Hoax victimology, and the search for the black cat at midnight

Some people find happiness only in their sense of suffering. They need to feel that they suffer. They live off sympathy. They wallow in it. This phenomenon transcends the political. It is part of the greater human condition.

I have encountered this situation often enough in my thirty-plus years as a rabbi. Often the congregational rabbi or the pastor or priest is the “first responder” — the first person approached in a situation that might be medical, educational, marital, psychological. If the situation is manageable and can be handled with compassion, active listening, caring, and sound advice and follow-up, the clergy can handle it alone. On many other occasions, experienced clergy are trained as “first responders” to discern signs that the situation requires longer-term referral to a medical doctor, an educator, a therapist.

I had a person who wanted a pastoral session with me every week just to complain about how terrible her life is. In reality, it quickly became clear to me that she had little to complain about. She was in good health, financially secure, enjoyed a coterie of friends. But she wallowed in her obsessive self-pity. As one session began, I suggested that she accompany me to the hospital where I would be doing my weekly rounds of visiting the sick. She agreed. There we saw adult terminal patients and children with diseases that imperiled whether they would reach adulthood. We encountered real pain and suffering. Yet many of them were so inspiring because all they could say, even as I held back tears and maintained a supportive “poker face,” was how happy they were.

When we left the hospital, this woman who had accompanied me immediately reverted to complaining. She had absorbed nothing.