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4.9 screamfree complaining
May 9, 2016

Confront More, Complain Less

“My core belief is that if you’re complaining about something for more than three minutes, two minutes ago you should have done something about it.”
(Caitlin Moran)

Last week we looked at the power of confrontation in our relationships. We also looked at why we avoid confronting people—it is scary, it can feel mean, and we believe it won’t accomplish anything anyway.

These are all valid, but I believe there’s a more potent reason we avoid confronting others—we would rather complain about them instead. We absolutely love to complain.

I actually have a theory about the two primary reasons we humans have made complaining our dominant form of communication: 1) it gives us a sense of community, and 2) it gives us something to do other than change ourselves. And these two reasons are intimately related.

Think about it: Whenever we seek to make vocal our feelings about being slighted by our supposed best friend, or being screwed over by someone in charge (be it a parent, preacher, politician, whoever), it’s not like we’re shouting out in the desert by ourselves. No, we complain by taking our plight to another person. Or, as is the case online, groups of persons. And why do we do this? In order to have these people offer us honest feedback about how best to change our situation? Heck no.

We complain to others in order to get their validation, and thus, a sense of community. “Oh, you poor thing, that sounds horrible!” can be the sweetest sounds in the world. “OMG, you’re right! She did the same exact thing to me!” can sound even sweeter. This kind of validation feels so good in the moment because it helps ease our greatest fear—being truly alone. We actually have a fantastic English word to describe this complaining-ourselves-into-community phenomenon: commiseration. A communion of misery. Finding someone who validates or shares our complaint actually feels like creating a sense of connection with a larger community. A community of the miserable.

How have you found a sense of community by sharing your complaints with others? Cursing out your boss with your colleagues? Gossiping with your friends about that one family in the neighborhood? Sharing a beer with your buddies, while mutually agonizing about your nagging wives?

I know this can feel validating, but ask yourself: is this community of complainers giving you the sense of belonging you always dreamed of?

This is where the second reason we complain enters in. Tune in tomorrow.

Peace begins with pause,

screamfree hal runkel


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