NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, The Healing Project.
Have you ever heard of the term, “Debbie Downer”? This term, based upon a fictional “Saturday Night Live” character, refers to a person who is frequently negative and complaining, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around her. Sadly, I have to admit that I can be this person at times, and since my name is Debbie, that makes it even worse!
I don’t mean to complain a lot, but there are times when I catch myself spouting out all kinds of negativity. At least I catch myself more often these days, but I am still dismayed when I realize I am whining and complaining. My husband gets the worst of it, and this normally very tolerant man has been known to lose his patience with me on occasion. Yesterday was one of those times, which is what has prompted me to write this post. I will look at why we complain, when it’s okay, and how to reform our tendency to gripe and moan.
Why We Complain
Why do we complain? Often it stems from a need to vent our frustration and feel “heard” by others. We want to be validated for our pain and aggravation, and sometimes we feel better after we get things off our chests. We’ve all heard the saying, “misery loves company,” and when we complain to others, we often find people jumping on the bandwagon to add their own grievances to the mix. But do we really feel better when others share in our disgruntled state?
Sometimes we complain because we’re looking for solutions. In my opinion, that may be the only time when complaining is really okay. If the person to whom we’re complaining is in a position of power to change the situation, that’s a best-case scenario. Unfortunately, however, the people to whom we gripe often have no influence over our circumstances and can do little more than helplessly listen to our complaints. I’ve known some wise souls who have cut habitual whiners off at the pass by simply suggesting, “Why don’t you tell this to someone who can actually do something about it.” At the very least, that sentiment might make the whiner think twice before complaining to that person the next time around.
People Want to Help
The people who are closest to us want to help us. They want to see us happy and doing well in life. If we come to them with a legitimate problem and ask for their help in solving it, they will generally do their best to help us find tangible and reasonable solutions. However, if we don’t heed their advice and keep coming back to them with the same problem over and over again, they may lose patience with us. We may wear out our welcome with them, no matter how much they love us.
We need to temper our impulse to go to our friends and family with problems on a regular basis. Our close relationships should be based upon much more than a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on, although those elements are both desirable and important. We need to strive for balance in our relationships and ensure that the enjoyable experiences outnumber the trying times as much as possible. If you think back to your last five encounters with a given loved one and remember complaining to them on more than two occasions, perhaps it’s time to inject a bit more fun into that relationship! Resolve to either cry on someone else’s shoulder or heed some of the advice you received from a prior confidante.
I often complain too much to my husband because I don’t have many other people in whom to confide. When I go to him with problems, I feel that I am genuinely looking for solutions, but I have to admit that I often don’t take the good advice he gives me. I go back to him hoping for different answers instead of first giving one of his useful tips a try. When I do this, I’m not being fair to him. I’m taking advantage of his good nature and his love and concern for me. Doesn’t he deserve to have a happy wife instead of one who whines and complains about the same things ad nauseum?
Moral Obligation to Act Happy
Radio talk show host Dennis Prager would say so. For close to fifteen years, he’s dedicated one of his fifteen weekly broadcast hours to the topic of happiness (he has also written an excellent book on the topic called “Happiness is a Serious Problem”). Prager asserts that we have a moral obligation to act happy, even when we don’t feel happy. He believes that happy people make the world a better place while unhappy people contribute to the ills of society.
While one may assume that Prager is advocating inauthenticity with his prescription to act happy, that is far from the truth. Rather, he values honesty and clarity in interpersonal relationships and believes that we should be open with our intimates about our life challenges. However, those topics should not dominate our interactions with loved ones by any means. We owe it to the people who love us to work on cultivating a happy disposition and to overcome our tendency to focus on the negative aspects of life. We should always endeavor to act as happy as possible and we will often be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves feeling more upbeat as a result.
Breaking the Complaining Habit
So how do we break the habit of complaining? It is helpful to consider the distinction between actions and reactions here. Often we simply react to situations in our lives without any consideration. This is the proverbial stimulus-response chain which is cultivated through social conditioning, much like the salivation of Pavlov’s dog upon hearing a bell ring. But there is another way!
As human beings, we can and should involve our powerful intellect instead of merely acting upon instinct. It is helpful to take a breath and pause before responding. During this brief time-out, it is helpful to consider the following related to complaining:
- Is the person to whom I’m speaking in a position of power to change the situation?
- Is what I’m about to say constructive?
- What type of response am I looking for here? Do I want advice, or am I merely looking to get something off my chest?
- What is the ultimate result I’m wanting in this situation?
If you simply want to “vent,” I suggest that you either write in a journal about your feelings or set a time limit for your complaining (e.g. “I can vent for 5 minutes, and then I will work on solutions”). If what you are considering saying will not be constructive, perhaps you should consider not verbalizing it at all. It’s entirely possible that both you and your companion would be better served by conversing on a more pleasant topic!
Remember the “Law of Attraction”
In closing, it is helpful to remember the Law of Attraction in regards to complaining. Simply stated, this “law” states that like attracts like. In other words, when we focus upon something, we attract more of it into our lives. Focusing on the negative will only serve to attract more negative, and none of us want that! Instead of looking at what’s wrong or lacking, I suggest you heed the advice given by Michael Losier in “Law of Attraction.” Ask yourself, “So what do I want?” Then focus on what you need to do to create that result. Easier said than done, it’s true, but much more productive and sanity-producing than complaining!