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Life without Whining

May 24, 2012 | by

Therapists are refusing to put up with the kvetching. We should do the same.

Finally, a group of therapists after my own heart. According to Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal (5/15/12), there is a whole new cadre of therapists who refuse to put up with whining. They just won’t allow their clients to return to the same topic over and over again (as their therapists’ eyes glaze over). They’re setting time limits for discussion of recurring issues, and they’re encouraging them to imagine a life without whining.

The days of passive listening and unconditional acceptance are gone. Why? Not because it’s driving therapists crazy (although I’m guessing that plays a role!) but because it’s actually not good for the client. Duh.

As one self-aware client put it, “When there’s unconditional love from my therapist, I’m not inclined to change.” Yes, accepting whining impedes their growth. Accepting that negative version of the client’s narrative allows them to wallow in self-pity instead of acting differently. It encourages a gloomy and pessimistic outlook on life.

And, as everyone knows and as these therapists mention, it drags down everyone around them. In fact, as an illuminating tool to discourage whining, one of the therapists suggests that whiners ask themselves “Would I want to hang out with this person?” That’s a good question for all of us to reflect on…

This is a new productive strategy for truly helping this clientele. And it is a learning experience for all of us, whether we’re the whiners (we all are sometimes) or the ones enabling the whining (we all are that sometimes as well).

As friends (or spouses or parents or children) of whiners, we may be operating under the illusion that listening to them kvetch is a way of showing kindness and compassion. This is true if complaining is an infrequent occurrence. Everyone has moments when they just need to vent. It is, however, NOT true if it is a regular one. Listening to the kvetching and empathizing with their woes only encourages them to continue whining, while fostering their sense of grievance.

The bigger kindness would be to refuse to listen, to encourage them to tell you one good thing that happened that day, or to make a rule limiting the conversation to positive comments only.

Do you know someone who finds something wrong with his meal every time you go out to dinner? Maybe if his friends refused to go to a restaurant with him, his behavior would change. And even if it doesn’t, at least his friends would be spared the unpleasantness.

It’s easy to have perspective when someone else is the whiner. But what if that whiner is you and me? Are we, by chance, only reporting to our friends the negative occurrences of the day? Do we wait eagerly for our spouse to come home so we can give him or her an earful, a long list of all our trials and tribulations, a prolonged whine about how nothing is going our way?

That certainly doesn’t endear us to our partners or encourage them to come home early!

Focusing on the negative and moaning and groaning about it is a bad habit. Like all such habits, it s not easily broken. Doing so requires determination, conviction and willpower. And clarity about the destructive nature of the behavior.

We have a mitzvah to serve the Almighty with joy. And yes, that joy is hard to attain. But we could at least start by striving to serve Him without whining.

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