Are You Drained or Tired?
When are we truly loving people, and when we are just getting “sucked dry?”
Author Dr. John Townsend addresses this common concern and some misconceptions about love in his book Loving People, which I recommend. Dr. Townsend writes that it is normal to feel tired when we love and serve other people. However, it is a different thing entirely to feel “drained” in a way that we feel empty, drained, and “sucked dry.”
If we feel those things, or if we dread re-engaging the people in our relationships, it’s a sign of one of two things:
We are taking too much responsibility for other people.
Instead of working on ourselves and what we can control, sometimes we try to fix what we cannot control — other people and their choices. We feel responsible for other peoples’ “lives, unhappiness, problems, or character immaturity (40).” Many people can relate to having done this at some point. I’ve done it. We want to help a friend out of their depression or financial instability. We want to convince someone that their boyfriend or girlfriend is a bad influence, or that they need to get counseling. The list goes on.
Keep in mind, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with helping and serving other people. We can and should! The real danger according to Dr. Townsend, is when we become more concerned about someone’s problems than they are about their own problems — for instance, an anger or addiction issue. If this is the case, Dr. Townsend claims that the problems usually won’t go away… no matter how hard we push or talk to the person. And at the end of it all, we will almost certainly feel drained.
Dr. Townsend makes this helpful distinction: “You cannot love others too much; it is just not possible. But you can take too much ownership over another’s life (41).”
We are in an “unconnected” state.
In other words, we don’t have enough love and empathy inside of us to be able to keep giving more to others.
Often this comes from a lack of receiving enough love and affirmation throughout our lives. Dr. Townsend writes:
People who have this issue often feel drained by the needs and concerns of others. They simply are trying to survive themselves, and they don’t have enough to continue on very well… they hit a threshold. They are able, once they have enough of an internal sense of being loved, to give… and their internal state of being loved continues. It is difficult for loved people to be drained by caring (40-41).
I find this true in my own experience as a leader. As I connect with friends, loved ones and God, and ask them to pour into me and encourage me, I find myself “connected” to love and empathy. I need this, and it also gives me capacity to continue to love others without feeling drained.
And when I find myself taking too much responsibility for other people and things I cannot control, I do feel drained. It makes sense — if something is beyond my control and limits as a human, I just wasn’t intended or designed for that. So naturally, it should drain me.
I highly recommend Loving People, which covers so many helpful ideas like this one. It really demonstrates that “loving others” and “receiving love” are things we can learn to do, and grow in. Since these are some of the deepest needs for people in general, I find the book really motivating. Hope it helps you!