by Mary Russell, M.S.
When you hear the word “complaining” you probably have some sort of negative reaction. It probably conjures up images of people in your life who whine or routinely throw themselves pity parties but don’t do anything to improve their circumstances. What you may be less likely to think of are the times when you yourself were the whiner. So why might that be? I’ll be the first to admit out loud the dirty little secret many of us hold…
Complaining often feels VERY GOOD
No one likes being faced with difficult situations but when we are, our natural reaction may be to seek support from others. We may search for validation and compassion to help soothe ourselves in our times of need. Complaining is an excellent way of garnering such attention. When we whine, people pay attention – see how well it works for babies? But the big difference between a whining infant and ourselves is that – luckily – we are capable of changing and improving our circumstances!
Complaining may be effective in getting people to pay attention us and thus fulfill our goal of obtaining social support. Nonetheless, in the long run, it runs the risk of 1) annoying other people and 2) maintaining our negative emotions. Complaining and the thoughts that fuel our complaints are generally very effective at keeping us paralyzed in an angry, anxious, or overall unhealthy emotional state.
So how can you get the support you need without the incessant complaining that ticks others off and keeps you upset? When you’re faced with a problem or difficult situation, you can assure yourself it is indeed a stinky situation. Something you didn’t want to happen has happened. Unfortunately, that’s life and you can choose to look at it as stinky but certainly not horrible. Nonetheless, it makes sense that you’d be feeling upset. Give yourself some realistic validation – but not for too long! As soon as you are calm enough, try asking yourself what can be done to improve your circumstances. If you’d like, rationally express your frustration or worry to a friend or loved one while also seeking their help in problem-solving. Others may be less likely to become annoyed when they feel like they can help you and think that you’re not JUST seeking attention. Further, by not ruminating and working to improve your situation you’re less likely to feel paralyzed by your negative emotions and more likely to feel empowered and productive.
So your homework this week (and mine!): Catch yourself complaining, STOP, rationally validate yourself, and problem-solve on your own and with help from others. You will thank yourself (and so will your friends)!
Source: Albert Ellis Institute
Intense negative emotions, experienced in response to difficult life situations, are known to fuel unhealthy use of alcohol and drugs for some people. For addiction recovery tools you can use to learn to let go of paralyzing negative emotions in a healthy way, visit SMART Recovery Tools and Articles.