Let’s face it, to one degree or another we all complain. Here in London, I sometimes think it is easier to speak to a stranger using a complaint than with a nice comment. If I was waiting for a train and I turned to the person next to me and said “These bloody trains are never on time!” that person would most likely agree with me and tell me about how last week they had to wait an hour for a train. If I turned to the same person and said “Wow, this is a lovely station isn’t it?” they’d most likely think I was a weirdo and avoid eye contact. But not all complaining is equal, and some of us, rightly or wrongly feel like we have more right to complain than others and also feel that we should be able to voice any and all complaints to certain people. When you are the sufferer of a serious chronic illness, there is plenty to complain about. But how much should we complain about and to whom? Do you complain too much? This is something I want to take a look at in this post.
What is complaining?
A couple of dictionary definitions of complain are to “express dissatisfaction or annoyance about something” or “to express feelings of pain, dissatisfaction, or resentment”.
Why do we complain?
Keep in mind that I’m not a psychologist, so these are just my personal opinions on this topic, but I think there are generally 3 types of complainers, each with their own reasons for complaining:
- The Fixer: This type of complainer is looking for a way to fix a problem. It could be when you speak to the manager of a hotel you’re staying in to tell them about how your room was not cleaned properly by housekeeping, or in your personal life, when you tell your partner that leaving a wet towel on the suede sofa is not on.
- The Venter: This person is not looking for solution, but feels better once they feel they’ve been heard and maybe received a little sympathy. Examples include calling your best friend to talk about the awful date you’ve just been on, or even an ME sufferer taking to Twitter to talk about the worst treatments you may have experienced. Complaining won’t change what happened or stop them from happening again, but will often evoke sympathy and even give you the opportunity to laugh about what happened.
- The Chronic Complainer: The chronic complainer doesn’t want a solution, will not feel better by complaining, but always seems to have something to complain about and often about the same things. It’s difficult to know how to deal with a chronic complainer because there’s nothing you can say or do to help them.
The Chronic Complainer
I think we can agree that the worst of the 3 types of complainers I have detailed above is the chronic complainer. In the first 2 cases, something is gained from complaining. But the chronic complainer achieves nothings and destroys much. These types of people often come across as possessing a victim mentality, and they want everyone to know how bad they have it. We all know a chronic complainer or two (if you don’t, you’re either very lucky or may be unaware that you’re the chronic complainer). I am more than happy to spend my time and limited energy on helping someone, even if it is just by lending an ear. But, that’s just it, there is no helping a chronic complainer. I once had a chronic complainer sit and talk about how awful her life was for 5hrs. It wasn’t a dialogue, she wasn’t interested in my life, she didn’t want to hear about any solutions I had to offer, and even agreeing with her didn’t seem to help, because it just made her feel like even more of a victim.
Another chronic complainer I know will complain about the same thing every day; EVERY SINGLE DAY! Yes, some of the things he talks about are terrible, but when he does absolutely nothing about changing his situation or solving his problems and is not interested in any advice. In fact, the last time I tried to offer some advice about how he could take some power back in a situation, he got very angry with me for not understanding him and for not listening.
How to Deal with a Chronic Complainer
I know a lot of people who suffer from chronic illnesses. Many have ME, but I also know people who suffer with other illnesses. I can happily say that almost all these people do not complain at all. They just get on with their lot and make the most of the lives that they do have. The Chronic Complainers I do know are not complaining about any illness, but about every other aspect of their lives. These are the steps I took to deal with the chronic complainers in my life:
- Limit Interaction: I don’t mean that I stopped talking to the Chronic Complainers, just that I told them that due to work and health routine I could not be avaible around the clock to respond to texts and e-mails. I made it clear that they were free to contact me, but not to feel offended of that I did not care if I didn’t immediately respond. This immediately made me feel better because it gave me some time and space, but it also still allowed the other person to vent their frustrations.
- Validation: Both of the Chronic Complainers I know the best are very lonely people and I think that the fact they didn’t have anyone to talk to in a normal setting is what amped up the victim mentality. If they had some kind of a network of support maybe things would not have become this bad. So I never invalidated their complaints even if at times I really felt the complaints were so petty or self-inflicted.
- Help: But while I listened I never offered one bit of advice or help, because past experience had shown me that nothing good ever came from that. They did not want advice, just to be heard. What I did do was ask “What will you do about that?” I noticed that they spent so much time on looking at the hopelessness of their situation that they never actually considered taking any curative action.
- Shift Focus: No matter how much you love the Chronic Complainer, you’ll get to a point in the conversation when it’s time to change the subject. Yes, listening is good, but you can’t do that forever, as they’ll just keep going on and on. I’d try to talk about something nice, just to shift the focus. This does not mean jollying the person out of their woes, but can be something as simple as asking them about anything they do like in their life at this time, or if they could change everything to feel better, what would they change? This hopefully will get them from looking at everything that is wrong, to looking for something that is right. Of course, you do have those people that will claim there is nothing good, so be careful how you word your question.
If you don’t know what to say or do, then be honest, just say “Yeah, it sounds like it’s really hard for you, I don’t even know what to suggest.”
Yes, not all complaining is equal and there is definitely something to be achieved from a good complaint, but if you have nothing but complaints and complaining does not make you feel better or make your situation better then there is definitely something wrong. If after reading this you recognise some of the Chronic Complainer traits in yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it. Things must seem really bad if you feel that much of a victim. But understand that complaining about the same things again and again will end up alienating those that you love, especially if you don’t really want any help or advice. Consider speaking to a counsellor to help you navigate this hard time in your life.
Do you know a Chronic Complainer? What advice and tips do you suggest?