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Every day, you can find a lot to complain about. But, after a bit of venting and acknowledging the problem, I usually start to feel trapped when I or others don’t move on to finding solutions. Why do some people get stuck at the complaining stage? One problem is that many believe “venting” makes us feel better.
Science suggests otherwise. Complaining doesn’t set you free; it can put you in a box that becomes increasingly hard to escape. Here’s why complaining is terrible for your health, happiness, and communication skills:
1. It doesn’t really make you feel better. It doesn’t open you to discovering a path forward to solutions the way asking questions does. In fact, the more you complain, the more you hardwire your brain to complain. It’s like building up a negativity muscle.
According to Psych Pedia author Steven Parton,
“Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about… every time this electrical charge is triggered… the brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself to make it easier and more likely that it will make it easier for the thought pattern (good or bad) to trigger.”
2. Complaining is contagious… And it makes others feel worse! Although there may be more than a kernel of truth in what you are complaining about, there are also kernels to a path forward in your problem or annoyance. Yet, complainers seldom recognize them.
Words are one of the most powerful forces in the world. Use them with great care. You know the old saying: what you focus on grows.
3. It makes you lonely. It’s possible that you are unaware of how much you’re complaining. Thrillist asks, “When’s the last time you were excited to grab beers with your whiny, pessimistic friend? Probably never, because constant criticisms drive people away.”
Dr. Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell School of Medicine, says that while some complaining is a part of everyone’s life, each of us should take a hard look at our communication skills and the degree to which we grumble.
“It’s often OK to complain,” she says. “It’s really about the volume, tenacity, and how much expectation that someone else can fix [the problem you’re complaining about]. The person you’re complaining to may feel pulled into your negative affect, pulled into your dark place, as they try to be empathetic. That can cause harm to your relationship.”
Dr. Sanjay Gupta has written that “Loneliness is an invisible epidemic that affects 60 million Americans.” If you are complaining more than you should, you are driving people away, which will make you feel worse.
Build your capacity for finding solutions by focusing on the way out with questions. Don’t get trapped in your complaining.