A therapist once told me that whining is anger coming out of a small opening. It made me laugh because all too often it’s true!
Do you have a whiner in your family? Almost everyone knows someone in their family who always has something to complain about. Regardless of how far from home they may be, they still find time to whine about their job, their apartment, their roommates, their professors and their hard life. They take the pessimistic view, finding some way to ruin a perfectly good party by telling everyone how their life sucks. If you know one of these people, you probably spend lots of time thinking of ways to avoid them, after all, they have nothing good to say and listening to them is a chore you would gladly forego. They’re emotional vampires, waiting for an opportunity to latch on and drain you emotionally, leaving you feeling empty and listless. Is there any wonder you experience a craven impulse to flee at the very sight of them?
But what if you live with one? Though parents have a tendency to think they never whined as a kid, almost all children are whiners at one point in their life. What parents should reasonably expect however, is that the whining dissipates as the child grows into an functional adult. When that doesn’t happen, parents are the first ones to be driven crazy. Seriously, being around a chronic whiner can be anxiety-inducing, leading parents to do whatever it takes to get some relief.
Whining emanates from the very human belief that we are powerless to deal with a discomforting situation or problem. In other words, we whine because we feel powerless to do something about it, whatever it may be. It turns out that most whiners actually have legitimate reasons for whining, however whining isn’t the best way to deal with life’s problems. Whiners often do not understand how toxic whining can be to their relationships. Their problems are often compounded by the rejection they often encounter as a result of their whining.
So, what can you do about the whiners in your life? First, understanding that whiners often feel helpless to change their situation and cope with their discomfort, is key.
Sometimes whining, especially in young children, can come from feeling disconnected from the very people they rely on most for their feelings of love and security.
It may be that your whiner never learned how to soothe their own emotions, someone (maybe it was you) was always there to do that for them. This form of enabling may have led them to believe that they are unable to cope with life’s challenges on their own. It’s called learned helplessness. Feeling helpless is basically equivalent to feeling powerless. If you are confronted with a situation that you felt completely powerless to change, what would your first impulse be? For those who have learned to feel helpless in every situation, whining is one method used to pressure others to shield them (the whiner) from discomfort.
With that background, we can now dive into practical steps parents can take to preserve their sanity.
STEP 1. Gently point out their pattern of whining. Because whiners are often not aware they are whining, the goal is to raise the whiner’s self-awareness by pointing out the pattern. It won’t be as effective if you use sarcastic or negative language, try using a more neutral approach; mirror back to them what they sound like: “I don’t know if you realize, but this is what you sound like when you talk about your father, brother, sister, job, ect.”
STEP 2. Ask questions. To help them get to the root of the problem, use a curious tone of voice and ask open-ended questions about what might be bothering them: “I’ve noticed that you seem to be unhappy about your boss, what’s going on there?”
STEP 3. Set time limits. Let your beloved whiner know that you are only willing to listen for a set amount of time, example: “I am willing to listen to you but I only have the next five minutes and then I need to get back to work.”
STEP 4. Set limits on what topics you are willing to listen to, for example: “I already know what you have to say about your mother-in-law, but if you to vent about something else, I’m willing to listen for awhile.”
STEP 5. Remind them that it’s their problem and they will need to do something about the problem, ask them what they intend to do about it: “Wow, you’re kind of in a tough spot, what are you going to do?”
Remember, people don’t change overnight, but by utilizing these 5 simple steps you can get the space you need and some peace of mind by setting clear expectations and holding others to them.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Hatton has spent most of the last six years working as a field staff in wilderness therapy where he coached students on primitive fire skills, making and setting traps and other important wilderness skills. He also coached staff as they learned leadership skills and as they learned to disrupt dysfunctional behavior in the students. Eric loves brainstorming with people. He loves to help people organize their thoughts and change their dreams and desires into tangible, achievable goals. He loves to help people to discover their passions and to help them find ways to use their passions to realize their goals. He is passionate about building great teams and organizations and helping others succeed.