Most of us who chronically complain, grew up with adults who were either complainers themselves or more likely who completely invalidated the negative. Obviously complaint can be a learned behavior but the pathology of chronic complaining doesn’t go as deep. So let’s instead talk about those of us who had parents that invalidated our negative expression and even shamed us for it. When we expressed negative emotion or perspectives, they quickly turned it on us. They invalidated or shamed us for it. They did not make us believe it was ok to feel how we felt; see what we saw or hear what we heard. They made us feel as if there was something wrong with us for feeling how we felt. Imagine that negative energy is like a poison. When we tried to release this poison as children, the people in our lives disapproved of it and tried to squelch it. On an energetic level, it’s a bit like forcing someone to re-eat their own vomit. And we became more and more toxically negative internally as a result.
Chronic complaint goes hand in hand with low self-esteem. In fact, you will not find people who genuinely feel good about themselves and who complain. Obviously if the people in our lives made us believe there was something wrong with us because of how we felt, we develop a deeply wired belief that we are defective or bad. So, our egos become victim egos. They begin to find fault in everything relentlessly and blame others so as to try to feel and prove that we are in fact “good” by contrast and comparison. After all, if what we feel is justified, nothing is wrong with us. We find fault in other things so in contrast we can be good. If we are complainers, we have 2 glaring primary unmet needs. The first is for our pain to be seen, heard, felt and acknowledged. We feel alone with our pain. When we complain, we are desperate to have someone acknowledge our pain. In fact, we feel incapable of moving forward until someone does. And the second unmet need is to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel as if nothing is wrong with us and as if we are worthy and have value.
Here’s the thing, most psychological and spiritual advice out there treats complaining like it is unacceptable and wrong and bad. It tells people why complaining is so bad for you and how it is such a drag to be around for others. And then tells people to just stop it or to just separate themselves from people who are negative. I don’t need to tell you why chronic complaining or negative focus is a detrimental thing. For the most part, it is obvious and self-explanatory, especially if you understand the law of attraction. But what we have to get is that complaint is the byproduct of low self-esteem. You cannot reject this aspect within yourself or try to get rid of it because it is bad, without perpetuating self-hate and thus making yourself believe you are wrong and bad; thus adding to the very condition that creates chronic complaint. We further wound ourselves and other people with this approach.
So what should we do if we notice ourselves chronically complaining?
Love and validate the one within you (the hurt aspect) who is complaining. The truth is you are suffering and you are not wrong about your negative observations of feelings. This aspect of you that is in pain is trying to call you to be unconditionally present with it. It needs love badly. This is what pain does; it calls for your attention. So, be unconditionally present to the aspect of you behind the complaint itself that is in pain in the moment you have a complaint. Acknowledge your pain. Infuse this aspect of you with love.
You can also ask yourself, what really hurts me about this? Over and over until you get to the core hurt beneath the complaint. It’s a bit like finding a core belief. For example, say I had a complaint that the linens on the bed are not folded right. If I asked myself what really hurts me about this? I might realize that a part of me feels like whoever folded them didn’t put effort into the job. And If I asked myself what really hurts me about this? I might find that if they didn’t put any effort into folding the linens, they don’t care about me. And if I ask myself what really hurts me about this? I might find that I feel like it makes me feel I am worthless to them. You can take this questioning as far as you want and keep digging and digging. But for the sake of your understanding, what I just got present to is that the core pain behind the complaint was about feeling worthless. Then you can be present with that core pain. To understand more about how to be present with and thus transform inner pain, watch my video on YouTube titled: How To Heal The Emotional Body
Behind complaint is a feeling of disempowerment. The feeling that one cannot change one’s reality so that it feels good. We have to get completely present to the aspect within us that feels helpless and is begging through our complaint to be rescued. We need to then practice pivoting. Instead of focusing on what is happening that you don’t like, we have to use the awareness of what is disliked to inspire us towards the opposite. And then focus on and move towards what is wanted instead. This will create a feeling of empowerment. You are no longer stuck in the unwanted, you can use the unwanted to point you in the direction of and propel you towards what is wanted instead. Your complaints will tell you what is important to you. They will tell you what your priorities are and about what you need and want. You can even ask yourself when you are considering voicing a complaint or already have voiced a complaint, “What am I wanting to get as a result of voicing this complaint?”
Complaining is a passive process, whereby we aren’t taking action to make changes we wish to see. Changing the complaining into action can be incredibly empowering and life altering because those of us who had adults who merely invalidated our negative perspectives, never allowed us to make any changes so that we could feel better. We were stuck. Now, as adults, we aren't stuck. We really can take responsibility by moving into action to create what is wanted instead of unwanted.
We need to listen to and feel our own feelings beneath the complaint first before expressing the complaint or the feelings beneath the complaint. And then we need to express the emotions beneath the complaint to someone instead of just the surface complaint. This is not the same thing as suppressing emotions or complaint. If we merely take the action of not complaining, we are in the act of suppression. Instead, when we catch ourself in the act of complaining, we need to stop ourselves from doing it and become conscious of the true emotions behind the complaint. Keep in mind that complaining often begins internally and then we express it externally in verbal format. So we need to do these previous two steps before we express our negative emotion to someone. This way, our expression will be genuine and about the vulnerability underneath the dissatisfaction. The frustrating paradox of feelings is that they contain valuable information because they point to something that is very important to us. And self expression is crucial. While on the other hand, expressing them without metabolizing them, by using them to become more conscious first, rarely gets us the results we want because the electrical element to the emotional charge tends to hurt people and make them feel the emotions as a personal attack. This electrical charge is removed by our metabolizing process when we use the emotional charge up by using it to fuel our travel inwards and deeper with our own conscious awareness to see what is beneath the charge. In this way, our reactivity can become a meditation bell awakening us to an opportunity to become awakened. And it allows our expression to be much more authentic.
Directly ask someone to see, hear, feel and validate your pain. Complaint is in fact a form of manipulation. We’re trying to get our need met in an indirect way. That need being for our pain to be seen and heard and felt and acknowledged and validated. We are too scared to just flat out ask for someone to do this. But we need to get that it is much less off-putting to flat out ask someone for this need to be met than it is to complain near them so as to try to covertly get this out of them.
Address your low self esteem head on. Instead of letting your ego run the show in ways you are unconscious of (trying to feel a sense of it’s own value and goodness by making other things wrong, bad, inferior and faulty) just admit to where you are. Where you are,is feeling really bad about yourself. And work directly on improving your self esteem.
Start a positive aspects journal and carry it with you wherever you go. If your mind naturally finds fault with everything and you’re suffering, it will take deliberate focus to notice things that are positive. You can’t focus on something you don’t like and on something you do like at the same time. So, several times per day, pull out this journal and list things that you appreciate or like no matter how big or small. You can even do this for things that you dislike. In fact, people who feel very negative inside often find that this is the very best time to use their positive aspects journal. For example, I may hate waiting at the DMV, and I’m not trying to get myself to like something I don’t like, but if I were to do a mental scavenger hunt for what’s good about waiting at the DMV, what would I find?
- Don’t set the goal of “never complaining again”. This will be counter-productive. Instead, try designating a short period of time where you can be particularly mindful. For example, decide to go just one day without complaining. Every time you are tempted to complain, go through the six steps outlined previously instead. This shorter time period will allow you to concentrate more fully on your goal. The shortened time frame is manageable and experimental instead of punishing and will create increased sensitivity. You can extend the time frame as your confidence with handling the emotional content below the complaint increases.
If you have someone in your life that is a complainer, nothing will ever work to soothe the pain beneath the complaining better than unconditional love and helping them to meet the two primary unmet needs that are present within this person’s being. I suggest that you re-watch this video and really get present to how you may be able to lend your energy to this person in a way that assisted the underlying issues below the complaining, because complaining and fault finding is nothing more than a surface symptom. Learn to see through and beyond the complaint itself to the vulnerability and the needs and wants and gold underneath.
Complaining is nothing more than a symptom. If it is a symptom that you have, use the symptom to look deeper into the cause of that symptom. Your pain is valid. You have every reason to feel negative about life. But the question we need to ask ourselves is, would we rather be right, justified, good and superior or… Happy?