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The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

In January, Cookie was vacationing in Miami Beach. She sat on a bench while she waited for her daughter to complete a purchase. A couple of well-dressed elderly ladies with shopping bags sat beside her. They began complaining about the weather (which was lovely), the crowds (light), the prices (everything was on sale), and so forth. Cookie was put off by their negativity until they swiveled and flashed big smiles at her. She realized that they'd simply been playing a social game with each other to connect.

Complaining has a long history and can have some benefits. For instance, taking a break at the water cooler and bemoaning the new regulations can be validating. It lets you know that everyone's in the same boat and creates camaraderie. When Sally grumbles about how much work she has, it's a way of getting attention. She does this to let people know that she's overwhelmed or to get appreciation.

Or Jacquie grouses to her best friend about her husband's untidy work bench, knowing that he won't change it. But venting about it to someone she trusts saves conflict in her marriage. Jeff complained that the photographic printer paper he ordered was wrinkled. The vendor sent him a coupon that was worth more than the paper.

Social interaction, connection, acknowledgement, release, finding solutions are beneficial uses of complaining. They are time or situation limited and serve a purpose. Also, there's a difference between complaining, identifying a problem and observation. Noticing that a light has burned out and asking it to be replaced isn't a complaint. Or saying that it's raining and you got wet walking in from your car is simply a statement of fact.

However, when complaining descends to a gripe-fest, then it can become counterproductive. Even a positive person can get sucked into one of these. For example, Josie attended a luncheon, and everyone started finding fault about something in their lives. It began innocently, with one grumbling about her mother-in-law, another about her own mother, and then it snowballed into a competition.

Each person tried to upstage the other in how bad things were in their lives. No one won and everyone felt dissatisfied with their lives when it was over. They didn't want to repeat the experience so avoided the next lunch. This is when complaining starts becoming destructive. Most people are repelled by this kind of negativity. It feeds into a sense of helplessness and victimhood and serves no purpose.

It also triggers the stress response. The mind perceives the situation as a threat and signals the body to prepare for danger. The body then wastes energy braced for a problem that doesn't exist. Not only is this unhealthy, but it shuts off the mind's ability to find any solutions. Creativity, innovation and resourcefulness close down as the mind just tries to make sure the body survives.

And then there's Carrie, who's a serial complainer. This is the most toxic kind of complaining. She calls a friend to whine about everything from the weather to how her mother told her to get a job. When she runs out of grievances, she starts over and goes through her litany four more times before she hangs up. She rejects any suggested solutions, and refuses to shift her attention to something else. Her friend feels like she's been run over by a truck by the time the call ends. Carrie is firmly entrenched in her victimhood and doesn't want to give it up.

Even if you aren't a habitual complainer, like Carrie, you may gripe more than is best for you. When you focus on the problem, you won't be able to access your ability to find a solution. All you're doing is reinforcing the problem, and perpetuating it. Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." You'll have to shift your attention to be open to solutions before you'll find them.

Learn to identify what kind of complaining you're indulging in, the good, bad or ugly. Become aware of what your purpose is for complaining. Do you want to connect with others, gain acknowledgement, find a solution, or something else? Is the result going to be empowering and constructive? If so, decide how you can best grumble and then move on.

However, if you just want to grouse because you're dissatisfied with your life, it won't bring you anything better. You'll dig yourself a deeper hole and find more to carp about. In this case, it would be a better choice to refrain from complaining. Constructive complaining, or avoiding it completely, is more likely to get you what you want and offer more options to make positive changes in your life.

Copyright © 2009-2023 Linda Ann Stewart
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As a focus coach, hypnotherapist, and speaker, Linda-Ann Stewart motivates women to focus and transform their business through deliberate actions that break through distraction and overwhelm to greater success, freedom, wellbeing and prosperity. Watch her FREE training video on Set Your Course to Success: 4 steps to strategically achieve your goals with confidence and ease. Register for the video and accompanying action planning guide at You can contact her at or 928-600-0452.


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