Responding to the Whiner In Chief
Responding to the Whiner In Chief

Responding to the Whiner In Chief

Among all the character flaws one might attribute to the 45th president of the United States, one of the most annoying is that he is a chronic whiner. Almost every time he takes to Twitter it is for the express purpose of whining and complaining about one thing or the other. Here are a few recent examples:

These next three have to be taken as a single statement:

But wait, we’re not done yet. There are still these:

And those are just a few from the past month! Gripe, gripe, complain, whine. Rather reminds me of a three-year-old who needs a nap, doesn’t it?

Normally, we would compare/contrast this president’s actions compared to his predecessors to see whether such an attitude is normal. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama was the first president to use Twitter and that wasn’t until he was into his second term. However, what we can do is compare recent tweets from previous presidents. I’ll admit, though, I had difficulty finding anything that might be considered a complaint.  Here’s what I came up with:

That’s it. Just the one. Mind you, I checked accounts for George W. Bush (43), Bill Clinton, and George H. W. Bush (41). Neither of the Presidents Bush have accounts outside their libraries. I looked through Mr. Clinton’s account all the way back through October of last year, before the election, and found nothing. Well, almost nothing. There was this:

I don’t think many people would exactly consider that a complaint. More like poking fun.

So what, exactly do we do with a president who seems to do nothing but whine?

First of all, let’s admit that it just seems as though he whines all the time. He says a lot of things that begin with phrases like, “Honored to …” and “Thank you to …” and even, “It was my pleasure to …” There are a lot of those in his Twitter feed. Those aren’t controversial statements, though (well, most the time), and statements relating to policy are a different bucket of worms. We have the perception that the president whines a lot largely because we were not witness to the others whining at all. We never heard President Obama’s frustration with the whole birther issue (which the current president fueled). He produced his birth certificate then joked about the issue from there on out. President Bush (43) received tremendous criticism from almost every possible corner of the country and it would be unreasonable to think that didn’t bother him a great deal. Yet, those gripes and complaints were never made public. We don’t have a guide book for dealing with this president because none of his predecessors have been such public cry babies.

Back in June of 2012, F. Diane Barth wrote an article for Psychology Today that had the following recommendations for dealing with people who whine a lot:

1 – Acknowledge to them that you understand both the distress and the feelings of helplessness and frustration. With a colleague, this may mean saying something like, “I know how you feel. And it’s worse because there’s really nothing we can do about it.” With a toddler and/or a dog, it may mean offering physical soothing.  A pat on the head for the animal, a verbalization and physical contact for the child: “I know you’re hungry sweetie, but I don’t have anything for you right now. Can you hold my hand for a few minutes till we get home?”

2 – Recognize that you cannot change their feelings. They are trapped in a painful situation, and your advice – and even your soothing – will not be enough to change their experience. They will continue to whine until they develop more of a sense of competence and internal strength, which will not happen overnight.

3 – Try to let them know that you know that it is not their fault, or at worst, it is not completely their fault. They are already silently, often unconsciously, blaming themselves for their difficulties. But because they are feeling guilty, they are going to keep asking you for the absolution they cannot give themselves. In the end, it is not you who can let them off the hook.

4 – Set firm, clear limits on how long you can listen and what you have to offer. With an office mate, for example, you can say, “I know this is really bothering you, and I’m so sorry about it. But unfortunately I can’t sit and talk any longer. I have to get back to work.” With a friend or family member, limit the amount of time you can stay on the phone. Introduce other topics. Tell them about something that is happening in your life. In other words, distract them (which, by the way, is often one part of my advice for parents and dog owners as well). Paradoxically, by setting limits you are also letting them know that you believe that they can deal with a little frustration on their own – and as long as the frustration is not overwhelming, this will help them begin to develop the internal strength they need to stop whining.

Now, Ms. Barth’s recommendations are designed for people we deal with in person on a regular basis, people with whom we have a daily relationship. Most of us can’t say that we have that kind of relationship with the president. Therefore, we need to adjust her recommendations somewhat. Here’s how I would apply her statements to the president:

  1. Someone needs to pat him on the head regularly and say, “I know you’re hungry. Here, have a Snickers® bar.” Be sure to stand ready with a wet wipe, though. You know he’s going to have chocolate all over his tiny hands.
  2. Recognize that the candy is just a temporary fix. He has to develop more of a sense of competence and that may not happen in the next four years.
  3. Let him know it’s not completely his fault that he’s president. Blame the Electoral College; it’s all their fault.
  4. Turn him off. Stop listening. Let him know we’ve had enough and we’ll start paying attention again when/if he starts making sense. Or he’s impeached, whichever comes first.

One thing on which the majority of psychologists now agree is that whining is often the result of giving someone too much attention and sympathy, such as often happens in psychotherapy sessions. Back away. Let him know that we’re still interested in what he’s doing, especially when he’s breaking things, but that we’re not going to indulge his tantrums. Don’t reply to his tweets. Don’t indulge his apologists such as Kelly Ann Conway. Just shut the metaphorical door and let him cry it out.

And maybe show some sympathy. Old people really are a lot like toddlers after all, and if we don’t die first we’ll all one day likely be just as fussy. We just won’t be in the embarrassing position of president of the United States. Hand him a candy bar so the grown-ups can get back to running the country.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Whiner In Chief
Photo: charles i. letbetter

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