Do you know someone who complains constantly? Or maybe you, yourself, are a chronic complainer?
If you want to stop doing something, first you have to understand why you’re doing it.
Oftentimes, complaining is a misguided attempt to gain sympathy, pity or validation from others in place of what it is we truly need— which is self-compassion. Attempting to fill the void of self-compassion, we dump our pain on friends or family members for the temporary relief that sympathy can bring. But it comes at cost. It keeps us in an ongoing cycle of pain and can be a burden to those we depend on for sympathy.
Another reason we complain is to try to control another person’s behavior, choices or actions. We may think we’re doing someone a favor by complaining about a situation we think they would be wise to avoid. Or we might complain about something with a subtext of blaming that person for the situation. Both of these are ineffective strategies at best and relationship-damaging at worst.
Luckily, complaining is a habit that can be broken with a combination of intention, awareness and practice.
Now, I’m not saying we should never talk about our challenges or say anything negative. We are human after all. But there is a big difference between authentically sharing your challenges and complaining to get validation or control another person. It might be hard to tell the difference in yourself, but it's easy to identify with someone else. When someone complains to you they are offloading their stress and it will most likely make you feel annoyed, stressed or anxious. When someone shares authentically, it usually makes you feel calm and compassionate.
The difference is in the intent.
Complaining comes from and intent to GET something from another person (sympathy, pity, a reaction, a change in their behavior), sharing authentically comes from an intent to GIVE (love, empathy, connection, truth).
A good way to get out of the habit of complaining is to practice speaking to yourself in a compassionate way. Here’s an example.
Say you’re feeling stressed about your morning commute to work. Instead of offloading to a co-worker as soon as you arrive, "Uhg, traffic in this city is horrific! I can't stand it." Take a few deep breaths and say to yourself, "I'm sorry that was so stressful for you. You deserve a peaceful, quiet and easy commute to work. I love you. You're doing great."
Notice how these different statements make you feel: "Uhg, traffic in this city is horrific! I can't stand it."
“I'm sorry that was so stressful for you. You deserve a peaceful, quiet and easy commute to work. I love you. You're doing great."
You might feel strange or foolish at first, but it gets easier with practice. And if it makes you laugh, that’s fine too!
Here's a little hypno-meditation to help you identify the difference between complaining vs sharing authentically, and to begin to break the destructive habit of complaining:
Take some deep breaths and begin to relax your body. As you breathe inward, focus your attention on the center of your chest. Visualize a pink rosebud at the center of your chest. Imagine the rosebud beginning to bloom. See the petals unfold and feel the sensation of your heart relaxing. Feel the energy of your heart flowing freely.
Now imagine or remember a time when you were having a challenge in your life and you complained to a friend or family member about it. Notice the sensation in your body as you tap into this situation. Notice how you worded the complaint. What was your tone of voice like? How did you feel inside?
Now imagine or remember a time when you authentically shared a challenge you were having in your life. Do you notice the difference? The difference in the words you spoke? In how you felt?
Go back to the situation that you dealt with by complaining. And practice speaking compassionately to your self. Say something like, “I'm sorry this is so stressful for you. You deserve better. I love you. You're doing great.” Or choose some kind and loving words that feel right to you.
The next time you notice yourself complaining, take a deep breath and consciously choose to turn inward instead of outward and to practice self-compassion. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but the people around you will feel better, too.
When you’re ready, you can start to move your body and return to your normal state of consciousness.