Complaining. It clears the air and defends your rights. It can even be a social glue. Who hasn’t felt closer to workmates after a good moan around the water cooler? For some, however, complaining seems to be the only acceptable form of conversation.
People can succumb to constant griping for different reasons and they will also react differently when others aren’t joining in. One type of complainer is a person who has come to rely too much on negative bonding. It’s not that they want to appear superior to their listeners, it’s that other ways of interacting make them feel inferior, isolated or out of their depth. They know where they are when talk turns to the downside of things. It’s their comfort zone. Beyond this they become unsure of how to react or if they can find anything else in common with those they’re speaking to. When the conversation veers away from the negative, they can literally find themselves at a loss for words.
On the serious side, constant complaining can be a sign that someone has fallen into a state of genuine pessimism. Depression casts a dark shadow over people’s perceptions which removes light and color from the world and leaves only the unhappy aspects in focus. Prolonged periods of stress can make everything seem like a battle, unresolved anger expects disappointment or betrayal at every turn, and anxiety is forever on the lookout for what can go badly wrong. The difference between these complaints and other forms of fault-finding is that sufferers are quite distressed by the problems they see and want desperately for things to be better.
At the other end of the spectrum are what could be called “fault-spotters”. Fault-spotters are not overly upset by the fact that their doughnut has a hole, they simply feel compelled to point it out. They are life’s quality assurance experts, reporting back on whatever they find to be missing, flawed or inconsistent. Faults spotters are often surprised to learn that other people perceive them as negative and their observations as complaints.
But there are also people who choose to complain from a fear that appearing too positive will bring bad results. Some harbour a superstitious belief that being too pleased is tempting fate. For these people, finding something to complain about is like knocking on wood. It wards off the forces that will punish you for complacency and keeps you from feeling too devastated if it does come crashing down. Others have more earthbound concerns. They worry that contented people become targets for envy, disapproval, exploitation or neglect. Their complaining is a way of saying “don’t expect too much of me or make too many demands”. These complainers become uneasy when encouraged to look on the bright side.
Complaining serves a useful purpose in life. It rights wrongs and instigates change. But it can also be seductive – and addictive.