Speaking Truth to Whining
Autoplastic vs. alloplastic
During my second graduate studies program, when learning to be an activist first and social worker second, I was taught the phrase “speaking truth to power.” It implies a moral imperative for people to stand up for what they consider truthful and good, especially to authoritative figures perceived to maintain positions of power.
One obvious flaw with this tactic is that individuals don’t necessarily agree about what is good, bad, right, wrong, truthful, untruthful, or otherwise. Person X declares that it is a good practice not to consume meat while person Y disagrees by maintaining that it isn’t wrong to do so.
Who is right? Which argument is good? Is one of these positions truthful and the other false? Which claim warrants compulsory moral action by which it’s demanded that others should, must, or ought to adhere?
Because of its inherently subjective nature, speaking truth to power holds little meaning to me. Instead of autoplastic adaptation (a form of adaptation where the subject attempts to change itself when faced with a difficult situation), an activistic technique uses alloplastic adaptation (a form of adaptation where the subject attempts to change the environment when faced with a difficult situation).
With autoplasticity, person X admits truth by understanding the limits of influence or control over others. Dissatisfied with meat-eating, person X decides not to consume meat on a personal level and isn’t concerned with forcing others to do the same.
Regarding alloplasticity, person X adopts a pseudo-truth—that all meat-eaters are bad people and they shouldn’t consume animal products. As a result, person X takes initiative not only to influence though to outright control the eating behavior of others.
The result of alloplastic activism often manifests in the form of whining—complaining in a childish or petulant manner. If person Y refuses to adopt person X’s moral imperative, person X then rushes to social media to whine while garnering support from others of like mind.
Albert Ellis, originator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), reportedly once stated, “So I’d better stop my whining and help myself cope better with even the worst Adversities,” in reference to self-disturbing beliefs which impact emotions and behaviors.
From an REBT perspective, it isn’t occurrences which lead to unpleasant outcomes, forming an Action-Consequence connection. Rather, what we tell ourselves about these events is the cause of our undesirable reactions, forming a Belief-Consequence connection.
As such, REBT is consistent with autoplastic adaptation. Using this psychotherapeutic technique in both my personal and professional life, I’m uninterested in venting, whining, moaning, bitching, and complaining.
When I tell this to new clients, some people are surprised to learn that sessions with me aren’t necessarily spent whining about trivial inconveniences. Even when a displeasing matter occurs that isn’t of a minor nature, I don’t passively sit in silence as a client vents to me.
As an REBT practitioner, I’m not as concerned with helping people feel better as much as my goal is to help individuals get better. Therefore, whining isn’t valued nearly as much as helping people cope with even the worst adversities in their lives.
Recently, I visited the “Unexpected” subreddit (Reddit) and discovered a brief video of an interview featuring television personality Danny Bonaduce during which he discussed his experience with addiction. Bonaduce stated of traditional addiction group therapy treatment, versus Antabuse:
“I don’t wanna sit around with a bunch of people who are whining that their mothers didn’t love them and their daddies didn’t hug them, and I can’t get a job, and girls don’t like me. So what!” and, “I want them to shut up and stop whining!”
Bonaduce’s perspective, though perhaps considered to be crass by those who prefer to be coddled by proponents of mental health, isn’t inaccurate. Regarding a discussion about addiction, Ellis described how people self-sabotage success with irrational beliefs.
Whining about how a parent didn’t love you or show you much affection, complaining about difficulty with employment, and moaning about the lack of an intimate relationship may be cathartic. After venting, you may momentarily feel better.
However, I doubt people actually get better when gathering together and griping about how their unrealistic assumptions aren’t fulfilled. Therefore, I can understand Bonaduce’s blunt admission about wanting people to “shut up and stop whining,” even if I don’t adopt the same strategy in my practice.
Concerning my approach, in a blogpost entitled Pop Another, I stated:
I don’t jump at the opportunity to pathologize substance-involved behavior, declaring all use as abnormal, unhealthy, bad, or wrong. Rather, I seek to know what’s up with people’s behavior and how it serves them—or not.
Because I don’t work with minors, I don’t baby my clients. Understanding that some people actually expect to be infantilized during psychotherapeutic practice, when reading the Reddit post I suspected there may be considerable pushback to Bonaduce’s statement.
I found this comment to be remarkably insightful. The commenter used personal ownership and admitted a true thing.
Unlike the farcical depiction of someone experiencing substance use, abuse, or dependence necessarily hating the process of consumption, the Redditer admitted that many people do so, because it feels good. This likely isn’t an admission of someone who values victimhood.
Speaking truth to whining by confessing that a person may consume for pleasure, rather than in association with a perceived lack of choice or ability to stop, shatters the concepts I’ve heard espoused by many clinicians. In the subreddit video, Bonaduce continued by stating:
“There are very few things, to be honest with you, that the people—the professed people at rehab and therapists—there are very few things they actually get right. For the most part, they’re incredibly wrong.”
I concur with Bonaduce’s statement as much as I appreciate the subreddit respondent’s disclosure. For instance, there are contradictory claims about the effectiveness of 12-step programs.
To be charitable to strategies such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), it appears that rigid interventions may help some people achieve sustainable remission. For others, as is apparently the case with Bonaduce, perhaps this isn’t true.
To be fair, I don’t know of a single intervention strategy aimed at addressing substance disorders that works for everyone. This is true of REBT, as well.
If person X truthfully admits that AA treatment wasn’t a proper fit for him and he chooses an autoplastic adaptation method to change his life, I see nothing particularly unhelpful about person X’s approach. If AA didn’t work for him and he found something that did, well done!
On the other hand, if person Y whines about how the only acceptable way to treat a substance disorder is through AA, thus adapting an alloplastic strategy, I question the moral imperative. Simply because AA works for some people doesn’t mean everyone must use the intervention to address addiction.
During graduate school, I was encouraged to speak truth to power as a form of alloplastic action against perceived injustices. Changing oneself wasn’t suitable, because social work students were invited to instead change the world in order to achieve social justice.
As a result, I observed many of my peers obsessively whining about any imaginable petty slight under the sun. As an example, regarding the term “master bedroom,” one source states:
While it’s unclear whether the term is rooted in American slavery on plantations, it evokes that history. Now, because of its slavery-era connotations, some members of the real estate industry are now calling to retire the term “master.”
This isn’t a demonstration of speaking truth to power as much as it relates to the infantilization of people who disturb themselves over words which offended their irrational beliefs. Treating adults like children—refraining to use no-no words around them—isn’t demonstrative of empowerment in any meaningful way.
Likewise, indulging petulant whining as a means of addressing problems in life isn’t necessarily helpful. Rather than complaining and seeking alloplastic adaptation strategies, I use REBT to help people get better from often self-perpetuated problems.
When recently listening to an interview featuring Danny Bonaduce, I appreciated his confession about how treatment X was ineffective for him and how he therefore opted for treatment Y.
As well, I found it refreshing to know that one Redditer was honest enough to admit that it wasn’t necessarily that the evil dragon of addiction was oppressing the person. Rather, the commenter admitted to consumption for the purpose of pleasure.
If person Z owns up to the fact that consuming substance Y occurs because she must experience bliss at all costs, it would logically follow that substance use or abuse would take priority over other matters. In this case, I can work with the irrational belief that drives person Z’s behavior.
However, I don’t have education, training, or certification in the act of slaying dragons. Speaking truth to whining by taking personal responsibility and accountability for one’s actions is a meaningful step towards addressing treatment of addiction.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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