Never Be Your Beast Of Burden

I am not fond of people who use open forums to whine about their lives or their take on the state of the world, unless they are willing to also discuss the potential for action and change.

But if one simply wants to spread the needy, infantile contents of their ego in a public venue; that, in my exceedingly humble opinion, is what psychotherapists are for. And hopefully part of a larger program which includes exploring positive, proactive ways to improve the subject or object of the complaint.

My aversion to “sharing” is partly the result of having lived many years in the pre-Oprah era.

I was probably the originator of the phrase “TMI” (too much information).  I’m not fond of “sharing” with perfect strangers.  It’s not that we shouldn’t talk about our problems, anxieties and traumas. I find talking about those things to be helpful in the proper context. I find talking about them out of the proper context to be self-centered and rude.

For me that “proper” context is usually in the midst of finding ways to deal with the issue so that it can come to some sort of resolution; real or imagined. That way, I don’t ever have to deal with the issue again, unless I choose to. And sometimes I undertake this task with the help of someone who has knowingly consented to share my burden.

But there are many who use the internet or social groups or the line at the grocery store to vomit their petty pinpricks of frustration all over the nearest bystander. This makes the vented feel better. But it doesn’t help them. Not really. It’s a quick fix. A cigarette. They are going to need another one in a couple of hours. And then some other innocent bystander is going to go home, covered in Vomitus Whinus.

Trust me, that stuff is both toxic and communicable.

That’s what people fail to comprehend. When you pass that stuff on to people who do not consent or are not “trained professionals” many times it affects them in a real and substantial way.

You vent to some patient, well-meaning stranger. They take it in whether they agree to or consciously want to. On the way home, they start thinking about the ways in which their world is broken. Or how their spouse has pissed them off. Or how their children don’t acknowledge or respect all the hard work they do

They take your bile into themselves and it becomes their bile.

And if they don’t have a way to deal with their issues, they will simply spread your dis-ease on to another unsuspecting soul. And I mean this quite literally.

Living in the South, I’m always amused in talking to new arrivals. Often they will have questions about the manners and mores of the region. What this phrase means or why people do that. And when I explain the basic rules, I will often say: “Oh, and never, ever ask a stranger how they are doing; because they will tell you.”

More often than not, their jaw will fall slightly, their eyes will widen and they will exclaim, “I KNOW!” And then they will relate some incident where they innocently spoke to some person in line or in the doctor’s office with the verbal tic of: “Hi, howareya?” And for the sin of being merely polite, were treated to 20 minutes of mind-bogglingly graphic details of this particular ailment or that unfortunate mishap.

In a relationship, by way of contrast, there can be an exchange. I share with my friends or my partner and when they need my ear, they share with me. It’s communal. We commune. We agree to share the other’s burden because we are emotionally or socially bonded to each other. And because we have this emotional contract, we know it is reciprocal; our ability to share our views and feelings is two-way street.

Sans relationship, i.e. on the internet or in line at the dry cleaners, you are merely spreading your dis-ease. I stumble on your exhibitionist-emo-ego-masturbation and I am faced with a limited series of choices:1)  try to ignore what I’ve been subjected to so far and hope that it hasn’t infected me, 2) whine back at you with my opinion or about my problems or 3) tell you to grow up,  learn to deal and develop some adult restraint.

The first is obviously the better choice. But let’s say I choose to engage you. Since you have already taken on the role of victim, the second choice would seem inappropriate. Why would I stomp all over your whine fest with my own? The 3rd choice makes me a condescending bully. So literally, I can’t come out of this unscathed, either by your vomitus or by public consensus.

Let me put this bluntly: the world’s population is not a personal stash of toilet paper for soaking up your spew. That is not a role we signed up for. I know this may send a rending shock through your world view but, believe it or not, you are not the center of the universe. I fully understand that growing up in a world which has encouraged you to foist your self-centered drivel to anyone who would listen has left you with the mistaken impression that you are somehow entitled to do so at will.

You are a child in the guise of an adult. Learn to practice some modicum of restraint.

It is somewhat like training your bladder. There are times when you need to “go”, but no relief is available. Consider whether pissing yourself in front of a perfect stranger would be socially acceptable. If you conclude that it is not, consider holding it until you find an appropriate outlet for your discomfort.

If you need help, get help. Barring an emergency situation, if you think choosing a perfect stranger to counsel you in exceedingly personal matters is helpful or productive I first suggest you explore the subject of coping skills.

Don’t simply expect me or any stranger to bear your burden without protest.