A reader asks:
I love complaining. Intellectually I know it probably is not doing me good but I am not sure why? Please could you explain what is wrong with complaining, why we do it, and how can we stop?
Props for sneaking 3 questions into one 🙂
Let me answer them one at a time…
What’s wrong with complaining?
Three big reasons complaining might not be in your best interest:
- It reinforces rumination which leads to long-term anger, resentment, irritability, stress, and likely guilt. Thoughts cause emotions. Complaining is a version of rumination (unhelpful negative thinking about things in the past or present). And while it can feel good in the moment, rumination generates lots of uncomfortable emotions longer term.
- It hurts your social credibility. When you complain a lot you become known as a complainer. And in addition to it not being much fun to be around someone who’s always complaining, it tends to lead to people not trusting or respecting you.
- It’s a waste of time and energy. Any action, including complaining, has opportunity costs… All the time and energy you spend complaining can’t be spent on something productive like creating something, connecting with someone, or helping make things better.
Doubtless there are more, but those are the first three that come to mind.
Why do we complain?
It’s an ego boost.
When you complain about someone or something else being bad, negative, annoying, etc., you’re implicitly saying you’re good, smart, better, etc. And that feels good. At least in the moment.
In other words, chronic complaining or criticizing is usually a sign of low self-esteem: You feel bad about yourself and have gotten in the habit of using complaining as a way to temporarily inflate your ego and feel good about yourself.
Of course, it’s a pretty flimsy strategy, which is why in the long run it only hurts your self-esteem and leads to feeling guilty and ashamed.
How to stop complaining?
3 quick ideas:
- Validate the uncomfortable emotions behind complaining. If you’re feeling frustrated about your boss at work, practice validating that emotion instead of complaining about the person.
- Channel your energy into something productive. Instead of complaining to your spouse about how annoying your coworker is, draft an email to your boss inquiring about the possibility of transferring to a different department.
- Consider the costs of complaining. Using the three things I mentioned earlier as a starting point, come up with a list of all the ways complaining might not be in your best interest. Memorize them. Anytime you find yourself tempted to complain, briefly remind yourself of them.
Hope that helps!