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Why People Complain So Much and How to Stop For Good

Complaining is negative, exhausting, and overall just a waste of time. So why do people complain so much? Why is it that people seem to have so much to complain about?

While it is true that complaining is an overall negative experience, I think it is important for us to see complaining for what it really is: a communication tool

It’s a way for us to express our emotional dissatisfaction with something that is happening to us. 

And that’s a good and healthy way of practicing self-care…right?

While there may be some positive elements that come with complaining, the negatives certainly outweigh them. Especially when it happens too often.

Chronic complainers are the people in your life who complain too much. These are the people who aren’t looking for positive change, but instead just want to tell you all about how terrible things are. 

If you are anything like me, the chances are you have at least one family member, friend, or colleague who you might consider chronic complainers. Heck, you might even consider yourself to be one!

As a recovering complainer myself, I have spent a lot of time analyzing my own actions to try to get to the bottom of just why I used to complain so much. With the help of my loved ones and people I trust, I have managed to identify a few key reasons that people complain so much, as well as what to do to stop.

So rather than serving up a big old complaint sandwich to whoever will listen, let’s get honest here and dig into the reasons why people complain so much so that we can focus on how to stop.

a journal and a plant sitting on a table

Why do People Complain So Much?

1. It’s All They Know

This one is really close to home for me. I grew up in an environment where it was natural to point out flaws. It was just totally normal to make negative comments about anything and everything. 

Now, I’m not trying to make excuses for my own complaining, but my environment had a majorly negative impact on my mindset as I grew up.

The people we surround ourselves with play an important role in the way that we express negative thoughts and negative emotions. 

2. The Illusion of Change

You know the old saying: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Many people complain because they think that things will miraculously change if they do.

Before I quit teaching, I would spend my nights complaining to my (poor) wife about all the horrible things I had to endure each day while totally skipping over any of the good stuff. 

When I think back, I remember foolishly thinking that all my rambling would somehow magically make all of my problems go away.

Many people complain as a way to draw attention to the “squeaky wheel”. The problem is that these complaints are often directed toward the wrong person, rather than someone who has “the grease” to help make a change.

3. To Regulate Their Own Emotions

Often times people complain because it is the best way that they know to express emotional dissatisfaction. Sometimes people complain just to “vent”.

When we express frustrating feelings, it can help us understand them and find a way forward. The problem becomes when this is done in a negative way without the intention to move forward with a solution. 

4. Because of a Fixed Mindset

In Carol Dweck’s Mindset, she explains a growth mindset as a way of thinking that sees the challenges and failures of our daily lives as opportunities to grow and develop. 

By comparison, a fixed mindset believes that no amount of effort can change the natural skills we are born with. People with a fixed mindset often fear failure and therefore avoid challenges altogether.

Chronic complainers tend to have a fixed mindset. Instead of seeing a challenge as a good thing that can help them grow, they choose to complain about how hard it is or how unfair it is.

a tree growing in a garden

How Much Complaining is Too Much?

Life is tough, and we all experience emotional dissatisfaction in our daily lives. But how do we know when we are complaining too much?

Next time you have a conversation with a family member or a friend, think about the subject of the conversation and how much of it was focused on expressing negative thoughts. This can be difficult to do since we don’t usually sit down and analyze our own communication with others.

It can be helpful to think of two different types of complaints: passive complaints and constructive complaints.

Passive complaints are negative comments that do nothing besides draw attention to a negative experience or a negative emotion. The second type of complaints, constructive complaints, focus more on drawing attention to an experience so that there can be some sort of resolution. 

If you find yourself mostly using passive complaints, you might be complaining too much. You might also notice that people withdraw from conversations more often than if you are complaining with the intention of seeking help to solve a problem.

How to Stop Complaining For Good

Remember that some degree of complaining is natural. My goal is not to sit here and tell you to never express your dissatisfaction ever again. 

Instead, my intention is to provide you with strategies to adjust the way you complain so that you can live a more positive, productive, and happy life. This will also reduce your stress levels and support good mental health.

1. Expressing Gratitude

Gratitude is the opposite of complaining. Where complaining points out faults, gratitude is about finding the good things amongst the not so good things.

Expressing gratitude was a complete game changer for me. As a recovering complainer, I could serve you a complaint sandwich that would fill you up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I was never able to tell you a single thing that I was grateful for.

These days, I choose to work hard to maintain a grateful heart. I express gratitude for the little things (like a warm summer breeze, a hot cup of coffee, or random positive encounter with a stranger).

If you are wondering how to stop complaining, choose to state three things that you are grateful for for every one thing you find yourself complaining about. It won’t take long before you start to realize things just aren’t worth complaining about when there is so much good around you!

a pile of stones in front of a photo of the sunrise

2. Write in a Journal

Journaling is the best way to wrestle with negative thoughts in a healthy way. Take some time each day to write down the things that you found most irritating. Take a deep breath and reread your journal. Then, write two more sentences that help you move forward in a positive and productive way.

My favorite way to do this is to end my journal entries with something that I am looking forward to or something that I am grateful for. I use this practice every day in my own journal and it has completely changed the way I think about the negative experiences I have.

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3. Do Something About It!

One of the most negative effects of complaining is that it can leave you feeling powerless to change your circumstances. But the reality is there is always something small that you can do to change your situation. 

Having a good understanding of your locus of control means that you understand that you have control over how things impact your life.

If you are complaining, take some time to feel the negative emotion. But then make a conscious choice to spend your time and energy on a solution.

4. Use Positive Language

The words that we use have a huge impact on the way we see the events of our daily lives.

Make a conscious choice to reframe the way you talk about negative experiences. This is important when speaking with others, but it is also important for your own self-talk.

One helpful tool that I have used to take control of my own negative self-talk is positive affirmations. I have a collection of short positive affirmations that I keep handy for when I am feeling overly negative. 

Choosing a positive statement that I can repeat to myself helps me reframe my complaints so that I challenge myself to take action. My favorite affirmation for this is “I can’t control what happens, but I can control how I respond”.

If you are looking for your own positive statement that can help you with reframing your complaints, check out our list of I am positive affirmations!

5. Find Support

Reaching out for help when you are feeling overly negative is an important way to stop chronic complaining.

Share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or family member. But remember, your goal is not to find someone who will just listen to you vent. Instead, keep the conversation focused on your desire to find a solution.

You may also want to consider seeking the help of a professional. Many of the strategies I have used to help myself stop complaining came from conversations with my own trusted counsellor. 

How to Complain The Right Way

Most people will agree that complaining is annoying, draining, and a waste of time. However, my goal is not to say ‘don’t complain’

Remember, complaining is our way of expressing that we are not satisfied with something in our lives. Doing this the right way is a healthy form of self-care. However, we mess it up when we start to complain too much without any interest in finding solutions.

When done correctly, complaining can actually have benefits for your mental health. Many happy people and positive people complain, but they do so with purpose.

Research shows that expressing complaints with the intention of resolving an issue is beneficial for our mental health because it helps us think of actionable steps that we can take to change our circumstances.

To help this make sense, consider the following example. Imagine that your Internet has just gone down and has been out for several hours.

It is unlikely that you would go and complain to your family about this. Instead, you would phone your Internet service provider, explain the situation, and ask for a resolution. If you are not satisfied with the resolution, you would continue asking until you are satisfied.

We all have hardships in our lives, and it is natural to want support from those closet to us. Complaining is the first step to communicating about our hardships. The key is remembering that we have a choice in how we respond to the challenges of our daily lives.

And if you can do that, you will have unlocked one of the most important ways to make a meaningful difference in your life. 

Don’t forget to share this post with your friends and family on social media! Especially the ones who complain the most! This could be the insight and motivation they need to make a major lifestyle change!

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