It might be hard to understand if you don’t know me well and aren’t the same way, but I don’t complain very much. I don’t like the way complaining feels. It typically makes me feel worse about a problem. And I’m not alone in this — research studies finds that complaining, especially without action to remedy it, is counterproductive. Venting without a solution can feel cathartic in the moment but tends to train you to be more negative over time. Anger is neurochemically addictive, too, which doesn’t help matters.
So I’m a battle picker. If I discover something that troubles me, I’ll usually think on solutions and try to find out why I’m bothered and what I need before ever bringing it up to another person. This way, we’ll be closer to solving an issue. And I won’t just be venting and training myself to be a pressure cooker.
Sometimes this goes great. Other times, not so much.
Looking back on my life, I can see multiple relationships — of all kinds, whether romantic, friend, family, classmate, coworker — where the same pattern would creep in: We were always talking about the other person’s concerns, whatever they were. Typically, these folks complained and complained. As I mentioned in an earlier post, people have different thresholds for when they will complain. Mine tends to be rather high — partly naturally and partly on purpose (because of what I’ve learned about complaining).
But I’ve also been around a lot of people in my life who didn’t mind complaining — and who even seemed to enjoy it (again, self-righteous anger can be chemically addictive and self-perpetuating, so this scans).
And in those relationships (again, of all kinds), a familiar pattern would emerge. They would spend lots of time complaining. And I would do my best to talk them through it and to problem-solve, typically assuming a good faith, problem-oriented motivation for the complaints. Many times they would assure me they were “just blowing off steam” and tell me to drop it.
Meanwhile, I would clarify my own relationship with complaints with them — and explain how I functioned differently. That if I had a complaint, it was a large concern and that I wanted to problem-solve (and had at that point done a bunch of private groundwork when bringing it to them to get their input).
But when the eventual time I did complain came to pass, they wouldn’t take me seriously. They’d blow off my complaints. OR — in the case of some of the hottest headed folks — they would turn the situation around so that they had a complaint of their own — and they would recenter the discussion so that we’d be talking about their issue instead.
And mine would never get addressed. (Yes, sometimes even after multiple persistent attempts to try to raise the issue anew.)
It’s been maddening in the moment. But thankfully, I’ve learned to spot this cycle sooner.
I will say that no matter how well you communicate, no matter how careful you are, there will be relationships and situations where the other person never gets over the sound of their own fury. They don’t have space for other people’s concerns and problem-solving.
It’s unfortunate but true. But at least at this point, I’ve learned to identify it and not take it so personally. That’s been huge.