We are brought up in a society where we are constantly comparing ourselves to other people. We can’t help it as much as we try. From childhood, we want what others have, and as adults, we think “the grass is always greener on the other side”. We compare for good and for bad, which usually is to say or think that someone has more or is better than us. One of our ways of coping is by complaining. Unfortunately, complaining usually gets a pretty bad reputation. I personally think people (and sometimes me) associate the act of complaining with venting far more than with problem-solving, but that’s a subject for a different article. Today I want to talk about how sometimes complaining has benefits and can be a way to relieve stress, in small doses.
So how do we know where to draw the “right to complain” line? How much complaining is considered healthy? I am not talking about complaining over every little detail like people, smells, colors, and such. That’s unhealthy and can lead to cognitive changes and depression (see Cary, 2017; Winokur, 1997; Shanafelt & Dyrbye, 2012). Constant complaining will initially manifest itself in the form of nervousness, impulsivity, fatigue and cause various physical disturbances. I am not referring to that type of complaining. I am talking about “people who feel and are overloaded at work” complaining, or “people who feel their boss doesn’t listen to them” complaining, or a serious issue like “a stalker in the neighborhood and nobody is dealing with it” type of complaining. One could complain over a gamete of stuff like government issues, community issues etc. and yes, even occasionally to complain about the small, insignificant stuff.
We can find ourselves complaining about these types of complaints quite often in a day to our families, spouses, friends, co-workers, customer service representatives, and even strangers in the elevator. I feel that complaining can help in many ways. For example 1) It can help us feel in control. We live in a world where we are constantly being told what to do and how to do it, and even though that is the way it is sometimes, or in specific jobs, it is still hard on us. We feel like we lose our uniqueness and a sense of self in a world so demanding and constantly in a running state. We feel out of control as if our voice isn’t being heard. So sometimes it’s totally OK to blow off steam by venting to someone. 2) It can alleviate stress- if you complain on a low to moderate basis. Lowering stress feels good- right? Basically, when we get scary or stressful thoughts off of our chests, we often feel that these fears become smaller, less abstract, and more tangible and manageable (Guy, psychologist). Is that not good? People sometimes get mad when you try to give them answers to their complaints, and tell them what to do. People who complain don’t necessarily want answers but just to share the information and get it off our chest. 3) It can foster group bonding Complaining can actually help foster a group or community because it gives you the opportunity to voice your concerns and find people with a similar mindset. This way we get a group of people who feel the same way and maybe make a change. 4) It can help us make better choices. For those who choose to share, you may actually get insightful, helpful feedback (Shawn, T. Psychology Today), ideas and solutions from people whom have already been there. This way you can hear all the angles and opinions and chose the path you would like to take. 5) It can raise our self-esteem. By complaining and making your voice heard you feel like your words have meaning and people want to hear your opinion. There is even the possibility that you may change a situation by making things operate in your own favor, if what you say makes sense. So why not talk more? After all, you seem to be getting everyone’s attention (hopefully in a good way).
What a thought that is! Complaining can really do all that you say? Well, social media seems to agree. They complain all the time about things and look how fast they get things moving (Kowalski, R. 1996). My point is this: We complain to stay in balance and to cope with our day to day life. Obviously, we must pick our battles, but we’ve got to speak out sometimes. There’s a physical and psychological limit to how much we can bottle up information inside. I’d never counsel anyone to swallow all that’s on their mind, Would you? If the alternative is a little harmless kvetching, why get in the way of it? If the people we complain to reject us for doing it, that’s unfortunate. Find someone else. Even if we can find no one to share our views, we may still feel some relief from voicing it. The alternative may be measurably unhealthy or dangerous. Never complaining also seems like intolerable blandness to me (“Hello in there? Do you have any opinions”).
Bottom line: Self-expression includes occasional complaining…it can be a matter of self-respect, sanity (Hank, D. psychology today), inner peace, happiness, community bonding and more. There is no need for you to say: “I am not complaining because people have it worse than me”, you can’t let yourself do that; there will always be people in a worse place than you. So with that thought in mind, you have the full right to complain (from time to time) about your personal life and things that are important or bugging you. And I say this to you, all families, spouses, friends, co-workers, customer service representatives, and even the strangers in the elevator- you have a big role to fill. We are going to complain all our complaints to you, please understand that the complaints are for the complainer and not directed at you.
So…ladies and gentlemen- complain away!