Quit Kvetching: Transforming Whining to Winning

There’s no sound quite like it: The sustained, high-pitched blare of an irritable, unhappy child. Although annoying, we tend to chalk up whining to the unpleasant side of being with kids. But whining is somehow less excusable when it streams from the mouth of a disgruntled adult.

No doubt you’ve heard it … perhaps over lunch with a friend, before your Pilates class or even from the local politician on the evening news. It sounds like a slow bleed; the constant drip of a sour shrill, embedded in a torrent of grievances.
Let’s face it, we all have gripes and are certainly entitled to complain every now and then. But whining elevates our protest to more extreme levels of obnoxiousness and ushers us into a class of women often recognized as nothing short of cranky. We can barely tolerate our wailing friends — but do we recognize our own propensity to whine and how it may affect those around us?

There’s one thing worse than a chronic complainer — it’s a couple of chronic complainers who have paired up. When we and another whiner unite for a bellyaching session, it can be tortuous, particularly to those within earshot. But we can’t help it, there is something contagious about whining; when we are with others who suffer from this nagging condition, it can rub off on us, and we begin to whine right along. If our buddy is griping, then it presumably gives us license to do the same. Then we feel better once we verbally dump our misfortune on someone else. And when we hear silence we assume that our listener is interested in our grumbling and continue on, when she may have mentally checked out of the conversation long ago.

To a certain degree, there are therapeutic advantages to talking through our problems. If there weren’t, psychotherapy would not be the billion-dollar industry that it is in the U.S. But whining is the wrong way to express one’s displeasure, simply because it is a form of complaining that is clearly not solution-oriented.

Instead of working to curb whining, we can often enable it. When our friend says she is simply “venting” (which we consider to be a more socially legitimate form of grumbling), we make exceptions. When you hear, “I’m so angry, I just have to vent!” you can be sure that there’s a pile of protest coming. We tolerate a whiner who has announced that need, because we feel we are performing a service as a listener. After all, if we lend an ear, we can prevent an inevitable explosion by indulging someone the opportunity to let off some steam.

We whine for a variety of reasons. We may feel powerless so we criticize lawmakers, bosses and ex-husbands; since we can’t change their ways or policies, then we feel that we at least have a right to express our disapproval. Or, perhaps if we can’t make others “pay” for a violation against us, we can punish those whom we believe have wronged us by verbally castigating them. Or, we may seek pity and hope that someone else will just fix our problem. Instead of asking for advice in a straightforward fashion, we recount our sad story hoping that someone will change our plight. We may do this because we feel too inadequate to solve the problem on our own. For instance, we complain to a friend about a mutual friend’s behavior, hoping that the person we tell will feel compelled to take our side and support us, or confront the offensive person on our behalf.

But whether the whining culprit is your friend, or yourself, recognizing that this persistent negativity is generally distasteful should motivate you to resolve your persistent droning. You can’t fix it for others (short of exposing their flaw and hoping that they’ll take action to be more positive), but you can certainly work to keep yourself whine-free.
You can start by realizing that the key to being less of anything is to be more of something else. Becoming a positive, solution-oriented person should be your goal as you work to combat a negative, whiny disposition. Here are a few more exercises you may want to implement in your quest for deliverance from your nagging habit:

  • Journal as a means to release your inner bitchiness, preferably in a password-protected document. You can use a traditional notebook or diary as well, but keep personal names out of your text and use codes instead — you never know who might get a hold of your tell-all expos‚. You’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel when you have completed this cathartic assignment. Plus, you will have spared some poor soul from having to endure a sulking session about your problems.
  • Try a negative reinforcement technique: wear a rubber band loosely on your wrist and snap it against your skin each time you catch yourself whining.
  • Avoid critical comments and try to put a positive spin on your observations.
  • If you are religious, pray. If you find comfort meditating in a yoga class, try that. Do what you need to do to put your spirit, mind and emotions at ease.
  • It may be a challenge at first, but seek to overlook the faults of others and try to extend mercy when possible. Remember that even when someone hurts you, it is generally borne out of their own pain.
  • This is a tall order, but work to forgive those who offend you. Bad-mouthing people will only exacerbate the situation, and chaining yourself to that “unforgiveness” will only make you feel more bound and stifled. This can take years and a lot of emotional work to accomplish, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t forgive your enemy by this Friday.
  • If you do catch yourself whining, change the subject immediately. Ask your friend about herself to turn the conversation in a different direction.
  • Announce that you are working on being less whiny to your close friends (they may be thrilled!) and see if you can wangle their help. Ask them to notify you each time you begin to whine, so that you can take the twang out of your voice and describe your predicament in a less abhorrent fashion. Remember, talking with friends about issues of concern is acceptable — whining is irritating.
  • If you have a serious matter on your hands, perhaps an abusive spouse or a child who is out-of-control, seek the help of a professional. Complaining to a friend or acquaintance will not resolve your situation, but professional counseling might.

It is in your best interest to work on your chronic kvetching: People avoid moaners and consider them “energy suckers” and “problem persons.” When you decide to shun your poisonous whining, you will be considered more pleasant to be around, and you will likely enjoy your own company more as well!

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