Do you have a chronic complainer in your life?
Is trying to deal with these expert button-pushers leaving you with feelings of hopelessness, frustration, even anger?
In her excellent post called What Is A Victim Role, Psychcentral blogger Dr. Linda Hatch identifies three behaviors and feelings that those who see themselves as victims* might bring to a relationship.
These are: Defensive Self-Righteousness, Emotional Reactivity, and Retreating Into Addiction.
These behaviors are extremely frustrating for people on the receiving end.
We’d like to add another role those who feel victimized often engage in, the role of Help-Rejecting Complainer.
It’s not a pretty term, but it is a useful one when applied accurately.
A help-rejecting complainer is someone who directly or indirectly asks for help. A lot. Constantly.
Then they refuse the help that is offered.
Their request for help is generally in embedded in a complaint, for example, “My house is so hot in the summer I don’t know how I can cope anymore.”
Sometimes, there are waterfalls of complaints, referred to as dumping. Dumping usually occurs when the person doesn’t feel he is getting enough attention from you or the kind of attention or sympathy he craves.
Or, when the person is so overwhelmed by bad feelings he wants to lash out, but is afraid that a direct attack will chase you away.
This is dumping, especially when engaged in over and over again, on multiple occasions: “My house is so hot in the summer I don’t know how I can cope anymore. And my feet are killing me. And so and so was rude to me, he is such an awful human being. And my parents ruined my life. And I have indigestion.”
Listening to multiple complaints, one after the other, is exhausting and emotionally draining. When you, the listener, offer well-meaning advice or even go a step further, and offer concrete help such as phone numbers to expert help, web sites, books, and other printed matter, or other types of solution-oriented feedback, the help-rejecting complainer is nearly always dismissive of your efforts.
Some responses of the help-rejecting complainer might be:
That won’t help.
What he’s really saying: What a dumb idea. You are as inadequate as I secretly feel.
You don’t understand how complex, tricky, difficult, painful, overwhelming, unique, my problem is.
What he’s really saying: My problem has never existed in world history. It is unique, unlike your paltry problems which don’t count. You are too insensitive to understand.
That won’t work, I’m going to do such and such.
What he’s really saying: I’ll show you. I’m not getting what I want so I’ll do something “bad,” and indulge in behaviors or actions that are risky or even dangerous. And it will be all your fault.
The help-rejecting complainer nearly always rejects your help or advice up front; on occasion though they may say they will try what you suggest, and they do try it, but only in a way that sabotages success.
Sometimes, they say they’ll try your advice, and have no intention of trying it. Experience shows that the help-rejecting complainer is someone who may deal a bit loosely with the truth. The truth, in their eyes, is anything that furthers their blame-game.
Whether they do try your advice or only say they are going to try it, a help-rejecting complainer will always come back and say, “I tried your advice, and it didn’t work.”
For example, you might suggest that they read a book or take a class pertinent to their particular problem. Let’s say they have mild anxiety and you recommend a book on relaxation techniques. You even purchase the book for them and tell them how much it helped you.
The help-rejecting complainer might skim the book, try a technique once or twice, and blame the failure on the author or more likely, you.
By blaming you for giving “useless” advice, the help-rejecting complainer has, for all intents and purposes, transferred some, or even all, of the blame for his problem onto you!
He is now relieved of personal responsibility for dealing with his problem.
Where does that leave you?
Dealing with personal frustration, most likely. But you are not the person’s therapist and are not responsible for treating him.
Dealing with help-rejecting complainers in a clinical setting, though still challenging, is a bit different from dealing with them in friendships or other relationships. In a clinical setting there are a variety of techniques a therapist can use which are only appropriate to a clinical setting.
But in a friendship, or a relationship such as a family relationship, you may not have the options a therapist has, especially if you’d like to keep the relationship going.
You may find yourself walking on eggshells, being attacked or blamed constantly, on the receiving end of even more dumping (and often seething, angry dumping at that).
It’s an unpleasant feeling, and even someone with healthy personal boundaries may find it difficult to de-personalize the attacks. You may end up feeling like you just want to end the relationship—but you fear that if you do, you’ll face retribution and bad-mouthing.
This is a reasonable fear since the help-rejecting complainer views you as, at least, partially responsible for his problems. He probably has no qualms about complaining about you to others.
It is not uncommon for the help-rejecting complainer, when complaining about you to tell everyone you got angry with him and broke off the relationship. Maybe he’ll tell them how unreasonable you are. Or, he’ll scrutinize comments you’ve made, de-contextualize them, and turn them into a hateful remark.
He’ll even outright lie, but to him, the lie has become a kind of truth.
Why do people complain then reject help?
Why do some of people find themselves in these types of relationships again and again? (What’s your part in this pattern.)
What can you do if you find you are in a relationship like this?
More coming soon!
*There is a very real, clinical difference between someone who has been victimized or someone who has to work through painful emotions and experiences, from someone who has become bogged down in the role of perpetual victim and complains repeatedly, without real reason or improvement. We do not mean to imply otherwise. Sometimes it is a fine line. Therefore, it generally it is best to give people a respectful, benefit of the doubt without repeated experiential evidence.
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Last reviewed: 18 Feb 2013