The Nature of Complaints:  5 Reasons We Complain and How to Stop

Why is it so easy to complain or think about the negative and so hard to rejoice or think about the positive? Why does being grateful take so much practice and work?  Author of A Complaint Free World, Will Bowen, outlines five reasons we complain. 

1. We do it to get attention.  Kids sometimes act out because the negative behavior gets them the attention they desire; we pretty much do the same thing.  When we complain about our health, our relationships, our issues, people pay attention to us.

2. We complain to remove responsibility.  I complain all the time about how messy our garage is because complaining about it is a lot easier than actually doing something about it, in addition when I complain it often comes with a statement about how RJ should clean out the garage, clearing myself of all responsibility.  

3. We do it to inspire envy.  This is like a reverse brag.  “Their house is such a mess, who could live like that,” implies that the speaker has a really tidy house. We complain because it makes us look good. 

4. We complain for power.  Bowen says, “When something happens, you can let it pass, work it out, or go to war.  Complaining is often recruiting soldiers to fight on your side.”  This happens in all organizations.  We complain to get allies in our battles against another.  Counselors will often refer to this as triangulation.

5. We complain to excuse poor performance.  How many of us have done this?  The sun was too bright, I didn’t feel well, my alarm didn’t work, and the list could go on.

When I started in youth ministry, I inherited this camping trip that the youth did every single year.  I hated camping; I had only been camping one other time in my whole life.  I had never cooked over a fire. I didn’t know how to put up a tent, or start a fire, or arrange a campsite.   And now I was in charge of a camping trip for 20 youth and some of their parents.  I was totally out of my comfort zone, but I dug in and began planning this crazy adventure.  I told one of the parents my plans for the trip and instead of complaining that I had no idea what I was doing, instead of saying “I would never plan a trip like that” instead of telling everyone how totally incompetent I was to lead this trip (which I was); she signed herself, her husband and her kids up to come along.  Every complaint she could have said would have been valid, but instead of complaining, she took action. She came by my side and helped me.

You know deep down  I think we complain because it is easier than admitting we have the freedom and the power to change.  Complaining is a passive response; it requires nothing of us.  Complaining allows us to continue down the path that we are going.  Gratitude is the first step in a different direction.  It re-focuses our attention on what is good and worthy of praise and therefore, what we should seek more of in our life.  It helps us to turn around and see something new.

As we go along we can complain, we can say this is horrible,. We can say this is the worse thing I have ever done, . . . Or we can go and encourage each other on the way as we journey together. 

Erin ReibelComment