Complainers – Can they make you dumb?
“I don’t want to complain . . . but . . . ”
“Can you believe they would do this to me . . . ”
“Nothing ever works out for me . . . I’m so mad . . . I can’t believe . . . don’t you agree that . . . ”
What do you do when complainers start . . . well . . . complaining?
Where do you encounter them? At work? At home? Friends? Family? Spouse? Kids? On TV?
Complainers are everywhere – and no one is immune to it (We’ve ALL complained at one point or another. ).
There are times when some complaining can be good (and needed to fix a situation) – but research has shown that dealing with chronic complainers can actually harm us – turning our minds to mush with as little as listening to 30 minutes of complaining. Neurons are actually being peeled away in your hippocampus by viewing and listening to that negativity. [So I am right when I tell my kids that the stupid, negative shows on tv are turning their brains to mush! YAY! Go science! Way to prove mom right! hee,hee ]
Removing complainers from daily life
When one of my kids was in preschool, there was this mom I befriended. At first she was fun – full of dramatic, crazy stories about her life. Man, my life seemed so boring and dull in comparison. Definitely not as much drama, problems or issues to have to deal with.
But over time, I began to notice something . . . she never had anything good to say. It was always negative – even about her kids. It might start out sounding like it would be good – but the end result was some dramatic complaint, issue, how she was a victim, how her kids or other people irritated her, did something wrong, etc.
I remember one morning, coming into school and asking her “How are you doing?”
“UGH!” she said loudly as her eyes rolled around in her head. “You won’t believe this!” She was clearly upset about something that had just happened to her.
She went on to tell me how her daughter had taken a “permanent” marker and drawn on a lampshade, how it wouldn’t come off, how it made her late, they had people coming over, etc, etc, etc. It sounded like it had just happened this morning and she was still trying to deal with it.
“Wow – all this happened this morning?” I asked, feeling a little sorry for her. (I’ve had similar “marker catastrophes” at the last minute at my own house.)
Casually, and a little surprised she (almost embarrassingly) replied. “Oh. . . . no . . . This was on Friday.”
I’m sure she saw the confused look that came across my face – wondering why she was still so upset and dramatic about it 3 days later. I thought maybe the issue hadn’t been resolved or fixed, so I asked - “So . . . did you fix the lampshade or get a new one yet? Did it turn out ok?”
“Well yes.” she said almost ticked that I wasn’t joining her in commiserating over the destroyed lamp shade incident from THREE days ago – but was instead focusing on the solution and the potentially positive outcome.
I just smiled in return and said “Oh that’s great. So it’s all fixed. What a blessing!”
I left that conversation realizing . . . that was probably going to be one of our last.
Because I knew I didn’t need to fill my life with chronic complainers, and I think she knew she wasn’t going to get the sympathy for her victim mentality she thrived off of.
What to do with complainers?
I came across this great article today – and wanted to share it with you.
In it the author, Minda Zetlin, not only talks about how listening to complainers can actually damage our brains (make us dumb!), but what to do when you encounter and have to deal with complainers. It reminded me of parenting tips and tricks I’ve read and used with my own kids and their whining and complaining. Here are her suggestions (that I fully endorse!):
1. “Get some distance”
With my friend – I had to let go and move on. I was still cordial and friendly with her, but didn’t spend as much time with her as I used to. I focused on pouring my energy into and surrounding myself with people who were encouraging, uplifting and positive. It’s amazing how that can change your thinking, your emotions and your life! Try it!
I know for some of you it’s hard to let go of some friendships, or not pour your everything into each acquaintance (especially those of you with a gift of Mercy) – but from someone who was just like that – rooting for the underdog, helping everyone in need, feeling sorry and empathetic for people and their problems (actually taking on and “owning” their problems with them) – I’m telling you now . . . make the hard decision and distance yourself. It truly is OK to let go of chronic complainers. The likelihood of you truly changing their lives and helping them by just continually listening to and empathizing with their complaints is like trying to kill a plant by giving it water and sunshine. But if you can’t fully distance yourself (ie – you are married to them or they reside in your family) – then try these other two suggestions.
2. “Ask the complainer to fix the problem”
I LOVE this one! It leaves ownership of the problem with the complainer. You don’t have to take it on as your own!
My niece has a bad habit of whining and running to her mom to complain about her brother, and my sister was totally worn down by it all. So one day my sister decided to try a new tactic . . . no longer would she “rescue” her daughter and reward the whining – but wanted to empower her to learn how to make wise choices and help her fix the problem on her own (or with some help when needed). So the next time she heard the whining and complaining start, she responded with empathy and said “Oh wow. . . So . . . what are you going to do about it?“
This shocked my niece, as she wasn’t used to this response – and of course she pulled out all the ammo now – with all kinds of tactics (more whining, explanations of why she can’t fix it, possibly even tears, etc)- to continue to entice her mom to see just how much of a victim she was and how she couldn’t fix the problem, etc.
My sister was steadfast and just continued in her empathy and questioning – “oh man . . . that is bad. So . . . how are you planning on fixing this? Do you have any ideas?”
Can you guess how this ended?
The next time my niece came to her whining and complaining and my sister said “Oh man – what are you going to do?” – my niece replied - “I knew you were going to say that!”, turned around and walked out of the room She wasn’t happy that mom was making her actually take ownership of her feelings, her responses, her attitudes and her actions – as she wanted to remain the helpless victim and have her mom punish her brother for whatever the problem was at the time.
This would do neither my sister, nor my niece any good – and can actually hinder and harm them both in various ways. But instead – my sister is learning to raise a confident problem-solver who can now look at a situation positively for a good outcome and how to achieve it, instead of always being a victim (or living with a sense of entitlement) in life.
My sister is happy that her daughter is learning . . . and my sister was having to deal with less complaining and whining! [When my kids whine - I calmly say back to them "I'm sorry . . . I don't understand Whinese". Within minutes I get a whole different (and more pleasant) tone and voice coming out of my little ones.]
My daughter’s acting camp had a rule about disagreements/problems/issues – “We don’t want to have grumbling and complaining. If something happens – try to resolve it right away. If you don’t take care of it in the first 24 hours – then drop it. If it was important enough to you – then you would have fixed it quickly. If not – then let it go. If you tried to fix it in 24 hours and still need help – then you can come to us.” They didn’t have to deal with very many complainers. Brilliant!
3. “Shields up!”
“Wah-wah . . . wah-wah-wah-wah . . . ”
Remember how the parents sounded in the Charlie Brown and Peanuts cartoons?
Sometimes, when having to deal with a tsunami wave of complaints pouring out of someone’s mouth – it might not be bad to put it through a translator to sound like this. Or maybe – transform it into a fun song! (or maybe turn up the actual music in your earbuds or radio near you!)
Ok – I know it’s not easy, but if you are surrounded by complainers (not necessarily talking to you directly) and you can’t get away (ie – at work, your house, etc) – then take a mental escape – to a peaceful place! For me – it’s on a beach that my family would vacation at when I was young. I can picture myself relaxing on that beach, finding a treasure trove of seashells and enjoying great conversations with family while listening to the waves gently crash on the shore. Ahhh . . . Read Minda Zetlin’s article for more ideas!
Complainers – no more!
So . . . what are you going to do with the complainers in your life? How are you going to respond from now on?
I want to encourage you to try the tactics above . . . for you . . . for a smarter brain [yay!] . . . for a better, happier, more positive life! You can do it!
Or maybe this article made you realize – “oops . . . I’m a complainer.” If so – YAY! Now that you realize that – you can do something about it (and it’s not to to complain that you struggle with complaining! hee,hee). You can do something positive about it!
Here are a few ideas:
- Be aware of what you are saying – pay attention- don’t just talk without thinking.
- If you slip up – Stop yourself and change the subject or switch it to the positive.
- [Here's a good one!!] Challenge yourself to not post anything negative, frustrating, things that didn’t go right, etc on FB, Twitter, in emails, over the phone or in person. Try it for a day . . . then 2 days . . . then a week . . . etc. (I know this will be hard for many of us!)
- Give thanks in EVERY situation (even when you feel like complaining)
- Don’t say anything.
- Keep a gratitude journal – or share what you are thankful for each day on FB (that makes it public and helps keep you accountable!).
- Focus on OTHERS! Make a commitment to say 1 thing nice to someone each day (anyone – even the grocery clerks, but especially those close to you.). Compliment them. Thank them for something they did. Encourage them!