Want to know a hugely liberating piece of information? The content of a complaint is rarely synonymous of its cause. When your girlfriend states that she doesn’t like your outfit today, sure she might mean just that. However, when she starts to complain about your shirt, you can be almost certain that there is a deeper, underlying reason to her behavior. Can’t tell the difference? Be sure to check out part one of the Complaining article here.
Reasons why people complain, and how to deal with it.
Below are five of the most prevalent reasons why people complain. Some of these reflect deeper aspects of our psyche, and are therefore harder to become aware of in the heat of the moment. Learn to recognize these causes next time someone is complaining to or at you, and you will be able to distance yourself from the negative energy and not be affected by unfair accusations and criticism. Even better, practice identifying these motives in yourself, and you will find yourself rid of that pressing urge to complain.
One of the most common forms of complaining is really envy in disguise – bringing people down in order to make one feel better about oneself. This can be direct (“Stacy you are so ugly”), or more commonly, indirectly (“Hey Joan, don’t you think Stacy is so ugly?”) – the latter of which is given the colloquial term ‘bitching’.
It is not hard to find people bitching about more successful people. These people are sometimes known as ‘haters’. Why do so many people hate on Justin Bieber? Or Miley Cyrus? Sure, her twerking and swinging naked on a wrecking ball may not be tastefully appropriate, but why do you care? The conscious person acknowledges it, but understands it’s her freedom to express herself however she wants. The complainer incessantly brings it up in conversation, comments on the internet, feigns acknowledging her freedom of expression, yet cannot hide his/her unhealthy ardor in bringing her down. Why? Because deep down there is envy for her success – and because everyone else is doing it, I can rationalize my envy as ‘voicing my rightful opinion’. Don’t kid yourself. You’re complaining because chances are you’re not content with your life right now. If you were on a waterfront resort sipping cocktails after your most recent business venture earning you 3.6 million, would you be complaining about Miley? Sure, you might laugh at it and find it ridiculous, but you sure won’t be butthurt about it.
This mechanism is a form of confidence preservation. Because life is full of choices, if one is unsatisfied with their current life position, they must call into question all the choices they have made, ranging from actions taken to beliefs and mental paradigms adopted. It is, thus much easier and less existentially daunting to simply rationalize their own lack of willpower and courage to take their lives into their own hands. By putting down other people, you give yourself the illusion that you are not at fault.
Ironically, envy is not the most accurate of terms. This is because, if you pay enough attention, you will notice that this behavior is directed not only towards more successful people, but people with apparently ‘less success’. The resulting behavior is dangerously similar in appearance to arrogance. Example:
Joe, who has the highest grades in his school, yet deep down knows that he is not utilizing his full talent and potential, may say something to this effect, “Most of the people in our school just don’t have any clue what they’re doing. They don’t even study, and waste all their time partying. If only they knew that they’re going to be left jobless when they graduate.” Sure, he may be right, but little does Joe realize that the discomfort in his stomach as he says this is not coming from the other students, but his own deep-seated sense of lack and disappointment at himself.
For others: Realise they are probably envious or unhappy about their own life circumstances in some way or another in the current moment. If people hate on you or your work out of envy, appreciate it as the ultimate form of flattery, as it means that you have done something that they were incapable of doing.
For yourself: Learn to catch yourself out whenever you are complaining about others, and immediately question where this negativity and stress is coming from? Is there perhaps some dissonance from your current actions and way of living with your inner values and dreams?
2. Victim Mentality
Closely related to the previous reason is the insidious victim mentality. The victim refuses to accept the notion that everyone is responsible for his or her own life, and instead seeks to rationalize away the pain by blaming external circumstances in a way which makes it seem outside their control. Why? So they don’t have to face the harsh (but also significantly empowering) reality that we are ultimately responsible for our own life and happiness, and nobody else is going to do it for us. Now this is difficult to accept sometimes, because the world is inherently an unfair place. Is a child born with physical disabilities responsible for his condition? Were the innocent victims of war responsible for their own deaths? Was it their fault that they were born in a place and time of conflict? Of course not. However, that doesn’t change the truth that nothing is going to change by bitching about it. If you are born with a disability, it’s your choice whether you want to spend your time on this planet a bitter, unpleasant person claiming that you were cheated, or you can accept what cannot be changed, and instead focus instead on what you can change, even if that just means keeping a smile on your face and providing a little bit of inspiration to those around you. That is what it means to take responsibility – to accept what cannot be changed, but to take full accountability of everything that is within your control. Is it within your control to shut up and resist the urge to bitch, so that those who you care about are not burdened with unnecessary crap?
For others: You may try to pull them out of victim mentality. However, often someone that is stuck in victim mentality will rationalize other people’s efforts to drag them out of this as somewhat of a personal insult. The best way is to lead by example, and when something in their lives forces them to seriously reconsider their way of seeing the world, hopefully they will gravitate towards your examples.
For yourself: Learn to focus on your circle of influence. You will find that when you are present and doing everything in your abilities to achieve your dreams and goals, you will be in a blissful state where complaining is the furthest thing from your mind.
Stress originates from a variety of different causes, of which the scope of this article will not cover. However, realize that to the person stuck in victim mentality, stress is a legitimate excuse to complain and ‘blow off some steam’. I mean, you can’t help it if you’re stressed, right? The responsible person thinks differently – she realizes that her complaints will have a certain emotional and psychological effect on herself and those around her, and it is her choice whether to inflict those consequences. She will then actively seek out ways to manage her own stress.
For others: Do not try to lecture them about stress when they are stressed – that is the last thing they will need. Instead, crack jokes and try to lighten their mood. Be empathetic, but focus on carrying a light-hearted, fun and refreshing energy within yourself, and trust that this will ‘rub off’ onto the other person.
For yourself: Meditate. Nutrition. Joke around with friends. Socialise. Follow your passions and dreams.
4. Testing for authenticity
Sometimes people complain as a form of ‘testing’ another person to see if the other person can handle it, or whether they will be swayed off their path. Other times, it is to test whether they are really who they project themselves to be (authenticity), or whether they are putting up a fake, superficial front. Depending on the extent, this is actually a normal and even healthy social phenomenon, as it allows us to socially screen others to decide whom to trust, and whom not to. Basically, it is a way of gauging whether or not someone else is worthy of becoming a figure of emotional support, comfort and trust in your life.
Josh just finished a successful product launch, which marks a new step in his career. After countless hours of exhausting work, he comes home to his wife, Jen, and shares the news.
Jen: “Yeah, that’s nice. But you forgot to take out the garbage today.”
Josh: “Sorry, I’ve just been so busy and exhausted making the launch deadline that I forgot. But now it’s all done!”
Jen: “I don’t care about your product launch. You failed to take out the garbage. Do you expect me to do all your chores for you?”
Here, if Josh was to become defensive and argue, or become supplicating and submissive in his behavior, Jen would actually lose some attraction for and trust in him. This is because she is, in a way, testing to see how certain Josh is that this career move is what he wants. As long as he is clear and in control of his own life emotionally, Jen knows she can continue to trust him and allow herself to be vulnerable. However, if Josh reacts and argues back, even if what Josh logically says may be correct, Jen will feel that he needs her approval – that he wants her to validate and congratulate him for his product launch – and consequently will lose some attraction for Josh.
This is a tricky social dynamic which varies by case-to-case basis. Sometimes, excessive testing may reflect a deeper emotional insecurity. It is also important not to mistake genuine objections and constructive criticism as a ‘test’.
For others: Do not flinch emotionally and hold your personal boundaries. Learn to recognize these complaints and to remain present, while dissolving the complainer with love.
For yourself: Just understand this is normal, and as long as these types of ‘complaints’ are not destroying your life or relationships, it should be fine. If these complaints are too consistent, examine closely whether your continual testing is not reflecting one of the other issues discussed in this article.
5. Seeking love or attention
Sometimes people complain as a way of seeking attention. Perhaps as children, their parents would comfort them every time they winged and cried, and as a result they have created an emotional connection between complaining and receiving love. However, as stated above, you can only complain to a certain point before the ‘loving understanding’ partner or friend just becomes a ‘highly irritated’ one, unless he or she is a highly enlightened and unconditionally loving saint – in which case you should be grateful for having someone like that around you and not pollute them with your negativity.
For others: understand that they probably are seeking emotional support, and try to be patient and ‘love’ them through and out of the negativity.
For yourself: Ask yourself why you are seeking love and attention. Then rectify the problem with a more proactive way, if that means giving your spouse a hug.
These are five of the most common reasons why people complain. They are universal and can be observed everywhere with a keen observation. Understanding the real reasons of whinging and whining is empowering, as it allows us to escape the influence this hugely prevalent social phenomenon which usually serves no better purpose but to spread negative energy. In other words, we learn to stop taking other people's complaints so personally, which allows us to keep our egos out of interactions, and avoid pointless fights and conflicts.