Are you a whiny person? When you’re down in the dumps do you call your friends or relatives and whine and complain about how horrible your life is going, or the unending challenges you’re facing? Do you share word for word the conversation you had with the boss or the boyfriend who is upsetting you? How many people do you tell the same story?
Whining is fun. Whining is cathartic. Having someone listen to you vent feels good. Being heard, having a shoulder to cry on, getting sympathy, it all feels good when you’re a whiner. It’s like getting a fix.
When you unload on a friend or sympathetic ear, there’s a part of you that feels like you’re working on the problem. You’re talking about it. You’re exploring it. You’re trying to make sense of it. You’re getting clarity on the problem.
But what you aren’t doing is solving your problems. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the more you whine, the more you are doomed to continue your life of hardship. Let me explain.
The other day a friend came over because she was having a hard day and needed some comfort. I was happy to be there for her. Happy to listen. Happy to be her shoulder to cry on. I do that a lot and I like it. I like being there for people. I’m the empathetic, understanding friend who will support you, hold you, and reassure you that life will get better.
But she started telling me about the problems she was having with her boyfriend and all the ways she was angry at him and resentful towards him because he wasn’t doing what she wanted him to do.
The thing is, I’d heard it all before. Many times. Her problems hadn’t actually changed at all in months.
And it dawned on me in that moment that by letting her whine to me about the same problems over and over again that I was letting her discharge her pent up energy on me instead of where it actually belonged, on the boyfriend.
I was a palliative. I was a grounding rod for her. Talking to me would always calm her down to the point where she wasn’t feeling the anger towards the boyfriend. I was like a shot of Novocain for her. So she would go home, endure the same situation she hated, but because she had already vented to me, she wasn’t all charged up.
On the surface, it seems like venting your anger or energy is healthy. But not if it causes you to go back to suffering in silence. Not if you decide not to take action because you’re all calmed down. What invariably happens when you don’t solve or face your problems head on? They come back. They’re still there. And the next time there’s a blow up, you go vent or whine to a friend and you feel better.
But I was sitting there and had this epiphany and said to her, “You know what, don’t tell me this stuff. Tell him. You’re angry at him. You want changes to be made. They’re not going to be made on this couch. You’ve got to tell him what you feel and what you want.”
She said, “I’m afraid to talk to him about what I want.”
I said, “I know. I don’t blame you. It’s going to be hard and scary. But you’ve been talking about this problem for a long time and nothing’s changed. And I think I’m actually doing you a disservice by listening to you talk about it yet again.”
When she thought about it, she had to agree. We both realized that whining is numbing. It takes the wind out of your sails, and sometimes you need that wind in order to steer your boat in a new direction.
So instead of listening to the problem some more, we started talking about how she was going to bring up the problems in their relationship. We talked about exactly what she could say that would be the most effective way of getting her point across without creating a huge blow up, which she wanted to avoid.
When I sent her on her way, she had the beginnings of a plan. I know she was really scared, but I think she also knew she couldn’t continue on with the way things were going.
And I think we both realized that whining doesn’t solve problems.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to your friends when something horrible happens and you need a little comfort. I’m not talking about getting devastating news and keeping it to yourself.
I’m saying that if you find yourself bringing up the same problems over and over again and to multiple people, then you are wasting time. Spend more time on solving the problem. Save your energy for the solution, not rehashing the situation.
Your life will move more quickly in a positive direction when you meet your problems head on instead of shrinking from them.
And the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of a whine, politely let your friend know that you are happy to help them come up with solutions but the time to talk about the problem is over. You’ll be doing them a big favor.