The one reason to complain

Complaining is mostly a toxic behaviour. All of us can bear witness to the gloominess that washes over us when we’re in the company of a serial whiner; we’d tear down walls in order to escape the situation. Every self-righteous word vanquishes a bit of your soul. The worst thing you could do is attempt to suggest a fix for the thing being complained about, because that isn’t the desired outcome. Incessant whiners just want to whine.

It’s difficult to be empathetic in such situations, but we should certainly try. People of this kind are usually infected with deep-seated bitterness; their lives don’t match their expectations, and instead of having the courage to fix what’s bothering them, they relinquish the responsibility and complain instead. It’s much easier, after all.

There’s many reasons that people complain, and most of them are counterproductive to our mental health. For many of us, the hardest one to resist is physical pain. Hurting is horrible, and with it comes a tendency to vocalise the experience, whether it be groaning, grunting, or divulging to our partner in boring detail about every unpleasant sensation. Emotional pain is just as extreme, and carries similar effects.

Others might grumble because they’re aware of its power to bond. Many a friendship has been forged in the fires of Mount Gloom. Our judging and whining is met with nodding heads, and we become a little bit closer. We simply can’t believe that so and so would do such an awful thing, and by stating the fact we’re elevating ourselves above them, dismissing the possibility that we’d ever act in such an animalistic way. Nothing is more self-congratulatory than a high horse. We’re recruiting an army of like-minded whiners; together we can set this crooked world straight.

Being spoiled is another major factor. A hungover barista forgot to put chocolate sprinkles on our cappuccino, and we can’t find the words to express how much of an idiot he is. He has one job to do. Later on our flight is delayed by an hour, and it’s literally the worst thing to happen to anyone, ever. Never mind the fact that air travel is one of the greatest of human inventions, and we’re incredibly fortunate to have it. This type of spoiled demeanour is often paired with a lack of control, fuelled by our desire to direct everything so that it works out exactly as we want it to. The instant our expectations aren’t met, a complaint appears on our lips.

If you’re with friends and an extended spell of silence falls over the group, it’s likely that someone will whine or gossip about something in order to extinguish the awkwardness. It’s an older person’s favourite trick, and they mop it up like leftover gravy. Complaining feels good; it’s definitely preferable over the tension of silence.

Every complaint strengthens the neural pathways dedicated to complaining, making the road more likely to be travelled. Before you know it, you could be a serial whiner.

So should complaining be avoided at all costs? Not entirely. We all experience strong negative feelings from time to time, and bottling them up isn’t a good strategy. You may be depressed about your tedious career, and are talking about it with your partner. If we’re to stay sane, we absolutely must talk about such things. What we need to be mindful of is the approach that we’re taking – are we playing the role of the victim? The poor helpless individual who can’t get ahead in life no matter what we do? Or are we venting our frustrations in order to make things clearer to ourselves, and our partners? Are we having a conversation which leads us down the path to a solution? If you’re complaining about something and you have no desire to improve it (or it’s outside of your control), your whining is just serving to make you feel worse in the long run. The next time it pops into your head, you’ll be more likely to complain about it again, because you’ve trained yourself to do so.

Another great technique for this kind of complaining is writing. It helps to organise the jumble of negative thoughts that are swirling around in your head, out of which might emerge a solution to the problem. You might just write your way into a happier life.

The next time you catch yourself opening your mouth to complain about something, consider whether you actually want to fix what you’re whining about, or if you’re just being a pissy little bitch. The difference is crucial.

“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.” – Eckhart Tolle

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