Dear Prudence: I’m too negative a person. Is there any hope for me?

Help! All I Do Is Whine and Complain. How Do I Stop?

Help! All I Do Is Whine and Complain. How Do I Stop?

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 13 2014 3:04 PM

Complainers Never Prosper

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man worried that he and his wife are too pessimistic.

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A: Being unable to sleep and radically changing your diet are pretty big asides to push aside. Everyone processes their grief in their own way, and no, people do not have to be utterly disabled by the death of a loved one. But given the circumstances you describe and your closeness to your parents, it sounds as if you might still be in a state of numb shock over your mother's death. Numbness could be what you need right now. But I agree with your friend that I'm not buying you can short-circuit your mourning and go on as if nothing happened. Be prepared that one day, when you don't have enough quarters for the parking meter, you find yourself breaking down into sobs. Given the symptoms you describe, I think you're suffering now more than you acknowledge. Too much sleeplessness and too much out-of-control eating is going to catch up with you. I hope you have close family members you can talk out your feelings with. If not, and the sleeplessness and compulsive eating don't abate, look into a grief counselor who can assess what's going on and help you deal with your loss.

Q. Re: Whiners: I have friends who've had great success with A Complaint-Free World, which includes some behavioral exercises. It doesn't mean one becomes Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, it's more of a way to adjust attitude/behavior.

A: In my world, that would be a conversation-free world. What do these noncomplainers talk about? But thanks for the suggestion.


Q. Divorce: I am a pastor, so confidentiality is important to me. Currently a couple in the church are divorcing. There have been issues for some time and I have spent time with each of them—keeping each conversation private. I feel like I've been walking a very thin tightrope. My question is that one member is now posting and spreading some rather nasty rumors suggesting a mental illness of the other. I know we can never know what is going on behind the closed doors of a marriage but these rumors seem completely unfounded and I fear that they could hurt that person’s reputation even more than the divorce already has. I realize I have different standards due to my profession but I am really stumped with this one.

A: You are in the perfect place to counsel the blabber about how spreading damaging rumors will hurt him or herself as well as the estranged spouse. You can say you understand how under extreme stress it may feel good to strike out. But the person spreading rumors about a loved one (even one no longer loved) demeans him or herself. If there are children involved, this will do terrible damage to them. Surely, you can find the right Bible passages to back you up. You can say you are there to provide a safe space to unload, but that you urge that even when a marriage breaks down, that each party is entitled to their privacy and dignity.

Q. Re: Complaining: I too am a very critical person. So I got a job that involves pointing out the flaws in others' work. That way I can get my nitpicking out of my system at the office and be much more pleasant to my friends and family.

A: For obvious reasons I love this solution. But in my case, my family would tell you it's not been wholly effective.

Q. Bad Boss: My boss is a volatile man. One moment he can be charming, asking about my personal life, and make thoughtful small talk. The next he can be petty, abrasive, and foul. When he gets mad he will remind me how much he has done for me and that I owe him the same thoughtfulness back. Lately, his yelling even includes profanity. After he calms down, he will be extra nice to me for days or weeks. No apology or acknowledgement is ever given. One particular rant was about how he suspected I was applying to other jobs. Obviously, I am because the man behaves like this, but his yelling forced me to lie and say that I wasn't looking. Is this behavior acceptable? I feel like if this were my BF, we would all agree that he was abusive and manipulative and you would be coaching me to get out. I should mention, this is a six-figure, white-collar job.

A: You can't be the only person who wants to flee this abuse. It is amazing how many unbalanced people rise to where they essentially have carte blanche to work out their psychological troubles on others. You have brought up a really great point about how if your boss were your boyfriend, you would have been long gone, but that it can be harder to extract yourself from an abusive employer. Keep in mind that this punitive guy might try to harm you when it comes to reference time. So I hope there are other superiors in the company you can use to vouch for you.

Q. Running Away: I have a grown daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter whom I love all with all my heart. They have been living with my husband and me for the past 20 months. My husband and I both work and we take our granddaughter to and from day care, then watch her until her mother gets home, and care for her all day on Saturdays. The past few Sundays, I have been spending time in my room just to have a break. My husband has told me I am ignoring him, daughter, and granddaughter. I told my husband I was taking a trip over the upcoming weekend because I need a change. I did ask if he would like to come, and he got upset that I would even suggest going away without him. Am I wrong to want to take a break from my daughter and granddaughter? I have spent every day with all of them for more than a year.

A: You deserve the "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, Martyr's Version" award. You rescued your daughter and granddaughter. But that does not mean your freedom comes to an end or that your daughter is now freed from her own obligations of motherhood. You should not have to barricade yourself in your room just to get a breather from what are absurd and intolerable demands. All of you need a reset on your living situation. First of all, there has to be a serious discussion of what the long-term plan is. If this is going to be permanent, that should be a decision all of you make, not just fall into. Next, there has to be some clear delineation of duties. If your daughter works all day Saturday, then she needs to actually hire a babysitter so you and your husband have the weekend off. If she's just enjoying a break from motherhood at your expense, you've got to tell her that's over. Having your daughter take more responsibility for her daughter will allow you to be a better grandmother.

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Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at the Atlantic.