Shedding the Complaining Impulse

Complaining keeps us a victim of circumstance. Breaking free from this habit helps us see more clearly.

If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.

–Anthony J. D’Angelo, The College Blue Book

There are times in your life where you may feel it’s necessary to complain to others or just in your own head about things that are happening or have happened to you. Complaining has a tendency to keep you a victim of that circumstance, over and over again, every time you tell the story (even in your own head). So often, life will move on around you and you will stay emotionally stuck in situations (that could already be in the distant past) just by continuing to complain about them. Complaining keeps you stuck in the past with those negative circumstances.

Occasionally I worked for people who were difficult to get along with. There were times when a boss said things that were hostile, non-sensical and definitely not constructive. I suffered a great deal of consequences because of these problems including not being able to complete projects because progress was derailed and we were sent back to the beginning again. I missed out on promised and expected raises when it was decided at the last moment that I didn’t deserve them. And this all occurred because of  perceptions that weren’t based in reality that could have been resolved easily had I been asked about it. The frustrating part of the situation is I felt pretty powerless to do anything about it. The problems and difficulties we had probably amounted to a difference in personalities and rubbing each other the wrong way. That’s gonna happen when we’re interacting with the myriad of other personalities out there.

Every time I complained about this situation, either in my own head or to a friend, I was spending time basking in the negative emotions of the problem rather than fixing it. “Woe is me!” When we do this we run the risk that we are looking for attention as a victim.

There’s a difference between complaining about a situation and looking carefully at your prior circumstances to learn as much as possible. Ask yourself what is your motivation in complaining about the problem – are you describing the situation and looking for solutions to your problem or are you wallowing in it and looking for sympathy as a victim?

Pet Peeves

Maintaining a list of pet peeves is another way of complaining. How other people drive, how the cashier treated you at the grocery store, how a friend interrupts you, people using certain words and even people complaining can be on such a list. Every time you encounter a repeated incident that’s on your list of pet peeves, you will experience a greater and greater reaction than you would had this been the first time it had ever happened to you. By noticing this negative more fully, you give it more negative power.

Pets are things we nurture and love and it’s no coincidence the phrase contains that word. If we’re nurturing and loving the negative aspects of our day, we’re giving these events more power than they are due.

A Complaining Culture

There’s a trend these days for mass social complaining via updates on social networks. Complaints are constantly swirling all around us. There are complaints about the service at the coffee place, every aspect of a movie, car repairs, that crazy driver going too slow, that insane driver going to fast, celebrities, people who don’t look the way others think they should, people who don’t believe the same way and people who don’t vote the same way.

We don’t have to adopt or absorb the negative sentiments of others as our own.

The temptation to elevate our own importance in the world by complaining about things in order to find others who may agree creates odd social connections. Yes, we both agree that the movie sucked and it’s lame when my coffee is cold. So what? Andy Rooney keeps making a living complaining. And how joyous is that to listen to? How does it inspire you to do bigger, greater and more impactful things?

Break the Bond

Reverend Will Bowen of Christ Church Unity challenged his congregation (and others) to go 21 days without complaining. During the challenge, each time you complain you move a reminder bracelet from one wrist to the other – and you must begin at zero – counting your complaint-free days again. He said it took him three and a half months to string 21 complaint-free days together, and that it has taken others up to seven months. Those who get through it can turn in their bracelets in exchange for “certificates of happiness” issued during church services.


Making an attempt to avoid complaining makes us aware of the role complaining plays in our life, which makes this a worthwhile exercise.

Today begin to string together your 21 complaint-free days. And look for ways to “turn off” the complaining around you. Filter friends that tend to complain away from your eyes. Ask friends in the middle of a complaint what you can do to help fix their situation. Let’s get to work solving our problems rather than swimming around in them endlessly.

Effective complaining: The 9 Habits of Highly Effective Complainers

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