Complaining – How The New Small Talk Is Ruining Your Brain, With One Exception

Not only does complaining make us a drain to be around, it keeps our mind focused on negativity.

What we think about, talk about, fixate on gets magnified in our brain and in our lives.

It’s bad for your overall health, it’s bad for your relationships, and it’s an insidious little habit that easily becomes an addiction and then becomes contagious.

Often we think it’s funny or it’s just become the new small talk.

Not only is that painfully sad, but it’s embarrassing.

Even worse – it wires up your brain for perpetual negativity.

As a result we end up with entire networks of people where all we do is bitch and complain.

Texts dripping with sarcasm emojis as we tongue in cheek through the day. But what we’re doing is toxic.

Let me complain about complaining for a minute to prove my point…and show the one exception to the rule.

In your relationships…

We end up sitting with out friends complaining about what our spouse or partner doesn’t do for us, or what they do that we don’t like. Then we go home and see all the things that irritate us about them and start to look for more.

This habit is particularly noxious for relationships because those are the people that challenge us the most – the people that reflect to us ourselves the most – and the people that stretch us for the most growth. Our partners and our families.

If your focus is on the negative, it’s a rabbit hole of toxicity that follows and one person’s negativity can literally sabotage the entire relationship.

Suddenly the person you once thought the sun rose and set around, can’t do anything right. They feel it and give up. You focus on it and become a crushing weight of judgment around every turn. And then one day it’s impossible to come back from.

In your friendships…

It happens in our casual relationships and social media and text or email makes it easy to saturate our content with complaining.

We gossip, we talk about unfairness, we nitpick, we hunt for garbage to focus on to distract us from the fact that maybe we’ve forgotten how to be interesting, and interested, in anything other than superficial bullshit and bickering.

You might have noticed labelling people – so and so is a drama queen or king. And suddenly you’ve lost empathy across the board for anyone as you accept nothing less than perfection while maybe whining about the need to be accepted as a work in progress.

In your work…

Don’t like your job? Hate your boss or coworkers? If you feel powerless or trapped especially, chronic complaining feels like a coping skill.

But it’s actually making your job worse.

It’s changing your work ethic whether you realize it or not, and it’s making it harder for you to focus on doing well. It’s also impairing your ability to refocus that irritation into action that can actually change.

You’ll be a negative virus that spreads attracting other negative coworkers stuck in the same rut and yet when everyone else that’s remained optimistic passes you by for advancement and opportunity, you’ll just use that as more to complain about.

In your day to day…

Your appointments ran late, your clients were mean, you have too many bills, people didn’t pay you, your water heater broke, your tire went flat, your kids were lazy, the mail got delivered to the wrong house, your cat threw up on your pillow, you can’t find matching socks… the things we will grumble about are endless.

Pointless.

The complaining changes nothing except breeds more complaining about things we either can’t or won’t change.

Stupid.

With yourself…

You wish you were younger, thinner, more handsome, less tired, more disciplined, less hyper, more active, wealthier…you complain about every deficiency or perceived fault. You beat yourself up for every mistake.

If you’re not totally insufferable at this point, alienating everyone around you with rampant self deprecation, who do you actually have left? Like-minded people that do the same?

How’s it working for you to be hard on yourself and your life all day long? Is it helping you reach any of your goals? No – it’s crippling you and distracting you from all of them.

Also stupid.

So guess what? Your kids aren’t perfect. Your spouse isn’t perfect. Your friends aren’t perfect. Your life isn’t perfect.

And you’re not perfect either.

All this complaining… while it changes your brain, depletes your energy, distorts your face, tone of voice, posture and more… is keeping your focus away from EVERYTHING that matters.

Everything that you have going for you as a human being. Every ounce of health in your body. Every spark of life and inspiration in your spirit. All the love you could be giving.

And an entire perspective on life in general.

Why Gratitude Practices Work…

Gratitude practices are recommended because they work to counteract the negative impacts of complaining and negative bias.

They also bring you into the present. It’s the easiest why to be practice mindfulness.

Nothing brings is into the present faster than pain. It’s effortless. Being present by any other avenue takes focused attention and effort.

And this is where most people fail.

Their gratitude isn’t a practice, it’s fleeting thoughts.

They aren’t connected to physical sensation (which helps build new neural pathways).

And they aren’t consistent in terms of effort, focus, and regularity. They aren’t created with any sense of urgency or discipline as an essential health practice and they need to be.

Mindfulness and gratitude take effort – complaining is effortless.

Choose which path you’re going to take as leader or follower on this one.

In this moment, what are you grateful for?

It’s not useless or passive – it’s essential you start doing this. What are you happy about in your life? Where is the goodness in you and in your life?

List those things. Right now!

What do you notice in your body as you think on those things… in this moment (that means right now!!).

If you have kids that make it home alive tonight no matter how grouchy they are with you – into a home that’s safe that you live in with modern amenities, into a family with the absence of terminal illness you have very little to complain about.

If you made it home after work safely, no matter how tired, bring awareness to gratitude around that.

So you ran late, missed your workout, got a bad performance review, or had a fight with your partner… you can breathe, move, repair, love, and improve.

Focusing on positive things that you can be grateful for needs to become a daily habit – IT needs to be the addiction. It will breed optimism and be contagious in ways that will change your life, your work, your relationships for the better.

When Complaining Can Be Beneficial…

Everyone complains sometimes.

Yes we do. And I admit it’s a naive to say – ban complaining of all kinds forever! (although I say bring awareness and try to curb your urge for a month and see what you notice is still valid).

You still want to be a normal person. A relevant individual with ups and downs.

You’re allowed to have a bad day – just be mindful how many hours or days that rolls in to in this short life where days count.

And “airing your grievances” with an intent to problem-solve and not for the sake of venting or complaining alone can be beneficial.

It can increase a mode into focusing on solutions and taking action which can lead to feeling empowered in your life and being able to take control says research in the Journal of Social Psychology.

But complaining for the sake of complaining with no purpose, as ranting and social communication alone – waste of time and it needs to be tempered.

You always wanting to use the reality of your dissatisfaction to be something you can turn into action to improve your life continuously and be increasingly grateful along the way.

What’s an embarrassing cliche’ is needing pain, loss, suffering… your own or vicarious – to wake you up to this stupid habit that you’ve indulged in with no purpose or actionable results or progress.

Bring awareness. Refocus and reframe. Saturate yourself in gratitude. Remove entitlement.

Life is painfully unpredictable, often just painfully painful. Allow the sting of things to refocus into gratitude rather than lock you in as a negative victim. But don’t wait until you feel the sting of loss to bring awareness to every little thing you should have been thankful for along the way.

There is always something to be thankful for. Find it and focus on it. Everyday. And rewire your brain for happiness.

by Tara Miller

Psychotherapist & writer. Helping you live your fullest life using neuroscience based SRT (Self Regulation Therapy). Specializing in general and trauma therapy.

8 thoughts on “Complaining – How The New Small Talk Is Ruining Your Brain, With One Exception

  1. Tanya Schroeder says:

    Nailed it. Really love this article. I realized early this year that I was addicted to complaining – no, me?! Yep. It had become a product of habitualness, my circle and stress. It was of no benefit to me and completely wasted reaching a resolution. After becoming more aware, I realize how I can be more constructive about things that are bothering me, shift my thoughts and train my brain to a better future.

  2. Nishi says:

    Excellent article and so very true. I was surrounded by chronic complainers for many years and I didn’t realize how sick they were making me until I quit them cold turkey. It was like a giant weight had been lifted off of me. I now keep a whiteboard for listing off my current gratitudes And it’s posted front and centre, it helps tremendously.

  3. Gary Dashney says:

    Excellent post Tara! I’ve learned how negative thinking and ruminating on the negative – complaining – can be destructive to relationships and even to our health. I read where these emotions are connected to our amygdala which triggers our flight or fight response. This over time can be habit forming and destructive to our health and lead to all kinds of negative consequences. What your post has done for me personally is to cause me to look inward at my own negativity. To spur me on to take countermeasures such as form the habit of gratitude – and be more mindful. Time well spent!

  4. Jackie says:

    Well put !!!….oh and your example “Your appointments ran late, your clients were mean, you have too many bills, people didn’t pay you, your water heater broke, your tire went flat, your kids were lazy, the mail got delivered to the wrong house, your cat threw up on your pillow, you can’t find matching socks… the things we will grumble about are endless.” really made me chuckle ! Thanks !

  5. Mary Ann "Yogi Wonders" MP says:

    I don’t complain much but when I did man it was terrible. But I remember reading years a go that complaining was a bad, I believe it was from one of Deepak Chopra’s meditation. Since then I have been working on it, I still have much work to do but I see much improvement. Thank for this great reminder.

  6. Daniel Olexa, CCHt says:

    Powerful, truthful article. It seems as though we are wired to see lack instead of abundance, to perceive shortcomings of ourselves and others rather than the successes that have brought us all to this moment in time. Becoming aware of our tendency to complain and then actively taking steps to shift that thinking to gratitude and problem solving, is a critical shift that leads to personal empowerment and actualization.

  7. Donnie says:

    It’s an epidemic! Complaining! Much need for personal growth, especially for entrepreneurs. Awareness is the first step.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *