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Life without Whining
Mom with a View

Life without Whining

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.

May 26, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 12

(9) Schmiodile, June 4, 2012 8:03 AM

not always true what you say

Maybe there are people who complain too much, and maybe it helps to restrain from complaining. But my son has had headaches for months and he has the opposite problem, He seems to complain too little. There is a danger when we really hurt and don't feel our feelings. The therapist says feelings need to flow like water. People who whine may not be crying, and maybe crying is healthier? I get chizuk on my email everyday. It often says crying out to Ha'shem with tears is good. But how to go from verbal to plain feeling?

(8) Anonymous, June 4, 2012 4:29 AM

i think therapists should allow us to complain a bit. after all thats why we go, to get out our stress

(7) Anonymous, June 2, 2012 12:37 AM


Not long ago Lori Plotnik introduced a campaign " Don't blame. Don't complain. " I think that it is excellent advice and as she pointed out, not so easy to accomplish, but if we just go a little tome longer without blaming and complaining we will get better at losing these weaknesses. I added another one to her simple advice " Do't Blame. Don't complain. Don't compare. " Good Shabbos !

(6) Anonymous, June 1, 2012 2:27 PM

agree - excessive after several months as a friend to hear the same topics

hard to break away but am releasing myself with sending this article - hope she gets the point. Enough - hve asked for good news and told her to find something good in each day - can she do ir???

(5) ruth housman, May 31, 2012 12:18 AM

license to complain

I was talking to Karen who is the lovely gate keeper at a local school where I directed a play I co-wrote, and actually co-directed with a friend. She and I were talking about complaining and we thought there should be a license plate that is, the license to complain. We all do, and it can be a kind of comradely thing, when we kvetch together, but too much, as you say, and repeated endless iterative kvetching, doesn't go anywhere. As a therapist I always tried to re route the conversation, and yes, it gets really boring, and it is counter productive, like digging a bigger hole. I am not sure it's all that new to be a therapist who doesn't accept too much of this. I never did.

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