“Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude” – Joyce Meyer
We all have that one friend or acquaintance who is a notorious complainer. Some of us have several. Nothing is ever right with these people. Every day brings them a new reason to feel and express dissatisfaction and sorrow. They will complain that others ignore them and they don’t have any friends. That’s hardly surprising. So why do they do it?
Complaining can bring relief – short-lived, but relief nonetheless. What is more, chronic complainers feed on attention. Ultimately, though, complaining does more harm than good. The more we listen to people complaining, the worse we feel. People who complain often are also unhappier than those who don’t. In his book “The No Complaining Rule”, Jon Gordon writes that the damage inflicted by complaining is comparable to that of secondhand smoke. If we are subjected to complaints too often or we ourselves complain constantly, we’re going to be miserable. (1)
Am I a Chronic Complainer?
So, are you yourself among the chronic complainers? We all complain now and then. It’s part of being human. You complain because your company isn’t doing well. Your friend gripes because her boyfriend is always late. Your neighbor files a complaint with the city because your dog keeps pooping in their yard. Your father complains that prices are soaring and it’s not good for business. Your computer broke down again. Your spouse can’t handle paying bills. Your son is feeling blue. The list goes on. Here are some signs your complaining has become chronic.
People call you out on your complaint levels
If your friends are being open, they’ll probably tell you you’re a complainer. They might point out you’re being negative, in a serious or a joking manner. When people start mentioning the glass always seems half-empty for you, that you always find something to complain about rather than taking action, it may be time to change your way of thinking.
You’re rarely positive or always negative
When you are on the negative track, everything becomes a cause for complaint. Take a moment to figure out if you always find the negative in everything, even if things are objectively mostly positive. The first step to finding a solution is self-awareness.
Remember that the sooner you become aware of your negative outlook, the sooner you can make a change. It begins with seeking sympathy or rather than you should stop seeking sympathy. People aren’t likely to find anything all too bad or maybe even remotely bad in your life. Being labeled as a constant complainer will do more harm than good.
People are starting to avoid you
Have people stopped calling or inviting you to parties? This could be a sign you’ve become a chronic complainer. If this has happened, ask your friends if the chronic complaining is the reason. They’ll either be honest or continue isolating you. To change negative thinking, you need to know exactly what’s going on.
You only see obstacles
Do you see challenges as obstacles? Do you feel the glass is half-empty because life is one challenge after another? Our outlook serves as the basis for sinking into bad, unhealthy patterns. When you are focused on barriers, you become a complainer who sees every change as a problem that needs to be solved. You see nothing but a brick wall ahead.
You might want to meet a great person, but you keep it from happening. You apply for a job, but end up not going to the interview because you think the business won’t be interested in you, and other self-defeating behavior. When you’re only looking for sympathy, you surround yourself with negative people. That often explains why you’ve become a chronic whiner.
If all your friends seem dramatic and all of you just share negative things and complain when you get together, that’s a bad sign. It’s a mistake to validate each other’s problems and keep harping on how unfair the world is. That is a fact of life. However, it’s concerning if you and your friends focus on the negative all the time. A legitimate complaint is one thing, but being negative most of the time is quite another. This is the perfect time to rethink your relationships.
Venting vs. Complaining
There is nothing wrong with venting now and then, but venting is not the same as complaining. Venting is a brief episode of dissatisfaction that passes. Complaining is a purposeful act of seeking attention by filling space with negativity. Think about people you know who complain a lot. How do you feel around them?
When I was a child, my parents constantly complained about everything. This would bring me down and affected the way I turned out. If that hadn’t been my reality, I would have been more motivated as an adult today. And if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be complaining about being unmotivated now!
The more surrounded we are by people who complain, the more negative we become. Every time we or someone around us complains, our neurological mechanisms are realigned in the sense that feelings like frustration and dissatisfaction become more likely to reoccur. We become trapped in this mindset. (2)
Chronic complainers often don’t realize how negative they are. We try to help them, comfort them, console them, give them advice, but it’s never enough. They get clingier, more negative, and more annoying. Our kindness works against us. They don’t benefit from our positivity, but their negativity rubs off on us, so we end up falling into their ways. Complainers suck the energy out of us. We feel like there is no escaping them.
Complaining Causes Brain Damage
Here’s the kicker – a study by Stanford University showed a connection between complaining and the size of the hippocampus. This part of the brain is critical to short-term memory and problem solving. Damage to this area is concerning considering that it’s the first line of defense against Alzheimer’s.
What is more, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol in response to complaints. This hormone shifts people into fight-or-flight mode, directing blood, oxygen, and energy to systems of immediate survival and away from all other systems. Blood sugar and blood pressure increase. Long-term, the high cortisol release exerts pressure on the immune system, making people more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and stroke.
How do you deal with chronic complainers?
Are of tired of listening to the spew? There are a few good ways to deal with chronic complainers. Here’s how to change the conversation.
A friend might have turned into a chronic complainer because she feels no one is listening. She will repeat the commentary until you validate her experience. Sometimes people need someone to try to convince them it’s not as miserable as all that. Don’t get emotional. Say calmly, “If I were you, I would feel the same way’ if there are people like that around you. That will make them feel heard and may thwart the need to keep complaining.
2. Respond Differently
Complainers drain us of energy. Their negative talk charges their batteries because it improves their self-esteem and shifts responsibility to others. This can be an effective coping technique because you accept this is the individual’s way of communicating. It’s not about you.
Don’t encourage the person to try and “be more positive” because they are not and this will drain them. People have a need to be themselves. Forced positivity is a bad approach. A better one would be asking them what they think might be a good solution and then come up with a plan to achieve it.
3. Seeing the Situation Differently
Sometimes, chronic complainers only need a bit of perspective adjustment. Negative people are surprisingly adept at reframing situations. You could give them a different perspective on the action or situation that is being criticized. For example, if a staff member has a complaint about company policy, you could talk to them about the good things about this particular policy and why it exists to begin with.
4. Ask for Solutions
A complainer often has ideas as to how to improve a given situation. Ask him or her about what they would do differently if they could. Offer advice and listen. It’s never too late to lend a helping hand. The person might have some solid suggestions if they are serious about making a change.
5. Reroute the Discussion
Sometimes, you just have a chronic complainer on your hands who doesn’t want validation or solutions. Even then, the glass isn’t half-empty. Media trainers offer an interesting tactic, which lots of politicians and corporate executives have benefited from. Bridging changes the subject subtly by acknowledging it, then moving on to something else.
An example of good “bridging” is, ‘Thank you for asking. I don’t really know, but I have some ideas. Can I share them? It’s not exactly a huge leap away from the negativity, but it’s a measure in the right direction. Then, go on to discuss the new subject until the original discussion ends.
If this tactic isn’t getting you anywhere and the person is affecting the environment adversely, you’ll need some extra help. If the person is a coworker, talk to your boss or someone else higher up in the hierarchy. Still, you might find that an appropriate response improves the situation. It all depends on the complainer’s motivation.
6. Call Chronic Complaining Out
If all else fails, you just need to draw attention to the behavior. You risk alienating the person if you point out their habit of being negative. Maybe they don’t realize they’ve become annoying. By noting that they tend to take a negative view, you might help them change their path and starting thinking about developing a new, healthier approach.
Rather than accusing them of anything, draw attention to your own feelings. You could say you feel uncomfortable listening to criticism like theirs. Avoid confrontation by using humor – that always helps. Offer support to help them change their behavior.
7. Distance Yourself
If it seems like you or someone else in your life has been complaining too much lately, slowly distance yourself from this person or start monitoring your own complaining. You’ll be amazed how much sooner you’ll feel better.
Chronic complainers are not interested in ways to solve their problems. They feast on the attention they get. Their urges are difficult to control. Dealing with them is impossible. If you’ve been patiently listening to them whine all this time, you’re probably the “problem-solver” type – an innately positive person who enjoys a good challenge. Know that you’re wasting your time and efforts. You’ll never change this person.
Instead, give positive direction to your efforts by minimising contact with the whiner. If you can’t completely avoid them, at least try not to be left alone with them. This is hard if they’re a coworker and even harder if they’re a family member or your partner. When they start doing what they do best, put on your headphones, change the subject, feign being busy, or ignore them. Eventually, they will seek attention elsewhere.
On the off chance that this doesn’t happen, don’t be afraid to shut them down. Say you don’t want to hear their complaining anymore and don’t even feel bad for a second. Negative people’s endless complaining is wrecking your health, and your good intentions are paving the road to hell.