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Why do we complain and what do we hope to accomplish by doing it?

Updated on September 25, 2016
Sometimes you need to vent to someone who cares and will listen.
Sometimes you need to vent to someone who cares and will listen. | Source

How often do you complain and why do you do it?

If you are like most people you probably complain a little every day without really thinking of it as complaining. Maybe you eat breakfast and think the toast is too brown, but eat it anyway. Your toothpaste has a funny feel to it and you keep meaning to switch it out with another brand, but you hate to waste the current tube, so you keep using it and thinking it tastes too much like chemicals and soap and you really should just throw it away, but you use it anyway and lament that you have to put up with it until the tube is gone and besides, there probably isn’t anything else out there you can afford that works or tastes any better.

Most of us resign ourselves to a certain "life of misery”. The faucet on the sink drips or sprays out at an angle. We’ve tried dipping it in a mixture of vinegar and scrubbing it with baking soda, but it still shoots a stray spritz on us through the wire screen. Maybe the sink has the equivalent of a kidney stone? We resign ourselves to live with it as it seems like too much trouble to unscrew the metal cap and replace the screen or buy a new faucet, yet each time it graces us with a squirt to the shirt, we mentally complain about how unfair life is to put up with something so trivial yet annoying. Life is not fair so why bother.

This, in essence, is what complaining is all about. We are unhappy about something but perceive we have no power or skill to make it better. If we try, we will get ourselves in deeper trouble or be so overwhelmed by difficulty that the effort hardly seems worth it and if we do spend $50 on a new faucet, bang our knuckles and nearly break the sink bowl trying to install it only to discover it does not fit in the holes we carefully measured, then we have to brush our teeth in the bathtub and who wants to do that?

Most likely, our happiness quotient will drop even lower and then we will be forced to complain about the manufacturer and seller of the faucet, our own stupidity at not measuring it correctly or taking into account the odd shape of the sink lip and so many more things that will make our life immeasurably more difficult than if we did nothing at all and put up with a little spritz on odd occasions when we least expected it. Yes, friends, this is life and what is one to do about it?

We don’t see our complaining as all that bad, though at times we may admit we are doing a bit much of it and wonder if it is driving our friends away. Some friends actually like hearing us complain…no really, they do! It is like sharing a mutual hobby. If you doubt this, find a fellow democrat or republican and start talking about the opposing party and see how many people join in on the complaints! It is a bonding moment that brings us together over a perceived wrong and we hope that by sharing our grief we can find solutions and make changes which is probably how the political parties got started in the first place.

Complaining is as old as Moses

Complaining is nothing new. Remember when Moses lead the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt? What did they do? Instead of thanking Moses and praying to the Lord in thanksgiving, they complained. Dathan and Abiram are actually singled out as the worst complainers. It was Dathan who told Moses that he had brought them out of a land that flowed with milk and honey into to wilderness where they would die and that Moses was acting all biggety like he was the Lord over them when in reality he didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing and had no right to lead them into the desert.

Dathan and those who held his same belief ended up getting swallowed by the earth: so much for the complaint department back in those days. We can all empathize with Dathan, but the point was that God had chosen Moses so by going against Moses, Dathan and company were actually going against God and thinking they knew better than God and that is something we should all keep in mind when we get upset with how things are run and why they don’t change.

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There are some things you just can’t change no matter how hard you complain!

There is an old saying that there are some things you can’t change no matter how hard you try, so many of us have stopped trying and started complaining instead. It’s easier for one thing, but it also helps us blow off steam and feel less like victims and more like we are in control, even though we probably really aren’t.

Complaining makes us feel like we have authority over a situation rather than being victimized by it. Those with greater feelings and concerns often feel more greatly victimized by a heartless system or air-headed humans that don’t have any idea or don’t care about what they say and how it impacts the lives of others.

The roommate who tosses their dirty clothes on the floor rather than in the hamper or who eats snacks on the couch and leaves a ton of crumbs behind has no concern over how hard you have to work to clean up after them. In their minds, you are a control freak and enjoy complaining and are so obsessive compulsive that you cannot stand to see anything out of place, which works just fine for them since they don’t like putting things in their place.

You could not pick up the dirty dishes and wash them, but then they would scoop out the peanut butter with their fingers and you’d have to deal with a roach infestation and not having any utensils or dishes for your own use. You could lay down the law and put a lock on all the cabinets requiring compliance with the house law of - clean up after yourself or move out, or you could play the Moses card and lord over them, nagging them everyday to do what should come naturally to any normal adult, but not to them or you could do the work yourself and complain as loudly and as often as possible, hoping they will get tired of hearing you and actually do their share of the domestic chores.

Unfortunately, none of the above tactics seems to make a difference to them, yet it still bothers you. The only real way to make sure they comply is to watch them like a hawk, catch them in the act, correct them and force them to clean up and then praise them or offer a reward for their “good deed” until it becomes a habit. People associate complaints with criticism and will defend their behaviors as non-harmful and yours as self-esteem damaging. Your complaints will figuratively fall on deaf ears and they will learn to tune you out literally and chalk up your complaining to a negative personality; one who wants to make everyone unhappy by controlling them. Instead of looking like the only one who has any sense and wants to bring peace and stability to a maddening world, you will look like a control freak who has to make everyone miserable if they do not see things the same way you see them.

Instead of complaining about all the bad stuff, focus on the good stuff

There is an old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. The same is true of complaining verses compliments. If you complain often, it will start to taint your every being. You will see all the things that others do wrong. You may even see all the things you do wrong and become irritated with yourself.. You will most likely be unhappy and you will expect to have unpleasantness as a daily part of your existence which will make you want to complain more. It is hard to stop complaining, because that makes you feel like you will stop being in control of the situations around you which can make life even more miserable.

It is often difficult to find something to compliment about someone else or some situation. If you subscribe to Comcast, it is hard to be happy when your service goes out and it takes ten days to restart it or they go up on the bill and do not explain why. Instead you feel victimized, used and abused and you want them to stop, so naturally you bristle up and fight back to protect your turf, but what if…

What if you cancelled cable all together? What if you stopped watching television? Would life as you know it end or become intolerable? It probably wouldn’t. Cable is not a necessity of life. What if you focused on the service they provided and let them know you were grateful while still reminding them of their promise to provide you service at a fair cost? Do you think losing your temper with them makes them more likely to provide better service, and if not, does losing your temper make you feel better? Could you achieve the same results by stating only the facts and not getting emotional about them? Would you feel better about yourself if you could do that? Would you still feel like a victim?

Remember that complaining is a defense mechanism we employ to ward off things that threaten our happiness and peace of mind.

Is complaining really ineffectual or can it bring about change?

A wise person once said that people who complain are incapable of bringing about the change they seek. Often, complaining is our way of defending ourselves from a false accusation or feeling put upon by others. If you have ever thought you mailed payment for a bill only to find it hidden in between the sofa cushions as you now face exorbitant fees for non-payment, then you know how easy it is to blame the company for not being lenient rather than taking the fall for something that was your error.

When we talk to the company that we have been with them for umpteen years and have never made a late payment before. We remind them that life was hectic and we made a mistake and they should not take it out on us if they want to keep our business (which is a sham because they are probably the only ones in the area providing that service!). If they comply and waive the fees, we are grateful and humble and thankful, but if they take a hard-line stance, what do we do…you got it… we complain!!!

We complain because things appear to be unfair. Someone or some thing seems biased and out to "get us". Everyone wants to have their rights respected and when they are not, we feel as if we are being treated unjustly and know this is not right and someone needs to put a stop to it.

Still, remember what happened to Dathan and Abiram and those who complained to Moses about the futility of wandering in the desert verses being well fed slaves in Egypt. They were swallowed up off the earth and buried beneath the ground with no visible signs of their remains. Why is that significant? What other way could they have expressed their opinions that ended in a better outcome for everyone?

When people complain all the time about every little thing, they create an atmosphere of bitterness that spreads like bacteria on food. Have you ever done the moldy bread experiment and watched as tiny gray dots turned to powdery green seas of mold that eventually took over the entire slice of bread? That is what complainers do. They get other people complaining too and soon, there is no safe ground from which to escape them.

There is nothing wrong with stating your opinion or providing a possible solution. If you are in a freezing cold office building, you can point out how much money is being wasted on air conditioning and point to studies where cold air decrease productivity, especially among females with less body fat. By starting a dialog, rather than complaining, there is a greater chance that compromise and meeting half way may end up in workable solutions for all parties, whereas complaining can lead to one group thinking the other group is being impossible and difficult and so neither is happy about the situation.

While everyone complains, even if just in our heads, most of us complain too much. If you have ever taken a pledge to give up complaining, you realize how much it controls your life and your attitude. Some, if not all of us, enjoy complaining! We see it as working out solutions to problems rather than griping, but if you can't channel your complaints into solutions and state them as such, then you will lose ground rather than gain it and will find yourself grasping for a stronghold as you slide ever downward into that pit of gloom and despair where eventually people want to start tossing dirt over you just like God did to Dathan, rather than reaching down to offer a helping hand.

The next time you feel like complaining about something, stop and think why

For many of us, complaining is a daily routine. I can remember as a child when my mother would complain about how no one was helping clean up their own messes. She was right or course, but we were clueless. To us, she was a bit nuts, cleaning the corners of the house with a toothbrush and bleaching everything to spotless perfection while we would have been happy to live in a proverbial pig sty. We saw her as obsessed with unimportant things and stressing out when she could have fun.

Every holiday we would seek to remove ourselves from the house while mom went into a cleaning frenzy and made herself physically ill by her efforts. She even sang songs sarcastically like, "Oh what a wonderful feeling, oh what a wonderful day..." Since she sang off-key that made it even more unpleasant, but rather than offer to help her with the cleaning or some chore she hated, we did the opposite and hid in our rooms with the music turned up or went outside until after the tirade was over.

Mind you, she was a good mother, but I can remember calling her the Clorox Queen and wondered if anyone ever really looked in the corners of the room behind the couch to see if there was any dirt there (the answer to that is "yes, they do", especially if they are your mother-in-law). Now that I am older I understand, but as a kid I could not see why she was so obsessed with cleaning things no one would notice. Why couldn't she be okay with the house as it was and just enjoy the holidays rather than stress out and make them unpleasant for all of us, if only briefly? Again, now that I am older I see why it drove her so batty, but then when she complained I just thought it was her problem not mine or the rest of the family's and that is how most people view people who complain. They see it as a fault in the complainer and either ignore them until they get over it or roll our eyes and endure while saying a prayer for enlightenment for the complainer not themselves.

Make sure you are not creating stress and angst for yourself or forcing others to feel the same angst you feel to get back at them for not wanting to do what you feel needs to be done.. Often we complain because we feel as if we are suffering in silence and no one cares.and while it may help to complain to those who are sympathetic and may offer solutions or solace, it generally tends to drive away the very people you are trying to change for the better.

Everyone needs a sympathetic ear and everyone wants to feel like what they are going through is normal and that someone cares and wants to make it better, but sometimes you can take things too far and drive the people who care about you away if you don't give complaining a break.


Like anything in life, you need to balance complaints with compliments

If you feel you are being too negative or harsh on others or yourself, then it is a good idea to make a pact to complain less, compliment more. Start looking at the good in people and things. You don’t have to get all sappy about it and start putting up posters that say, “behind every cloud there is a silver lining” or “it’s always darkest before the dawn”.

You do have to look at how your attitude affects those around you and yourself though. The more we complain, the more it becomes a habit, like eating food when you aren’t really hungry, just because you are bored or your mouth feels dead inside and needs renewal. We even tell ourselves that we “need” something when in reality it will do us more harm and complaining often falls into that hurtful behavior.

When the cashier puts your eggs in with the canned goods, yes, definitely let them know that the cans can crush your eggs and you would appreciate it if they bagged them separately and did not throw other things on top. This is not complaining but instructing in wisdom and that is okay if you do it nicely and don’t treat the other person as if they are an idiot who should never be allowed out in public without a handler guiding their every word and deed.

Remember you are not better than anyone else in life and you make mistakes too. I have done and said some really stupid things, but that does not make me stupid. We all have our moments and when we are under stress we are more likely to act like idiots than when we have had time to think about it! In an effort to please and impress others or escape criticism, we have all done some things we wish we had not.

Try to see things from all sides, not just your own. There is usually a mid-line to the all-or-nothing mindset. Stop and evaluate the situation before you jump into an argument with someone and point out all their flaws. Make the same effort to point out people’s virtues and encourage those virtues rather than criticize their faults… remember: more sweet, less tangy.


It’s okay to complain as long as it does not become your first reaction to anything

Recently we had a tropical storm knock down hundreds of trees and power lines. Many people were able to access social media by cell phone and posted scathing remarks about how slow the power company was to get power back to their neighborhoods, with many wanting line workers to go out in 75 mph winds and pelting rain and threats of tornadoes to get their televisions, computers and refrigerators and air conditioners working again so that they would not have to live in discomfort for a few hours or in some cases days.

When you feel compelled to complain and criticize others, put yourself in their place first. Even if you are making $15 an hour plus overtime, should you really put your life in danger so someone can watch Netflix and post pictures of the storm damage on YouTube? We think not. Sure, it is not convenient to be out of power and lose all your food in your refrigerator, but there are some people who don’t have food or a house or electricity, so be grateful and thankful not critical and demanding and your outlook will be greatly changed.

Follow the proper channels to seek change and correction and if that does not work and you have given it your best effort, then try a little harder to find a solution and encourage others with more authority than you to do the same, but try to see complaints as the means to a better end, not a continuous stream of angst that makes you bitter and unhappy.

If things are really tough and you need to vent, find a friend who is willing to lend a sympathetic ear and let it all out. It helps to vent and it helps even more when someone will listen to you vent and not judge you. I happen to like to listen to people vent and sympathize with them to a degree and maybe even help them come up with a solution that will make them less unhappy, but then I am a complainer myself, so maybe that has something to do with it!!

Still, it is better to address a problem and work on a solution rather than complain to others who can’t do anything about it. It is also better to see the positive side of things rather than the negative and to be wise and discerning an encourage change rather than demand it.

Sometimes we all see a disaster waiting to happen and know that if we could only change people or change the situation, that the disaster could be avoided, but changing other people’s attitudes is a lot harder than changing our own and sometimes when we make positive changes and admit that we don’t have all the answers and can’t solve everything on our own, we discover that people are more willing to work with us and two people working together to find a solution are a lot more effective than 1000 people complaining that someone else needs to do something while being unwilling to do anything themselves. Something to think about next time you feel like ripping the head off a poor phone operator in India who tells you there is nothing they can do to help you.

There is always someone who can do something to help and the first person to aid in finding the solution is often the person seeking the solution. It takes a lot more conscious effort to count your blessings than complain about your problems and resetting your brain to be appreciative rather than angry at how no one does what you think they should do will take a lot of effort, but you and everyone around you will be a lot happier if you make that first step toward seeing things with new eyes and looking for the good in every situation.

Being a complainer is a lot like being an alcoholic. It is easy to relapse, but each step you make toward opening up your heart to the endless possibilities of happiness even with all the world’s problems will make you infinitely more capable of dealing with them.

Complaining gives you the illusion of being in control of your problems when in reality, if they did not control you, you probably would not complain. Keep that in mind next time you want to rip someone a new one. It’s not easy putting up with all the craziness of the world and the fact that you complain probably means you care a great deal and want to make a difference, but that might take a new approach that requires being a little kinder and a little less in control. Most of us are a work in progress that will never be completed, but if you feel you are too negative and it is straining your relationships with those you love, try to see the good in others and yourself and be happy, within reason, and see how that works for you.

Is complaining ever a good thing?

Do you complain too much, not enough or not at all?

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