Source: Kazitafahnizeer / AdobeStock
Most of us complain from time to time, at least in the privacy of our own thoughts.
Bad weather ruins an activity planned months in advance.
Changes we didn’t ask for, and don’t want, assault us.
A friend or family member lets us down.
Complaining is a silent or vocal response to dissatisfaction. Sometimes our complaining targets someone in particular. Other times we direct a general, “Why me?,” at the heavens.
Since the dominant culture in the U.S. values positivity, complaining is socially, emotionally, and spiritually problematic for many Americans. This is true even for non-chronic complainers like you and me.
Pardon My Complaint
Many people avoid making negative comments in public as if it were the same as passing gas. They don’t want to “make a stink” about anything because then others might say they have a bad attitude, or even label them a “Debbie Downer.”
But relentless positivity (“Hey, at least you’re still alive!”) isn’t the right or only answer to a complaint. Life goes out of balance when constant light banishes every shadow.
The darker emotions don’t disappear. They go underground. Society becomes ill with anxiety, depression, alienation and violence. Anything familiar about that scenario?
There’s another way. We can respond to complaints by acknowledging the emotional pain that gives rise to them.
It starts with validating our own feelings, e.g.:
“YES, it stinks that it had to rain on the day we planned the picnic. What a drag.” (disappointment)
“Ugh. I voted against that measure, but it passed and now I have to live with it. How depressing.” (despair)
“My husband forgot to pick up the one thing I really needed, darn it!” (frustration)
If we get good at constructively wallowing in our negative emotions like this, we’ll be better able to make room for others’ occasional complaints.
Hearing a negative statement from someone else shouldn’t be uncomfortable or embarrassing. It should be just another aspect of social life.
Yes! to Feelings
Acknowledging so-called “negative” feelings (like resentment, regret, dread, etc.) doesn’t make them worse, or prolong them.
On the contrary, feelings that are allowed safe passage often burn out more quickly than those that are buried unaddressed.
Any toddler will prove the point; feelings don’t stick to young children the way they do to more practiced adults. In this way at least, many who appear to have reached emotional maturity may lag behind the average two-year-old, in that the adult isn’t able to experience and express a full range of emotion.
The next time you or someone else – not a chronic complainer, but a regular person – shows the courage to make a negative statement in the form of a complaint, look for the emotion underlying the observation, and give it (the emotion) some love by validating it.
Remember, no one gets hurt by a feeling. Only behavior can do harm.
Your compassionate response to complaints will help restore emotional balance in society.