Service of Complaining: It Can Feel Good But Does It Do Any Good?

January 27th, 2020

Categories: Complaints, Conversation, Friendship

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I love to complain which no doubt is why I’ve written this blog twice a week for a dozen years. Once I’ve identified what’s really bothering me, which often happens after griping about it, I usually move on. No goody-goody two shoes here: I’ve carried some big injuries or affronts for years but as for the day-to-day grumps I can shed most and move on using my mother’s mantra: “Bury the bone but remember where you’ve buried it.” [After I’d produced a string of gripes she’d ask, with a tone of irritation: “anything else?” I often ask the same question to myself today.]

Micaela Marini Higgs lined up a bunch of evidence on the subject in her New York Times article, “Go Ahead and Complain. It Might Be Good for You.” The operative word is might. “Constantly complaining can be an easy way to frustrate our confidantes, but there is research that shows it can also be a useful tool in bonding and helping us process emotions like stress and frustration.” Higgs quoted Robin Kowalski, a professor of psychology at Clemson University: “In short: Yes, it’s good to complain, yes, it’s bad to complain, and yes, there’s a right way to do it.”

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Higgs described three varieties of complaint: venting, problem solving and ruminating/dwelling. She reported: “Knowing which behavior you’re engaging in, and with what purpose, can help you put in place habits that will not only make your complaining much more strategic, but also help improve your emotional health and build stronger relationships with the people around you.”

Warned Margot Bastin at the department of School Psychology and Development in Context at the Belgian university KU Leuven, “Making complaining the primary focus in our relationships can make us dwell on our problems for longer, triggering a stress response. Bonds built over mutual dissatisfaction can also prove brittle once one person’s problem has been resolved.”

It’s normal to complain because, as Higgs observes, life isn’t perfect. Kowalski said “Inhibiting the disclosure of our dissatisfaction ‘can produce a negative effect,’ because it not only stops us from naming our problem but also prevents us from getting to the root of it.”

Higgs quoted Tina Gilbertson, a psychotherapist and the author of “Constructive Wallowing.” She said: “complaining is, ideally, totally solutions focused.” Quoting Dr. Grice Higgs continued “Though venting is not as focused on solving problems, ‘there are also really positive benefits,’ because it allows us ‘to get things out in the open and get our feelings heard so they don’t build up and cause stress.’” Angela Grice is a speech language pathologist specializing in the use of mindfulness-based practices. She “previously researched executive functions and neuroscience at Howard University and the Neurocognition of Language Lab at Columbia University.”

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Other benefits of blowing off steam Higgs noted in her article include helping put the gripe in perspective and “words to our feelings;” it’s good both psychologically and emotionally; feedback helps gain perspective and the hope is that you’ll do something about the situation.

According to the experts in the article you want to avoid “always find[ing] something to complain about. The same goes with rehashing a problem over and over again, whether with friends or in the echo chamber of the internet.” Keeping a journal helps blow off steam about smaller complaints.

Has anyone stopped you from venting or criticized you for doing so? Do you find complaining constructive in getting over irritations and finding solutions to them? Is there a difference between a complaint and a critique or review of a restaurant experience or seminar for example?

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2 Responses to “Service of Complaining: It Can Feel Good But Does It Do Any Good?”

  1. BC Said:

    Is your cup half full or half empty? People who have a cup half empty complain a lot. Those who view life as the cup is half full, even in light of some serious disability, is my kind of person. “We do not need more to be thankful for, we need to be more thankful”.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    I’m both–I’m immensely grateful and my default is “happy” but I’m also critical and a complainer. I talk to myself a lot these days and I let off steam by writing if a conversation with me doesn’t do the trick but sometimes I just have to share with a friend. They know who they are!

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