“When it becomes a habit to lean on those who can’t do anything but empathize, you’re mischaracterizing their responsibility in your relationship. You’re not asking for help. You’re just listing your grievances.”
I was recently accosted by a friend who said that all I do is complain, but I’ve had a hard go of it and I was depending on him and others in the room for emotional support.
My employment situation leaves more than a little to be desired, I have $8000 mounting in debt, plus $700 a month in health insurance because I have HIV. Yesterday I found out my dad is having cancer removed from his inner thigh, my dog may need surgery, my boyfriend might be cheating on me, my classes are unbelievably difficult this semester, and I’m behind on just about every personal and professional deadline I have.
On top of all that, it’s just the latest in a long line of situations that make me feel like I can’t get ahead. When I do an APB of FML, it’s because I desperately need caring friends, not shame for needing help.
Everyone has challenges others would loathe to bear, and everybody needs a shoulder to cry on from time to time. There’s no shame in that.
When it becomes a habit to lean on those who can’t do anything but empathize, you’re mischaracterizing their responsibility in your relationship. You’re not asking for help. You’re just listing your grievances.
What if your friend’s response was, “That sucks. My brother has been committed to an institution, my teeth are going to cost $2,500 to fix, my boss is a megalomaniac, my husband may be on disability for life, and my lease won’t be renewed.”
Now imagine everyone else in the room did the same, unloading their day-to-day burdens on people who can’t do anything about it. There you all sit exhausted, having accomplished only a pity party. It may feel good in the moment, but you alienate others, and worse, waste time doing nothing about the actual problems.
In your case, your friend did you a favor. He sees a pattern, not in your life as you say, but in your reactions. If people say, “Oh poor baby” every time you say “Fuck my life,” they are enabling you and helping you set yourself up for failure.
Those who constantly whine and seek pity are subconsciously preparing excuses for future crises and the ongoing pattern of woe-is-me. You try to avoid accountability for the next “disaster,” erroneously believing friends have been warned about how screwed up your life is. Pining for sympathy is easier than working to fix problems. Whining is easier than talking to a professional and taking tough steps.
Most everyone can empathize with your problems and match them with private burdens of their own. The difference is in the word private: Share your issues with those who can help, and keep the ins, outs and dirty details off the backs of others.
You will undoubtedly need a shoulder to cry on again sometime, but when addressing your problems ends there, destructive habits and poor choices surely follow. Break the cycle of despair and ask for advice from a trusted, qualified few.
If you are actually addressing issues but still whining, consider letting your friends be your cheerleaders at the finish line, not your dumping ground the whole way there.
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Illustration by Brad Gibson
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