One of my favourite books is called “Games People Play” by Eric Berne. Published in the mid-60s it was a pop psychology best seller, looking at different kinds of interactions people can have, and what they really mean.
Many of these interactions – which he calls “Games” – are very easily recognisable in our everyday lives. And one of the most famous Games that he identifies, he calls YDYYB, or “Why Don’t You….? Yes But…”
YDYYB is played when two people are talking. One of them, let’s call her A, is complaining about something in her life: it might be her job, or her family life, or anything really. A wants to have a moan to a sympathetic listener.
The person she is talking to, let’s call her B, is sympathetic and wants to help. She suggests things that A could do to change her situation: “Why don’t you try for a promotion?” “Why don’t you call a family meeting and set out some new ground rules?”… and so on. B is sympathetic but has overlooked the fact that A has a brain herself and is perfectly able to come up with her own solutions.
B is almost certainly making these suggestions without having been asked,– which puts her into the category of rescuer (which you can read about in another blog post, To The Rescue). So her suggestions are not helping, and at some level are probably quite irritating to A, who really just wanted to have a moan and let off a bit of steam.
So A replies by pointing out the reasons why B’s suggestions aren’t going to work: “yes but there are no promotions available,” “yes but we tried a family meeting a few months ago and it went horribly.” Whatever B suggests, A will have a “yes, but…” to counter the suggestion.
The game ends with A feeling deflated. B will be feeling unsatisfied as well, but also possibly slightly vindicated, because she has shown that her problem is real, and large, and difficult to overcome.
Is this something that happens to you a lot? If so, don’t worry. I think it happens to all of us. Sometimes we occupy the A role, the complainer. And sometimes we are B, offering suggestions. And we will always be unsatisfied by this game. Worse, we can get stuck into a repeating pattern of playing this game with a particular person, that can leave us feeling incredibly frustrated and misunderstood.
So what is the solution?
Wanting to complain or moan about a situation is perfectly legitimate. Sure, sometimes we may find we are doing it more than usual, and that can be a problem for our loved ones. On the other hand, some people never moan or complain. That can be problematic too, if it means that just because we are trying to be stoic, we are actually putting up with a situation that we would be better off changing. But a bit of moaning now and again is fine and costs nothing.
The crucial point, to avoid playing YDYYB, is to make it clear that having a moan is what you are doing, and that you don’t want suggestions. And if you are the person listening, I recommend you just listen without making suggestions, offering help or otherwise rescuing. To the moaner, a sympathetic ear is true friendship, and they will appreciate that far more than unsolicited advice.