One recent book, with the paradoxical title Constructive Wallowing addresses the power of self-pity. Written by self-esteem expert and mental health counselor, Tina Gilbertson, it shows readers how to beat bad feelings by letting themselves have them.
The author believes that by always trying to focus on the bright side, we actually cut ourselves off from the understanding and support we need most. On the other hand, by learning to accept and embrace, rather than suppress difficult feelings, we gain understanding, personal power and ultimately self-esteem.
In other words, feeling bad and wallowing about it, can actually lead to feeling better.
A close cousin to wallowing, which we frequently think of in negative terms but which can make us feel better too, is complaining. Researchers are finding that “effective complaining”, like constructive wallowing, could have some mental health benefits. For instance, you may feel satisfied when you complain to a customer service agent and, because of your complaint, get the issue resolved.
In Yiddish there is a great word that means to complain and to whine…a lot. That word is “kvetch.” While I don’t like the negative connotation of constantly complaining, a good kvetch once in a while can accomplish some constructive things.
Kvetching, for example, can relieve stress. Providing your venting doesn’t cause stress for others, it can help you get something off your chest even if no one else but you hears it. In addition, it can also be a social icebreaker that bonds you and someone else together as you both kvetch about something that is a common annoyance.
And at times, kvetching can even provide a good cleansing laugh. For example, Roberta’s mother bought her first telephone answering machine. Below is what she recorded on it.
“If you want me to make smoked salmon when you visit, press 1.”
“If you want chopped liver press 2.”
“If you want chicken soup, press 3.”
“If you want chicken soup with matzo balls, press 4.”
“If you want to know how am I feeling, you must have dialed the wrong number because nobody ever asks me how I am. Who knows, I could even be dead by now.”
And from the Zen tradition comes an exaggerated humorous story about the foolishness of complaining.
Once there was a very strict Zen monastery. The monks-in-training, who lived there, were allowed to say only two words every ten years. One day, the head monk asked a “new” monk for his two words.
"Bed hard," the novice replied.
Ten years later the monk was asked again for two words.
"Food stinks," he said.
After ten more years, he once again was allowed two words.
"I quit!" said the monk.
"Well, I can see why," replied the head monk. "All you ever do is complain."