Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options
to Chronic Whining

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/whiner.htm

Updated  02-02-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An "effective response" occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article  offers (a) perspective on "whining," and (b) options for responding to someone who whines "too much." It assumes you're familiar with...

      Th1s brief YouTube video offers observations on persecutor-victim-rescuer "relationship triangles." The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.


      How would you define "whining"? Do you know adults or kids who whine from time to time? Do you? All adults and kids have daily discomforts, disappointments, anxieties, and frustrations. "Well adjusted" people accept them and maintain a sense of humor as they seek to reduce their problems. Other people gripe, grouse, complain, moan, and whine.

      Pessimists assume the worst will happen in unclear or risky situations. Cynics and skeptics tend to see the worst motives and traits in people or groups, and/or little benefits to proposed changes. Whiners focus on their discomforts and how unfair life is to them. They often choose a "poor me" attitude despite their various gifts, freedoms, and opportunities. Their mantras are "I can't help it!", "I have no choices!", "Yes, but..."; and "I did everything I could, but..." They may seek sympathy, not solutions or growth.

      Chronic whiners may annoy you for several reasons:

  • it's hard to respect an able person who avoids owning their limits and responsibility for filling their own needs;

  • it's hard to be patient with someone who asks us to listen to their endless complaints, and shows no interest in ours;

  • it's hard to be cheerful around someone who needs to bemoan their circumstances all the time;

  • it's challenging to relate to someone who assumes a 1-down victim or martyr role "too often," despite encouragements and opportunities.

      Have you met anyone who whines "too much"? If so, how do you respond? Avoid them? Tolerate them? Repress your feelings? Impatience? Scorn? Pity? Amusement? Frustration? Irritation? Criticism? Something else? How do you feel about yourself when you interact with them?

Why Do People Whine?

      Your response to a whiner may shift if you understand why they need to do that. I propose that most or all of us have personalities composed of talented ''subselves,'' like members of an orchestra or sports team. One subself is very talented at leading the others effectively, like an expert coach or conductor. When our "true Self" guides our other subselves, we make wise, healthy decisions and relate to other people well in most situations.

      When other subselves distrust this inner leader, they can disable it and "take over" our personality. They can be called a ''false self,'' and can cause characteristic behaviors. Each subself means well, and brings one or more unique talents or traits to the host person. Common subselves include a Victim-Martyr, a Pessimist- Skeptic, a Cynic, a Shamed Child, a Guilty Child, a Scared Child, and - a Whiner.  

      If any of these subselves disable the Self (capital "S") and rule the personality, they cause characteristic traits - including whining.

      From this point of view, excessively or habitually "negative" people can't help being the way they are, until they commit to freeing their resident true Self to lead them. Lesson 1 in this nonprofit Web site explains this in more detail and offers a practical way to do it.

      If this theory is true, "overly-negative" people - including whiners - deserve compassion, not criticism or scorn. This does not mean you have to passively endure their annoying behaviors! Lets look at some...

Response Options

  • Use awareness skill to notice someone whose whining annoys you "significantly."

  • Remind yourself of the definition of an effective response, and on response basics until they're automatic;

  • Notice how you feel around this person, specifically - Irritated? Impatient? Bored? Amused? Superior? Pity? Compassion? Anxious? Sympathetic? Detached? Concerned? Something else? Your feelings point to what you need.

  • Review these ideas on relationship triangles, and keep your personal boundaries clear. Avoid trying to rescue, fix, or "save" (take responsibility for) the whiner;

  • Stay clear on the difference between the person and their behavior (whining).

  • If you decide to say something to the person, identify what you need - To vent? Learn? Hint? Persuade? Confront? "Be nice"? Remind? Problem-solve? Help the person? Set or enforce a boundary? Something else?

  • Depending on what you need, try respectful responses like these at an appropriate time:

"(Name), are you open to some personal feedback?" If you get "No," you have a different problem.

"When you focus on your troubles so often, I have a hard time listening to you."

"Are you aware of how often you complain / whine / moan ?"

"What blocks you from improving or resolving this situation?"

"Does the Serenity Prayer work for you?" (If s/he doesn't know the Prayer, recite it.)

"Would you say you're a 'glass-half-full' person, or 'half-empty'?"

"Are you aware of how often you say 'yes, but...'?"

"(Name), what do you need from me right now?"

"Are you aware of where you're focused right now?"

"When you need to repeat yourself so often, I tune you out."

"Who do you feel is responsible for solving your problem/s?"

"Are you aware of how often you say 'I can't _______'?"

"What do you see your options to be in this situation?"

"Can you tell me what you're afraid of?"

"So what would make you feel better?"

"(Name), when I experience you as whining, I feel ______ (and I need _______ )."

"How does whining and moaning help you?"

"I encourage you to think of your options, rather than on 'how bad it is'."

"I'm weary of listening to you complain, (Name). [If you continue, I'm going to (do something specific)]."

"Who's using your vocal cords now - a false self or your true Self?"

      Notice the theme of these responses (clear, brief, direct, honest, and respectful), and adapt it to fit your communication style. Also notice the responses that aren't included - like these:

Responses to Avoid

"You're about as fun as a last week's road-kill." (Shaming comparison)

"Get a life, will you?" (Shaming judgment)

"(Name), you really need to see a shrink." (Inference: "You're sick / crazy / 1-down.")

"Hey - how's the Queen of Doom and Gloom today?" (Put-down cloaked in humor)

"Well, what's your list of complaints today?" (Sarcastic put-down)

"Whine, whine, whine!" (Shaming put-down, vs. problem-solving)

"I was in a good mood before you started complaining again." (Blameful 'You' statement.)

      Most people would receive responses like these as disrespectful criticisms or inferences. They would probably increase a whiner's list of troubles and degrade the relationship.

Bottom line: if you must live or work with someone who whines "too much," you have many effective options for responding to them. Try responses like these and see if you get your needs met!


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common irritating social behaviors. This article offers (a) perspective on "excessive whining," and (b) a range of possible ways of  responding to a chronic or excessive complainer. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a genuine (vs. dutiful) mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

 This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful   

Share/Bookmark  Prior page  /  Lesson 2  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact