When I think of all the ways that I’d like to work on myself this year, and all the ways I’d like to change and improve, I know that one of the things that holds me back — and in no little way, either — is complaining.
Complaining steals my joy, even if there’s something I can be joyful about.
It keeps me in a negative mood, and it impacts the people closest to me – aka, my husband. Aka, #notgood.
Whether I like to think it does, it actually doesn’t change my circumstances or make them any better. Misery doesn’t love company, and venting can sometimes only rile me up more…
And lastly, (this one really gives me pause) is that it, “disqualifies the discomfort in our lives.” Meaning, that there will be uncomfortable things in our daily lives, and that’s not always a bad thing. There’s a lot of value and a lot to be learned by those things.
So how do you actually complain less?
For a while, I remember thinking that if I just got my grievances off my mind — and shoulders, so to speak, that I’d feel better and be able to move along without thinking about them again. But let me tell you, that doesn’t work. It’s like opening a can of worms. Or a can of Pringles. You air out one grievance, and another is short to follow.
And after you’ve aired out a few more, you realize that you can talk about them for days… and days… and days.
And that is not time wisely spent, but wasted.
So I’d recommend not even speaking a word about them.
In my experience, that’s been the most helpful thing I’ve done — or tried to do, because I haven’t perfected it yet, but I’m constantly working on it.
Some days, my body aches with nerve pain, and other days, my ears ring because of my severe allergies. I used to tell my husband about what was going on, and in the same breath, start complaining — “Why is this happening to me? Why hasn’t this stopped yet? Why isn’t the medicine working? I feel so uncomfortable, I’m in so much pain, this feels too hard for me.”
And seconds after speaking those thoughts, I would always feel worse.
And I’d think more about what I just said — that what I was going through was too hard for me, and then I’d start to believe that even more than I did before. I’d start to feel weaker.
It was a vicious cycle. I just wanted to clue my husband in on how I was feeling so he could support me better that day, and instead, I ended up complaining.
Now, I’ll go up to him and very consciously say, “I’m not complaining. I’m just letting you know that I’m having a hard day, and having some bad symptoms. I just wanted to let you know.” And then, I walk away, and I swear, it’s easier to move on with my day and think about something else — and still be able to have the support of my hubby because I let him know what was happening.
So whenever I start to experience those thoughts — those grievances, things that are bothering me & making me feel bad for myself — I accept them for one short second, and then I tell my mind to move on elsewhere.
I don’t feel guilty for having that one second of a thought, or upset. I accept it for one second — yes, I see that I want to feel bad for myself right now, but there are other things to be done and better things to spend my time thinking about and doing, and I move on. Sometimes, I’ll also remind myself that there are so many others who have it so. much. worse. (My best friend does this incredibly well, and I love that it’s rubbed off on me and how my mind works right now — which sort of brings me to a huge part of complaining less: surrounding yourself with other people who also try to complain less.)
I’ve heard that we’re culpable for our actions, and our words, certainly, but not always for our thoughts. While that makes me feel better for some of the thoughts I’ve had before, I do know that one second of a thought can turn into a minute pretty quickly — and only if I entertain it.
So I know that when one of those thoughts comes my way that doesn’t glorify God, but rather doubts Him and His goodness in my life, then that thought is something I shouldn’t be entertaining or giving any time of my day.
A few quotes come to mind here…
One that I think is attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., that says: “The human mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” I think that’s true for our negative thoughts. It feels impossible to go back, to un-think them. Instead, then, we have to let them go, and move along.
Because we are the temple of God, and the Spirit of Him dwells within us.
“If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” (1 Corinthians 3: 17)
And the way to keep ourselves holy for God is to scatter light in the darkness of those negative, complaining thoughts.
“Darkness can only be scattered by light. Hatred can only be conquered by love.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Address to Diplomatic Corps, 10 January 2002)
So, really, how to complain less?
+ The first step is probably simply understanding how hurtful complaining can be — to us and those closest to us — including our Lord, and resolving to not do it. I then think of the Saints, and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, and reflect on their lives, their trials, their crosses, and how they carried those… I know there are instances when they raised their voices up to Heaven and cried out to God for help or asked Him, “Why?” But I also know they made it a habit to trust greatly in His plan even in their unchanged circumstances. And I believe that is key for complaining less: greater trust in our Lord and the work He is doing on a daily basis in our lives.
+ Then, we have to accept the brokenness of our world, and the people in it — including, and maybe, most especially, the people closest to us. There is no perfection this side of death, and so, people will disappoint us, and hurt us, and hate us. These are just the facts after the fall. We don’t have to let this brokenness ruin us, but we do have to accept that it exists and that it happens. Additionally, we’re part of that brokenness, and we also have to accept and realize that sometimes it is us that does the disappointing, and hurting, and hating. So these things that happen to us that make us want to complain? Sometimes we’re the ones doing those things. Becoming more away of the hurt & harm we do, ourselves, can help us be more forgiving of others who do it unto us. More forgiveness = more grace = more gratitude for what is = less complaining.
+ Sometimes the hurt and harm done unto us really does need to be thought through and brought up, and there is a place for fraternal correction. There’s also a place for helpful criticism & complaint; “There are times when it is entirely appropriate to raise attention to a wrong being committed. This can be helpful and should never be discouraged. Decipher if the situation can and should be resolved. If not, there is a good chance our complaints have no real interest in dialogue, problem solving, or human connection. And in that case, they should be avoided.” (Joshua Becker).
+ We should avoid starting a conversation with a complaint. I am so bad at this, and I only realized it once I read this as a tip before! Do you realize how often new acquaintances will complain about something to one another just to get the conversation going? I usually feel a need to fill in the gaps of a conversation, and I swear, the first thing I used to think of saying in those moments was something about how awful the weather might be, or the traffic, or how long the work day was, etc. Yes, it got the conversation going, but there is no quality or depth in a conversation full of complaints. And, what sort of impression do you think it makes that the first thing you’re talking about is something negative? Not the kind I want to make anymore! Do you think the Blessed Virgin Mary ever started a conversation with a complaint? I would be willing to bet she didn’t… I have a feeling that every word she shared (or, almost!) was something that glorified God’s goodness.
+ So being aware of who you’re talking to, and what sort of impression or message you want to get across can be helpful here. Are you talking to your husband after the two of you had a long day at work? Or are you talking with your kids after they came home from school and are tired and grouchy? Words can be life-giving or life-draining, so we have to be aware of who we’re talking to, and how they might be feeling when we’re talking with them, because…
+ We have to remember our vocation. And no matter which one it is, we all have the same work in our vocation: to love like Jesus Christ. If we’re talking with someone — whether they’re a stranger, or our husband — we are called to love them like Jesus Christ. To bring life to them — and light, too. And every conversation counts, so we have to be more mindful of what we’re speaking about, and how we’re speaking about it.
+ And we even have to be mindful about how we’re thinking about these things, because like I already mentioned, our thoughts give way to our words. We can stop them before they do harm, but it’s much harder to undo that harm once a complaint has been spoken aloud.
+ We have to know when a conversation is going to trigger our complaining, and we have to either guide it in another direction, or even step away from it. This includes conversations on Facebook. Again, does it bring life and light, or does it drain those two things?
+ We have to resolve to spend more time thinking about God’s goodness and the beautiful things He has given us; each day, each moment, the relationships of those we love. And we should thank Him more often, and share that thanks with others in conversation; that is so life-giving!
* Lastly, (and this one is pretty intense!) like St. Bernadette Soubirous wrote, we must, “die to (ourselves) continually and accept trials without complaining.” That’s not hard, right? 😉
BONUS TIP. Check out this post that I loved:
I’m pretty sure she was allllll about the rejoicing!