No Dumping: Why No One Benefits From Complaining

I’ve lived in San Francisco for almost a year, but it still feels like another world to me. Take for instance these blue signs on the ground that read “No Dumping.”

It’s not clear to me what the crab is supposed to convey. Do some inconsiderate people throw live or eaten crabs down the drain? Is it a reminder that our pollution affects our animal neighbors?

I think the most likely reason is it’s a warning that there are monster crabs living in the sewers who will scuttle out of their murky lairs to pinch us to death if we dump our garbage on them.

That vision of our crab overlords got me thinking of other ways people dump their “garbage” on us. Does this sound familiar?

  • You come home from work exhausted and your wife greets you not with a hug and a kiss, but with a rant about how awful her day was.
  • Your best friend calls you during lunch not to talk about last night’s game, but to list all the reasons his new boss is an SOB and didn’t deserve that promotion.
  • Your sister and her boyfriend broke up (again) but instead of a pep talk and night out with you, she’d rather cry on your shoulder about how all men are jerks, she’ll never get married, and she’s doomed to become a crazy cat lady.

These people are dumping on you.

They are focused on all the problems (real or imagined) in their lives, and they let their toxic rantings spew out of them and all over you.

These dumpers are not looking for advice or a 2-way conversation—it’s just an opportunity for them to vent to an audience (you). In their minds, they are right and everyone else is wrong.

The dumpers may feel better “getting it all out,” but I guarantee you won’t.

You’ll feel like a big crab.

I’m not saying you should avoid people who genuinely want to have a conversation with you or who are asking for advice. But you should limit your time spent with chronic dumpers. Their bad moods will rub off on you, and you might even become a dumper to someone else.

The next time you’re overwhelmed and feel like dumping on someone, try one of these tricks:


No, really. Take a few deep breaths to calm down. Count to 10 slowly and deliberately. Having a short break to breathe could stop you from firing off a nasty e-mail or saying something you’ll regret later. If you need to, get out of there and give yourself some physical breathing space.

Think about what you love.

When I need a positive boost, I list in my mind all the things I love or am thankful for (or list them in my gratitude journal). It could be anything—the clothes I’m wearing, being able to see, having access to healthy food, my favorite pen, being loved by the people in my life. This exercise makes me realize how good my life is.

Focus on the other person.

Instead of dumping your problems on your friend, ask her about her day. Where did she get those shoes? Did she have fun on her vacation? Would she like to catch a movie this weekend? By focusing on the other person, you can stop yourself from selfishly hogging the conversation.

These tricks work if you’re the victim of a dumper too. To get over a bad mood caused by someone dumping on you, remember to breathe, think about the things you love, and focus on the other person by leading the conversation to a happier topic. Maybe your friend hates her job, but how was that date she went on?

Are you a dumper or dumpee? Both?

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  1. Tinfoil Tiaras on February 27, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Speaking of San Fran, my man is there this wk for a work trip, wish I was with him so we could get together for a veggie meal! Oh boy I can be quite a crab sometimes- I occasionally hark on my man when he gets home from work and ruin the evening with my negativity. I will try to look on the positive side! 🙂

  2. xvavaveganx on February 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    YES YES YES!!! You couldn’t have hit it more on the head. I know a chronic dumper and it is exhausting and makes me a terrible person to the people around me because I’m constantly subject to the negativity. These are really great tips on how to deal with the situation and become a more pleasant person despite the negativity around you. Sometimes I feel like you are talking directly to me with these posts, your timing matches up so perfectly with what is going on in my life 🙂

    That picture with the crab hat is absolutely adorable 🙂

    • Sage on February 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

      Sarah, I’ve got a confession to make. I AM reading your mind. I have super telepathy and I enjoy poking around in your head before I write my next post. 🙂

      Seriously, I’m glad you’re getting a lot out of my posts. That makes me feel like I know what I’m doing. I think we go through the same struggles as humans, and dealing with dumpers is one of them.

      That crab hat was from a gift shop in Baltimore. I had a work conference there last year. I love crazy souvenirs.

  3. Megan Gann on February 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    What a weird sign. I know what you mean about that. I’ve had to stop my mom from calling just to “vent”. I love her dearly, but when you spend hours going “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say” it drains you almost as much as the next person.

    I usually try to change the subject to more positive topics, but sometimes you have to let people go and wallow in their misery and not let them pull you down.

    I know I’ve been guilty of dumping, but I’ve got some great friends who usually do offer great advice.

    • Sage on February 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm

      It’s fine to ask for advice, but I’ve found that most dumpers don’t want advice; they just want to complain. I agree that you can’t let them pull you down or ruin your mood.

  4. Molly on February 27, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Great advice! People seem to be drawn to me when they want to vent, which I don’t mind every once in a while, but it can get exhausting. I’ve learned to change the subject when it gets to be too much, in a polite, positive way.

    • Sage on February 27, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Changing the subject is a trick I use a lot. You’re a sweet person, and that’s probably why people gravitate towards you. That’s good when you want company, bad when they just want to complain.

  5. Shybiker on February 27, 2012 at 6:29 am

    I’m as impressed at your always-sound advice as I am at your selection of insights for discussion. This one especially. Too many people get in a habit of being negative and then get trapped in that sinkhole. It contaminates their relations with others.

    As you advise, I studiously avoid dumping and find my life is much happier as a result.

    • Sage on February 27, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      It’s WAY too easy to be negative, and I work on thinking positively every day, some days better than others.

      I’m so glad you like my post topics! 🙂

  6. H&K Style Journey on February 27, 2012 at 5:08 am

    This is so true, if you surround yourself with negative people, it rubs off on you. I try not to dump too much of my stuff on other people, because I know how it feels to have someone dump on me. It’s kind of a downer, lol. I like your tip on breathing. That’s actually a very effective tool for me. I breathe and go to a happy place to calm down, even if it’s just for a minute. Heather

    • Sage on February 27, 2012 at 6:12 am

      It is a downer! 🙁 I’ve had to distance myself from some friends because all they wanted to do was complain. I feel like you can’t get anywhere in life if you always focus on what’s wrong.

      I’m glad you like the breathing tip. I forget to breathe when I need to calm down, but I’m getting better since I started meditating for 5 minutes every morning.

      Have a great week!