Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“Pity Parties”

From time to time, people will complain to me about something that’s not going right in their life. Maybe it’s a job that sucks, a relationship that isn’t working, a feeling of being stuck, or something else. I like listening, being the one to be there for them with a friendly ear. It’s the least I can do, given all the ears I’ve chewed off over the years. Sometimes people just want to be listened to.

Sometimes they’re looking for advice. They want the situation to end or to change, and no idea they’ve ever come up with has ever made a difference. Sponsor/sponsee relationships are like that a lot. There’s an underlying ‘everything I try doesn’t work; help me to do something different’ undercurrent to most conversations. But whether it’s someone looking for advice or just needing to be heard, I still like listening.

One thing that’s frustrating, though, is when someone isn’t looking to change or unload or distress, they just want to bitch and piss and moan so that others will feel sorry for them. I’m thinking of someone I worked with a few years back who was always going on and on, whining and complaining about the chaos and insanity of her life. If anyone tried to give her advice on how to change things, she’d just interrupt and run ramshod over whatever it is you were trying to tell her with more ‘poor me’. She didn’t want things to change; having others feel sorry for her was the only way she knew to make herself feel good. And to extend this twisted logic, why would she want her life to improve? If things went well, she wouldn’t have anything to complain about and no way to manipulate those around her into feeling sorry for her.

No one likes to be dragged into a pity party. I’ve probably pissed off more than a few people by refusing to be drawn in. They say, “woe is me!” And I say, “yep, sucks to be you.” I use this technique a lot with panhandlers who spin their yarns trying to get me to give them money. They launch into a big diatribe about missing a bus or needing to fix a car so they can get to the funeral of some distant relative, or whatever. I listen for as long as I feel like, and then say, “yep. That sucks.”

If you want my advice, I’ll give it. If you just want to be heard, I’ll listen. If you want me to feel sorry for you, I suggest you take your sob story to the convenience store down the block. The ‘poor me’ currency carries very little weight over here.

In Recovery, we learn to become people of action. If we’re unhappy about a situation, we take action to change it. If there’s nothing we can do about it, we give it over to our Higher Power and let it go. Sometimes there’s nothing more aggravating than listening to someone whine and complain about how horrible whatever it is that they’re going on about, only to have them climax the story with a determination to not do anything to change it.

We don’t need others’ sympathy. Other people feeling sorry for us doesn’t help us to change our situations, it only keeps us locked in them, feeding off that false sense of love. Someone feeling sorry for us isn’t love, it’s pity, and it doesn’t help our self-esteem--it makes it worse. Whining and complaining in order to get others’ sympathy is manipulation. And that is not the way.

What helps our self-esteem is taking action to change what we can. What helps us feel better is the empathy of someone who has been where we are. We change what we can; we let go of the rest. No one can pull us out of the pity-party hole. But we can choose to pull ourselves out.

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