Complaining is something that everyone does to varying degrees. Whether it’s grumbling over a long checkout line or bitching about the morning commute, we all feel the need to open up the ‘ol vent once in a while. This is natural and healthy. As with anger, it’s never good to bottle up your feelings. However, when complaining becomes habitual, it can hurt everything from our work lives to our relationships with our friends and family.
It’s easy to dismiss a chronic complainer as just a malcontent, but experts say there may be more going on. “It’s important to note that people with a marked tendency to complain are not all driven by the same inner forces,” says mental health counselor Kerith Edwards. Edward explains that chronic complaining could be a result of everything from frustration and betrayal to anxiety and mistrust.
So, complaining can be a marker of many different things. But it’s still a bad habit that needs to be avoided. And, with some self-awareness and diligence, you can cut greatly cut down on the complaints. So, if complaining is holding you back, here are some steps you can take to get your mind and your mouth focused on more positive things.
Write Your Complaints Down
A habitual complainer generally has a tendency to air their grievances to anyone in earshot. So, the next time something really wears at you, don’t say anything. Instead, write it down in a journal. This allows you to get out your gripe without implicating yourself or annoying others. “Journaling can be a great way to collect your thoughts and begin to work through them on your own,” says life coach Elizabeth Su. “If free-writing is too overwhelming, try using a prompt like: ‘What’s actually going on here?’, ‘How does this make me feel?’ or ‘Given this, how do I want to move forward?’”
When possible, actually removing yourself from a situation can be the best way to break the cycle of complaining. Immediate physical activity is best. But even if you can’t do that in the moment, experts agree that even something as simple as a daily walk can help drain the negativity from your mind and give you a new perspective. “Research shows that walking can be a great form of stress reduction,” says Su. “So whether you schedule in a daily 30-minute walk over lunch or just a brief five-minute walk when a particular issue arises, you will undoubtedly benefit from a breath of fresh air.”
Refresh Your Friend List
The old saying that misery loves company is very true, and if you surround yourself with people who share your penchant for whining, you’ll feed off of each other. The result will be a spiral of complaining that could prove impossible to break out of. “If you catch yourself in a worse mood or complaining more after you hang out with a particular friend or colleague,” says Su, “you may want to re-evaluate how much time you spend with this person.”
Get to the Root of the Issue
In order for you to successfully work habitual complaining out of your daily routine, it’s necessary to understand what it is that’s driving you to do it in the first place. Edwards suggests choosing one topic that particularly gets under your skin and then condensing all of the complaints into a “core” complaint.
For example, if you tend to complain about your significant other, try and figure out if there is one issue at the heart of these complaints that then give rise to all the others (“He/She doesn’t listen to me when I try and talk to him/her about my problems, my feelings, or what’s happening in my life.”) From there, you need to go deeper, trimming away as much of the fat around that complaint as possible: “He/She doesn’t listen to me.”
Once you’ve been able to condense that complaint, Edwards says, you can begin to restructure and reframe it, looking at it in a new way. And, out of that reframing, revelations might occur. (“He/She doesn’t listen to me,” might become “He/She doesn’t listen because I complain too much.”)
It can be challenging and painstaking to strip away the layers in this way, Edwards says, but the rewards will be worth it. “Regardless of the reason for or source of the complaining, it is a negative and painful psychological position to take in relationship to self and others,” he says. “To wean oneself from chronic complaining, it is necessary to invest energy and intention in the change process.”