Don't let someone else's chronic whining get you down.By Julie Hanks, LCSW, for Sharecare
Whining children are difficult to tolerate, but whining adults can be even more challenging! Unlike your children, you can't send your neighbor, co-worker, or best friend to their room when they start sulking or complaining incessantly. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where whining adults are tolerated and often even glamorized on reality TV shows. Somebody else's chronic negativity can drain the joy out of your relationship with him or her -- and zap your own emotional energy.
I was recently interviewed for a story in The Wall Street Journal called "A Nation of Whiners: Therapists Try Tough Love." In it I talked about how I confront therapy clients who complain for weeks and months on end and help them get to their core problems. Chronic complaining isn't necessarily therapeutic or helpful in therapy -- or in relationships outside the therapy office.
If you spend time with someone who whines a lot and can't seem to take action to change their situation or their point of view, it may be time for you to take action to protect yourself from their negativity. Here are four ways to try some of your own "tough love" with the whiners in your life:
1. Check for depression
Excessive pessimism can be a symptom of depression. Chronic negativity and feelings of helplessness may indicate a mental health issue that needs to be addressed by a professional. If your whining colleague, friend, or loved one has a pervasive pattern of negativity that isn't just focused on a few specific topics, you may want to express concern and suggest that they get a mental health evaluation before trying the following tactics.
2. Reflect back the powerlessness
For someone who continuously says they "can't" change something in his or her life, it can be powerful to reflect their feelings of powerlessness back to them directly. Try saying phrases like, "I hear you. You feel like you can't make things happen at work. You feel so powerless to change the situation with your boss." This can disarm whiners. When people whine, it's human nature to try to talk them out of their feelings. Instead, reflecting their emotion back to them in an exaggerated way can sometimes snap whiners out of their pattern.
3. Set kind and clear boundaries
If you have a relationship with someone who tends to talk about unpleasant topics, set boundaries around which topics are off limits or how long you're willing to listen to their pet topic. Give feedback to them about how it feels to listen to them go on and on. If a friend often complains about her in-laws, you might say, "I know you struggle with them, but I want to hear about your trip to Mexico." Another approach might be say, "I hear that you're having a tough time [at work, with your relatives, fill in the blank], but honestly, I only have the energy to listen to it for a minute or two." Be kind yet firm.
4. Don't pick up their baggage
When someone dumps their emotional baggage at your feet time and time again, it's hard to resist the urge to pick it up and carry it for them. Learning to tolerate another's painful feelings or difficult predicaments without feeling responsible for finding a solution can be tough. It's crucial for your own emotional health to let others take responsibility for their own burdens. Be empathetic, express love, support, and encouragement, but recognize that it's not your problem.
Psychotherapist Julie Hanks, LCSW, is Sharecare Now's #1 Online Depression Influencer and the director of Wasatch Family Therapy in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.
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