appreciate the challenge to each of us to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we have attracted these people into our own lives via our own personal internal attitudes. If not, it helps to make solution oriented suggestions. If we have a lot of courage, we can use the statement Brian Tracy always uses with complainers: “You are responsible” over and over. Of course, this will probably send complainers running for the hills, but that will help reinforce our boundaries :)
    Steve Borgman recently posted..Ways of Becoming A Leader: For Those Who Don’t Think They CanMy Profile

  8. December 2, 2012

    Oh I enjoyed this subject on complainers so much Marty.

    I had written a post about “stop complaining” a while ago, so this subject is right up my alley!

    These complainers can suck your energy if you let them. Also, if we let it go on it is like putting fuel on the fire for them and reinforcing them to continue that behavior. It doesn’t do any good for us or the complainer.

    Personal boundaries I feel, is the first step. I like that advice also, when it is time to let go.

    This is a wonderful post and I love your inspiration.

    Donna Merrill recently posted..Blogging EthicsMy Profile

  9. Melanie Young
    December 2, 2012

    This is a great post to put up when the constant complainers on your FB friends list get cranked up. I know they have the options to hide posts of the user but you don’t want to ignore them all the time, just when they are being energy vampires. Always great information.
    Melanie Young recently posted..Handcrafted AwesomenessMy Profile

  10. December 2, 2012

    Hi Marquita,
    A great article as always. I hate complainers and I have loads of experience because I grew up with them. However, I am blessed that God gave me a sunny disposition and I have always been known for being cheerful and making others feel happier about life!

    But, I am very energetically sensitive, and I can feel a person’s energy immediately when I meet them or even speak over the phone. I am fast and furious when I come across a complainer.

    There is often a link between illness and attitude and that’s a difficult one to break if the person has been locked in ‘woe is me’ for too many years, it becomes locked in their cells.

    clare recently posted..Melatonin and your Health: 11 Factors You Ought to KnowMy Profile

    • December 2, 2012

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Clare, always appreciated. I understand what you mean by how you are energetically sensitive – I am also, which is why I experience very distinct physical reactions when I’m around people who … hum, disturb me. Sadly, I also believe you are so right about how the longer that negative cycle is allowed to continue the greater the chance it becomes reality. The best we can do is to offer positive options and inspiration; some will choose to create meaningful change, others will not. Personally, I long ago resigned as the General Manager of the Universe – sometimes ya just gotta move on :-)

  11. December 2, 2012

    A timely post. I’ve got so sick of the chronic complainers (whether justified or not) that I created a separate list for them on Facebook and now I don’t have to read their neverending complaints. Harsh? Perhaps, but as you said you have to start with yourself first and if you are always caught up in other people’s complaints you become miserable.
    Sarah Arrow recently posted..5 Ways to use Social Media to Build your Email ListMy Profile

    • December 2, 2012

      That’s a great tip Sarah. I was sharing with someone just yesterday how my articles often reflect my own personal experiences, which is why I was so pleased to find the image I used because that’s exactly how I felt long about last Wednesday. Life is just too short to spend in the company of people who do not appreciate all the good things we have to be grateful for.

  12. December 1, 2012

    As a non-confrontational person, I find it difficult to speak up when a chronic complainer is around. I find it easier just to ignore the person if possible. But there are times when it is necessary to speak up. I love your approach… to let the person talk for a bit, and then…

    >>> the best thing you can do is to disrupt the flow of negativity by asking this simple question, “What would you like to do about it?” <<<
    Willena Flewelling recently posted..Digging the Good out of the BadMy Profile

    • December 2, 2012

      Welcome back Willena … glad you enjoyed the article. I’ve used that “interruption” technique for a long time. Sometimes it prompts a great conversation, sometimes it throws the complainer off completely. I recall a class I was taking at our local college – during a break this man was on a role complaining about the local schools, cost of living, you name it. I’m looking at this guy thinking about how he only lives here for 3 months out of the year – during the winter months to escape the cold weather – and finally I interrupted him with ‘the’ question. He abruptly stopped, mouth open and just stared at me for a minute, then shook his head and excused himself to visit the restroom before the class restarted. I’d like to say that ended the complaining, but of course it’s never that simple … still, it sure slowed him down for awhile and after that he avoided sharing his complaints with me :-)

  13. December 1, 2012

    well, I must say… you truly give a lot to all of us having the privilege to read your articles… they are well written and well explained and most of all, you provide always some solutions to such difficult life happenings… your solutions make so much sense and it is clear that you care to make certain we are aware of what ever is out there such as your topic here (Prevent Chronic Complainers from Sucking Away Your Energy) but having some solutions added at the same time, is priceless.

    I truly thak you for being you and sharing so much goodness.
    Thanks again.

    • December 1, 2012

      Welcome back Nick … always a pleasure to have you stop by and share your kind and generous thoughts :-)

  14. December 1, 2012

    Hi Marty,

    These people steal my joy on a grand level lol. One of most drastic things I have done is literally cut them out of my life. I avoid them like the plague. Mothers at the school gates seem to be the worst, always a lazy husband story, or they have too much to do, and little Tommy’s got a bad cough or something ugh!.

    To alleviate this sapping of joy, I arrive at school 5 minutes after they have started to leave. My daughter is never late, in fact she gets to hang her coat and bag up in a cloakroom that is quiet and stress free.

    The other mother’s probably complain to one another that I am always late or that I must be the worst mother on the planet. But I know that I am the best hehe!

    Thanks for letting me share,

    Beth :)
    Beth Hewitt recently posted..Holy Guacamole – You’re make $$$$ from your blog?My Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      Sounds like you’ve got the Mom thing wired Beth :-) I will confess there are times that my articles are a direct reflection of my current reality – this little ditty is just that – which is why I was so happy to find the image I used because that’s just the way I felt around Wednesday! Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation Beth.

  15. December 1, 2012

    What a great topic!! I for one, have a mixed bag of “complainers” in my life… Some I give a bit of time to, ) although my goal is to be able to say to them “you have had your 30 seconds, can we focus on something positive for the rest of the conversation!”

    Depending on the situation, I don’t usually take it personal and I am able to shake it off and move on in most cases, especially when I know where it is coming from .. No suggestion of mine seems to help them, so I do avoid some people all together as they just have no other way of making conversation!!

    Have you ever tried talking about complainers to a complainer?? Hilarious, they usually have no idea that they complain as much as they do.. They can come up with 1, 2 or 3 people who are great complainers!!

    Great article.. Makes me chuckle when I think of those ‘complainers’ that I know!!
    Holly recently posted..You’re Losing It And I Bet You Didn’t Even Know It!My Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts, always appreciated … and you made me smile just trying to imagine talking to a complainer about people who complain :-)

  16. December 1, 2012


    With your “me first” approach, I take time to screen what comes out of my mouth. I certainly don’t want to be part of the problem. Still, too often I blurt out something only wishing to cage it back. Then, of course, it is too late.

    So, slowing down, in all aspects of my life, is a practice to be implemented for 2013. I don’t think the human mind and body were built for the pace with which society and the Internet today runs.

    Regarding complainers, I tend to steer clear of them if I am unable to alter their perception of life. I am only too willing to guide someone to a better attitude provided they are open to it. Otherwise, I’m eager to cross the street to avoid the negativity.

    As always, Marty, most excellent!

    Rick Lelchuk recently posted..Great Communication – Don’t Get The Wrong IdeaMy Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      I’m with you Rick – I do my best to give chronic complainers a wide birth. I will also admit that over the years I’ve blessed and let go of a few friends who fell into that category. Re things popping out of your mouth – I can especially relate to that, except with me it’s my writing. Something pushed my button and I used to share my thoughts immediately and without reservation. Now what I do is write up my comment and set it aside overnight – not to say I won’t still share my opinion, but more often than not I’m able to temper my “enthusiasm” the next day. Thanks for stopping by :-)

  17. November 30, 2012

    Marty, You are writing about a problem many people encounter and one I face when I go to my JOB. How to handle the “chronic complainer” at work has always been a challenge for me. I try not to engage in her rants. If I were to confront (even in love) she would probably rant about me behind my back. So, I just try to engage her in conversations that don’t embrace the ranting/complaining. Ah, life has it’s challenges. Thank you for the great advice to help me and all of us deal with those kind.
    Bless you real big!
    Lynn Jones recently posted..Being Thankful TodayMy Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      You know Lynn, I think by the law of averages there always has to be at least one chronic complainer in the workplace. In one of my jobs I shared an office with ours – now THAT was a true test of resilience! Sounds like you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances – thanks for taking the time to share :-)

  18. November 30, 2012

    i’ve visited your site often and find inspiration and empowering directions each time. thank you.
    gabi klaf recently posted..How Not To FightMy Profile

  19. November 30, 2012

    “Don’t take it personally” and I would add – deflect, deflect, deflect!! I’ve made a game out of deflecting negative energy from the constant complainers in my life (a family member, so I can’t completely disconnect). Sometimes I do go a little overboard: “Oh yeah, well, maybe it’s a tumor!”…. “Well, the communists really do seem to be taking over” … or “Yeah, I hear that they’re going to increase taxes on wind and rain…” Might as well have a little fun with it too, right?
    Kimba recently posted..Kimba’s Favorite “Things”My Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      Welcome back Kima – love your sense of humor, and I agree with your approach. Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation :-)

  20. November 30, 2012

    I have recently realized that my body sensations give me a signal of impatience (I feel like I have ants in my pants and I want to squirm out of my skin) when I am subjected to this kind of personality. That is my indicator to politely exit the situation. I have a 2-minute empathy window these days.
    Suzanne recently posted..CoachingMy Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on things Suzanne – for me it’s the muscles in my neck and shoulders. When I described the quasimodo thing I was talking from personal experience :-)

  21. November 30, 2012

    This time of the year especially we can find ourselves surrounded by complainers. I know for me there’s a huge difference between being supportive and lending an ear and getting sucked into the vortex of complaining. I’ve also learned that some friends I need to limit how much time we spend together. As one passer-by recently pointed out…there are spend the whole weekend together friends and 10-minute friends. Nothing wrong with either depending on your own mood.
    Katy Tafoya recently posted..A Year of Transformations and ReleaseMy Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      Great point Katy – it’s funny about the time limitation illustration – my sister and her family live on the mainland and while I love them all, 4 days is the maximum I can be there. It’s ironic with what I do that I come from a family of chronic complainers – just one of life’s mysteries. Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. November 30, 2012

    I know what you mean, Marty. I’ve met some of those people and they can be very stripping indeed.

    As you rightly pointed out, they don’t discriminate. They’ll complain about anything. Just give them a topic and they can complain about it. There are also those people who always have bad news. They pick up bad news about everyone they know and spread around some of the ‘fun’ (as they see it) to everyone else – as if we want to know.

    As you said, I do try to remove myself from such people. It doesn’t always work, but one can try…
    Anne recently posted..How Flexible Are YouMy Profile

    • December 1, 2012

      Welcome back Anne, and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts – always appreciated. Yes, for better or worse, there is no shortage of chronic complainers in the world. Those of us who choose a different path can only do our best to wave as we pass by :-)

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