I don’t know about you, but I am emotionally exhausted. The global covid-19 pandemic is emotionally exhausting as much as it is scary. And if you are trying to be responsible and stay informed, the news updates everyday can be overwhelming. I have decided to go about my days expecting that everyone I know feels exactly the way I do (regardless of if they do or not).
So what do you want to do when you are emotionally exhausted, lonely, and scared? You might want to scream and never stop screaming. You might want to escape to the nearest forested area, lie down, let the moss claim you, and become one with nature. You might just want to talk about it; but how do you talk about it without complaining? Honestly, I have no idea. Sometimes all we can do is complain when we don’t know what’s going.
The thing about complaining is that it’s one of the many types of communicating that isn’t always as obvious as we expect it to be and complaining or hearing complaints can exacerbate your existing emotional exhaustion if you aren’t careful.
So what’s the difference between complaining and talking about an issue? For me, the difference between complaining and expressing a problem in your life is depth of conversation. I always figure that the first time you bring up a problem is for addressing that there is a problem: all other times you bring up the problem afterwards is complaining. Additionally, complaining (to me) is stating a problem and then not addressing it. If you just want to tell someone about your problems but then not talk about or address it, you are probably complaining. If you want to tell someone about your problems and need help or support and are open to receiving that, you aren’t complaining.
It’s absolutely okay to complain, but it can get pretty exhausting for you and those around you if all you do is complain and you aren’t complaining in a constructive way. Especially when everyone is just as exhausted as you are. Complaining can be a good way to express stress in your life, but excessive complaining can make you more stressed and give you a negative outlook. If you complain about anything and everything, you start to think everything in your life is worth complaining about. This can only add more negativity to your life. Also, if your complaints are adding negativity to your life, they are probably affecting the lives of your friends and loved ones. During an emergency situation, the last thing you want is to add stress to someone else’s life or have someone else add stress to yours.
So many of us never think about how our complaints are received or affect those around us. Sometimes complaints aren’t explicit complaints, some complaints are meant not to complain but to shame or make a point. Sometimes complaints are simply to express discomfort and stress. Sometimes complaints are a necessary way to express a desire for change but a complaint without change is just a complaint.
The thing about how we communicate is that we tend to forget the receiver of our messages is an active player in interpreting the message. We can’t fault someone or get upset because they didn’t understand what we “really meant” because often we don’t either. I am incredibly guilty of this. If someone misunderstands what you say, especially with little context or with sparse communication, it’s a team failure and the fix is to extend communication for clarity. Communicating poorly and then leaving that communication as is after fallout or confusion is irresponsible to our relationships.
Regardless, if you think complaining is hurting or exhausting your relationship with someone or someone you care about says it is: here is a guide to complaining. You don’t have to stop complaining all together, because let’s be honest no one stops complaining entirely. That would be like trying to stop having even the tiniest of bad thoughts (which is impossible, everyone has bad thoughts). Instead we should be conscious of how and when we complain, particularly during periods of time when everyone is exhausted and scared. Below are my tips to practice constructive complaining.
How to Complain Constructively
Don’t broadcast your complaints
Unless you’re an internet or public personality known for your prolific complaining with an audience, then stop complaining publicly. Once in a while is okay but constantly complaining in public or on a public platform makes you look like a super negative person (and maybe you totally are and you like it that way. You do you.). Complaining about your life, the things you wish you could do, the people you don’t like, or anything else is not a good look and if that’s all you do, then that’s all everyone else will think you do. The thing about complaining publicly is that you’re inviting a multitude of interactions, interpretations, and there is no feasible way to maintain control when you involve even just a handful of people. And these people don’t have to interact directly with you and your complaints for the damage to be done to your reputation over time.
Don’t complain to strangers, period.
They don’t care, it can give you a reputation for being a complainer, and it’s annoying. Everyone is busy and when we consent to interact with strangers we aren’t necessarily consenting to the stranger’s emotional baggage. Consider that strangers don’t need to know how or why you think (or know) your life sucks next time you think about complaining to a stranger.
Read the room
Is (insert complaint) something you would complain about in front of someone who loves you or a first date (or a stranger!)? Is the other person or people talking about something important? Will your complaint add or detract? Really learn how to read the room when it comes to complaining (or communicating in general). This ultimately comes down to emotional intelligence, which I would argue is the most important intelligence.
A good rule of thumb in reading a room is to pay attention to the conversation. Is everyone complaining? Sometimes if everyone is doing it, then complaining can be a way to bond with the group or other person; just be careful it doesn’t turn into some kind of pain competition where you are invalidating each other’s stress or problems by having something more “worthy” of complaining about. Don’t size each other up with who’s life is more worth complaining about, that’s a really shitty way to treat people you care about.
If your friend complains to you and you respond immediately with a complaint of your own, you probably aren’t being a good friend. Before you ever respond with another complaint, make sure your friend is just complaining and not trying to extend the conversation to ask for help or support. A complaint response is the best way to invalidate your friend’s problems, sever communication, and tell your friend that you can’t be trusted with emotional support.
Ask if you can complain
Sometimes hearing someone else complain about their problems can stress you out or add more stress to your life. Sometimes it’s emotionally exhausting to hear someone else complain about their life, especially if you aren’t complaining about yours. As a rule, I always assume everyone is just as stressed out as I am and don’t want to add to their stress by complaining about mine. Now more than ever, you should just treat it as a fact that everyone you know and meet is emotionally exhausted
Our complaints can emotionally exhaust those around us. This is especially true for the people we love. Our problems often become their’s and complaining just to complain may be adding more stress to their life so unless it’s something you really need someone to hear you or need help/advice with, it’s best to ask them if you can talk to them about it, and then follow through with talking about it and not just complaining.
Most people will say yes: but if they say no, don’t take it personally. We are all in different spaces mentally and emotionally. I wish more people would ask me if they can complain to me because there have been times where the relationship was hurt because I wasn’t asked and I was subject to a barrage of complaints when I was already in a bad headspace and was actively choosing not to complain about my own problems. Most of the time, asking is just a way to let someone know that the conversation isn’t going to be positive and allows them to get in the right headspace to listen to what you have to say.
Make your complaints constructive
If you are going to complain just because you have made a habit about complaining you should just stop there. If you just need someone to listen to you, tell them. If you are complaining to ask for help with the issue, then make that clear. Like I say in my Busy post, there is no shame in asking for help and if you are genuinely looking for help or advice then make that as clear as possible. Also, if someone agrees to help you, that is the time to stop complaining about other things. You don’t want to burn someone who wants to help you out with more complaints.
Sometimes we just want to be heard, sometimes we want help. Before you complain consider what you need. If you just need some compassion and a safe place to vent, let the other person know so your needs are respected and they aren’t trying to help you solve your problem. If you want help with the thing you’re complaining about, tell them. Open communication is incredibly important to building and maintaining healthy relationships.
Stop excessively complaining: it’s probably making you miserable
Complaining is a way of acknowledging the things in our lives that upset us but when we complain excessively we are over acknowledging the things in our lives that upset us and then we tend to forget about the good things. Focusing on the negative gives us negative outlooks and perspectives. Excessively complaining only adds negativity to our life narratives. We don’t need villains in our narratives that extend from ourselves and if we are creating villains everywhere we look we are going to be miserable. Give yourself a break and choose to see the good things instead of every thing that may or may not be worth complaining about. Now more than ever we should be focusing on what is good in our lives.
It’s okay to complain, we all do
Everyone complains and everyone has something valid to complain about. How to complain is something a lot of people don’t think about and most people definitely don’t think about how their complaining is affecting their relationships. I personally choose not to complain in my relationships outside of small general complaints I can’t control (it’s so cold/hot/windy, I hate being allergic to dogs, etc) because I am a fixer and I don’t want to lament the problems in my life if I could just fix them. I could be better about communicating my needs and asking for consent to complain, but I am working on it and growing.
I think complaining every now and then can be healthy, but we all know when something has gone too far (usually after the fact).
Right now while everyone is in a difficult place and emotionally exhausted, is when we really need to decide if it’s worth complaining about the situation or focusing on the good things. I don’t, and you probably don’t, want to be a source of stress for our loved ones. Complaining can cause stress, consider that next time you want to complain and make sure you are doing it constructively. Practice being mindful of your words, communicate with your friends and loved ones, and complain constructively.