You lost your keys again, your boyfriend forgot to take out the trash, and your professor just won’t give you that extension. Your mind goes straight to “why me?” mode, and you complain. To your friends, your family, the guy next to you on the bus, to anyone who will listen.
We complain for many different reasons, and in many different ways, but too much complaining can have negative consequences.
Dr. Laurel End, the chair of the psychology department at Mount Mary University, warns against excessive, or “chronic,” complaining.
“Complaining is not abnormal or bad,” End said. “Only when it’s excessive, and when people aren’t getting beyond that situation.”
Complaining can feel good in the moment, but this can be a lot different from assessing a situation, brainstorming and then problem solving in order to deal with it.
Grace Jentsch, a senior at Mount Mary, describes herself as a “sunshiney” person. She approaches each day with a smile and a bubbly, positive attitude, and avoids complaining.
As a Student Registration and Orientation leader, Jentsch stepped up in front of an audience of new, nervous incoming freshmen and said, “I am a bubbly optimist.” Her optimism in the face of a potentially stressful time immediately alleviated the mood.
Jentsch has a secret to radiating such alacrity and never feeling the need to complain.
“I find solutions rather than complaining,” Jentsch said.
Jentsch feels that there is an advantage to venting to certain people that she trusts, but complaining just for the sake of complaining just isn’t going to help. By having the right people to talk to, Jentsch is able to brainstorm ideas with them to then find a solution.
“I would rather deal with situations than complain about them,” Jentsch said.
Dr. End agrees with this form of expressing grievances.
“If somebody uses complaining as a way to share information when they’re talking out loud about what’s happening and they’re thinking and getting it out there to think of solutions, then it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” End said. “But just complaining over and over without any action can have negative consequences.”
Jentsch identified that venting, or getting everything off her chest at once, helped how she felt.
“Complaining can definitely weigh down on how I feel,” Jentsch said. “I talk through a thought process. Complaining seems easier, but venting takes it to the next step.”
Dr. Terri Jashinsky, a professor at Mount Mary and a clinical rehabilitation counseling program director, also recommends the act of venting in order to improve a situation.
“You should have those times when you vent or process and use that to help you move forward,” Jashinsky said.
It certainly isn’t easy to move forward from a negative feeling when complaining has always been your go-to. In fact, when someone complains, his or her brain gets used to retrieving negative memories rather than positive ones.
“It affects our thinking when we dwell on negative things, and it affects our memory so it’s easier to retrieve negative memories, and you get caught in this vicious cycle,” End said.
Alison Bubloni, a junior and resident assistant at Mount Mary University, can be seen smiling and offering a kind words to any resident or student who needs her help. As the whiteboard outside of her dorm room reads, “Let me know if you need anything.” She was sure to underline the word “anything.”
Her vibrant clothing and recognizable laugh mark her as another student, like Jentsch, who radiates positivity. But, to Bubloni, complaining is okay.
“If you’re not complaining about it, I don’t see how it can be resolved, or how you can be in touch with your emotions,” Bubloni said.
Although Bubloni is comfortable with casual complaining, her ways of complaining are similar to Jentsch’s.
“I try to only do it to somebody I trust,” Bubloni said. “Like my mom, or a family member, because it helps me gain perspective.”
Not only does complaining impact the individual, but those who are around complainers can also experience negative side effects. When someone complains a lot, they may find that their social circle is dwindling.
“Social support is good for us physically, mentally and emotionally, and people that complain tend not to have the same strong support system,” End said. “It drives friends away; family might not even want to pick up the phone when they see who’s calling. And when you lose that support system, people generally are less happy.”
Bubloni had a similar experience at one of her jobs. When one of her coworkers started complaining a lot, it started to weigh her down and made her start to complain a lot, too.
Students’ Perspective: How do you stay positive?
"Upon having a negative thought, I immediately correct myself and say something positive." Adia Kolell, sophomore, fashion design.
"I listen to music and write songs and poetry." Monique Beasley, senior, psychology.
"I usually draw fashion sketches." Savannah Turner, sophomore, fashion design.
"Acceptance is important. I focus on what is, not the 'shoulds' or 'coulds'." Sarah Goldberg, freshman, interior design.
"Getting together with that one friend that makes your soul happy." Rachel Koepke, junior, art therapy and art education.
“And once I started to complain about that position, I noticed myself not really enjoying going to work or enjoying the place of work, and having an overall negative outlook on it for at least a month,” Bubloni said. “It was really hard to get rid of it.”
Bubloni’s negative side effects aren’t rare. Jashinsky explained some possible impacts frequent complaining can have on someone.
“If the complaining is more chronic, and someone is focusing a lot negative things, it could lead a person to experience low mood, sadness, or just dissatisfaction with their lives,” Jashinsky said.
Even if you’re stuck in the vicious cycle of complaining, there’s still hope. Once Bubloni realized the complaining was weighing her down, she decided to stop doing it so frequently.
“Now, this year, I’m in the same position, and I’ve found myself enjoying it more,” Bubloni said.
There are ways to fix a negative mindset. If you find yourself stuck in the habit of complaining, there are simple, quick activities you can do at home.
“Write three good things that happened to you that day,” End said. “When you’re in a positive mood, you can retrieve positive memories more easily. As people write down three things a day, it will get easier to think of them.”
Jentsch also recommended ways to get complaints off one’s chest. She recommends “getting it out” without just simply complaining, like writing in “complain journals.”
“Not everything has to be crazy sunshine and rainbows,” Jentsch said.
There may be a real root to the complaint that goes far beyond what’s just being stated.
“If your server didn’t bring your food on time, maybe you’re really complaining because you feel like you aren’t being respected,” End said.
Jashinsky describes that the first step to stop complaining is to realize how it’s truly impacting your life.
“My biggest suggestion for people (who complain) is to just pay attention to how it’s impacting them individually,” Jashinsky said. “Is this something that benefits me or is helpful to me?”
7 Ways to Stop Complaining
- Nourish a positive attitude: Cultivate a positive spin on how you perceive a problem.
- Learn to adapt: Think of new experiences as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
- Be more mindful: Accept all that life has to offer, good or bad.
- Be assertive: Be firm and express what you want clearly. Convey confidence; don’t become someone else’s doormat.
- Be less judgmental: Everyone makes mistakes, and being critical leads to complaining.
- Be responsible: Think highly of yourself and your decision-making process. Own your mistakes but never the mistakes of others.
- Keep moving forward: The thing that is creating a problem cannot last forever.
Source: Katherine Eion