James Hock - MRH Faculty
Complaining vs. Containing
By Keeley H.
I faithfully believe venting is the antidote to all of the world’s problems - at least my world’s. Blowing off steam, getting something off your chest, and talking an issue through with someone loosens the tension in my shoulders and allows my lungs to breathe again. In the moment, I’m relieved, relaxed, and relishing the weightlessness of vulnerability and honesty.
It’s not until my eyes are glued to my ceiling at 2 a.m. that my brain begins to work its anxious magic, and that relief reinvents itself as insecurity: What if I was complaining too much? Was I overbearing them with my problems? They probably think I’m so dramatic and negative. Oh my god, everyone hates me because I’m always complaining!
Now if you’re a sensible, non-neurotic person, you’d read that thought process and be bewildered by how my reflection turned into self-repulsion so quickly, and honestly, you should be. Complaining is natural and even healthy, so people should be able to express their emotions guilt-free.
According to Psychology Today, our brains, which are armed with survival instincts, tend to focus on the negative aspects of life, as circumstances to be grateful for are far less threatening to our livelihoods, so often pass overlooked. When pessimism is the focal point of our nature, our brains become overwhelmed with bleak and blunt thoughts, which gives us much more to complain abundantly about.
Now we’ve all heard that expressing our emotions is essential to having a healthy mind and a balanced lifestyle, and complaining acts as an outlet to release the tension built from the brain’s innate angst. Once a problem is talked out with a friend or a parent, an external perspective is gained and the complainer hears just what they’re complaining about. The problem then not only loses its weight but is also more likely to be settled. Difficulties often seem minuscule compared to the brain’s exaggeration when spoken out loud or rationalized by a second party, which allows for self-realization, reflection, and resolution (Berry). The inclination to complain then becomes reduced, as one becomes equipped with the skills needed to rectify their personal problems on their own.
Developing this ability takes trust, though, as you must confide in people before you can confide in yourself. A person has to have someone they feel comfortable being vulnerable with and open to receiving honest feedback from, which grows friendships and self-confidence by showing value and respect. By venting and listening to someone else’s opinion, commonalities are found, communication is shared, and connections are formed.
On the contrary, too much complaining may drive friendships apart. When I am constantly listening to the same problem, giving the same advice, and only seeing the same result, my friendships with people become drained and stagnant. I begin to feel frustrated, bored, and unappreciated because I am using emotional labor in an unproductive manner. This causes a distance and dissolution to occur within the relationship, as their complaining became draining rather than maturing.
To avoid being a Negative Nelly and suppressing storms of emotion, one must learn to complain in moderation. Dr. Wendy Rice of the Rice Psychology Group suggests that you set a “complaining window”, in which you allow yourself 15-minutes to vent and then move on. You can also write down a list of what you’re grateful for when you get the urge to complain about something frivolous.
Remember: it’s not the venting that drives people away, it’s the lack of balance, so listen to your brain, complain, and don’t drain.
Berry, William. “The Psychology of Complaining.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 21 Apr. 2021, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-second-noble-truth/202104/the-psychology-complaining.
Rice, Dr. Wendy. “Chronic Complaining and How to Stay More Positive.” Rice Psychology, Rice Psychology Group, 15 May 2019, ricepsychology.com/behavior/the-whine-crime-chronic-complaining-and-how-to-stay-more-positive/.