Have you ever been around someone who complains or criticizes constantly? It’s a downer, isn’t it? Negative words vibrate with low energy. This brings you and everyone around you down. People don’t want to feel down, so they may move away from you to get away from the complaining. If you complain about them, it can be interpreted that you don’t love, respect or value them. This erodes connection. This is such a destructive habit that Dr. John Gottman says that it is one of the predictors of whether or not a couple will stay together!
When we complain, our brain pays attention to the “bad” things we are complaining about. The more you notice bad things, the bigger they become in your world. Consequently, the world becomes a negative, hurtful place because our views create our reality. Feelings of helplessness, victimization, and frustration increase.
So why do people do it?
Attention Seeking. When you share your tales of woe, it can gain you sympathy and attention. If you don’t have healthy ways to connect and feel important, this works!
Avoidance of Taking Responsibility. Complaining about how life isn’t fair, the weather made you late, or how someone is keeping you down is blaming! It’s a way of saying, “I am not thriving or succeeding because of HIM!” so that you don’t actually have to put in the work and risk things changing. This makes us feel better about ourselves (through self-deception), but at the cost of feeling disempowered.
It Creates a False Sense of Power or Superiority. When we criticize a thing or person, it can give the impression that we know better or we are better. Since we are not actually doing the work and have no way of proving it, it’s a cheap thrill.
When it comes down to it, complaining and criticism are ways of making us feel good about ourselves at the expense of alienating others and spreading negativity. It accomplishes nothing else useful. If you are ready to make a change, here are some suggestion on how to stop complaining and criticizing.
Complaining and criticizing requires a narrowing of focus on the thing that is irritating you. Broaden your perspective to become aware of the whole picture. Filter out your judgments and just see the facts. If you are complaining about the rain, zoom out and notice other details about the moment like the plants need the rain because it’s been so dry, you have a nice rain coat that is keeping you dry, or notice the sound of the rain drops or the little splashes they make as they land. The big picture contains many things that may delight you, giving you options on what you want to focus on. Every moment is filled with these options. By becoming aware of them, you may begin to choose to focus on things that make you happy instead of those that don’t.
“An Attitude of Gratitude” has become a buzz word because it’s so effective. If you spend a little time each day appreciating big and small blessings, appreciation becomes a habit. When you are appreciative, it becomes easier to brush off minor annoyances or see the other side of the coin. It’s true that April showers bring May flowers and every ending is a new beginning. Here are two suggestions for cultivating gratitude. 1) Start a gratitude journal where you resolve to write about five things each day that you are thankful for. They don’t have to be earth shattering. Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest impact, like a smile or that someone said, “Good morning.” 2) If you share your life with someone, make them your gratitude buddy. When you have time together, such as sitting down to your evening meal, make it a ritual to share one thing that you were most grateful for on that day.
Just Say “No”
Resolve to remove complaints and criticism from your life. When you catch yourself doing it, stop. If you are with someone who is doing it, politely excuse yourself or change the subject.
If you notice something wrong, instead of talking about it, do something. This requires taking responsibility- an empowering step. This takes you out of the space of being a victim and makes you the master of your universe! If someone else’s mess is irritating you, sometimes it is less hassle to just clean it up. If you complain that no one listens to you, perhaps it is time to be more assertive or learn better communication skills. If you hate the commute to work, find a new job or move. There are many alternatives to complaining that are empowering.
Ask For What You Want Directly
Sometimes complaining is about poor communication skills. You complain about your boyfriend going fishing with his buddies when what you really want is more time alone with him. When you catch yourself complaining, slow things down. Become aware. Ask yourself what it is you really want and ask directly. You’ll have a better chance of getting your needs met without creating negativity.
If you encounter something that you can do nothing about, like someone else’s habits or the price of tea in China, accept it. Complaining and criticizing won’t change a thing. All it will do is spin you up and wear you down, so notice it, accept it, and move on to the next thing.
Everybody whines now and then. Healthy venting can help us to get past a rough patch. However, if complaining and criticizing become a lifestyle, it’s not healthy for you or others. Fortunately, now you have some tools to make other choices.