The Truth About Complaining
What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain. - Maya Angelou
How many times during the day do you hear yourself complain?
When we first engage someone in conversation, we are seeking a response. It might be that we are looking for an answer to our question. We might seek messages of support, alliance, or agreement. We might be looking to inform or teach someone and therefore we want to know that we have been understood. We may require permission or approval. Sometimes we only need confirmation that we have been heard.
When we strike up a conversation there is an unseen contract that is drawn up between parties. I speak. You respond. I show that I am either satisfied or I need something more or something else. You respond.
Within all interactions there is a ‘locus of power.’ Someone during the conversation holds the power to either grant or refuse the desired response. The locus of power can shift as the interaction continues. You can read about this in more detail in our book:
In her book ‘Warrior Heart Practice’ HeatherAsh Amara describes a fun game to play when communicating with those we know well. Here we say either ‘vent,’’ advice’, or ‘share’ before we speak, so that the recipient knows what is expected from them before we begin. If I am ‘venting’ you only need listen without judgement. If I am ‘sharing’ I may be seeking your congratulations or condolences. If I need ‘advice’ then your opinion is required.
But what are we seeking when we complain?
There appear to be two types of complaint.
Firstly there is the valid complaint that we make when we have had poor service or faulty goods. Providing that we are communicating clearly, without contamination and, importantly, to the right person, we might get a good resolution. However, if we moan about the service to our friends at the table but then smile sweetly at the waitress as she passes, we are behaving in a contaminated way. See our article about speaking your truth here:
Secondly, we may want to complain about something which appears to us to be less within our control, such as our working environment, the behaviour of our neighbour, how little we are paid, how messy our children are, that we are in pain or that we are tired. Here we may not be seeking resolution at all.
Here are some of ours:
I’m so tired
I’m have a headache/backache/ neckache
I’m so low in mood
I’m working too much
Other people are such bad drivers
Other people are so inefficient
The environment is so messy
Other people are so unclear
Other people are so rude in not replying/responding
To use HeatherAsh’s words, we may be venting or seeking advice or support, and this can be useful to us at first.
There is no problem with making these observations one time.
However, there is a problem when, as happens all too often, this type of complaining becomes a repetitive pattern of behaviour, a habit.
This is affirmation.
We have spoken about the positive effects we achieve with affirmation when we make it a conscious practice, here:
However, it is possible to fall into the habit of using repetitive complaining as a way to affirm our helplessness and invoke the victim within us. The victim aspect of the psyche is likely to be instrumental in blocking our progress and keeping us ‘stuck.’
‘If my misery is the fault of something or someone else, then I am powerless to do anything about it. This means that, miserable as I am, I do not have to make changes. I can stay put. I Know exactly where I am. There is no risk, and nothing is required of me.’
This behaviour is usually unconscious and can be very damaging to our mindset. It is also likely to have a negative effect on our body chemistry, and subsequent mood. Low mood may then drive further complaint thus driving us further into the negative cycle.
To break free of repetitive negative complaining try a complaint fast.
Set a time limit, for example, a week.
Set the intention that for a minimum of one week you will completely desist from complaining.
That, if negative things happen, you will simply observe them, take any action that you need to, such as taking painkillers, tidying up, improving your sleep routine or organising your time effectively. That, if no action can be taken to remedy the situation, you will actively accept things just as they are.
You may want to begin as you have done before by invoking the Observer within you. Remember that this is the part of the psyche that can observe your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours without doing the thinking, feeling or behaving. It is simply your witness without judgement.
You may observe moments where you feel the compulsion to complain. You can then consciously choose to either state the facts once, if someone absolutely needs to hear them, but to otherwise desist.
We found that, when we put this into practise, we soon entirely lost the compulsion and went straight into the following mindset:
‘I have agreed with myself that I will not complain and therefore this needs to take up no more of my energy.’
It was very liberating and became a bit like a game. We felt a profound sense of being set free
from having to engage in heavy, negative thought processes. It resulted in a feeling of increased time and energy and elevated mood. The responses of those around us were interesting. When we explained the premise, there was support and admiration and in some cases delight! It was a winner on all sides.
Try it. You might not go back!
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