The Ultimate Guide to Complaining

angry, woman, smoke, ears, complain, sad, pout, blonde, girl, female

Complain as often as you need to, that’s my motto.

If you already complain a lot, adopting this motto may seem like a breath of fresh air.

But if you already abhor complaining with a fiery passion, adopting this motto may seem like you’d rather kill yourself.

Please don’t. Let me explain.

This post debunks a lot of myths about complaining. So much so, that it may offend people who heart complaining and people who hate complaining.

The following sections break down what really happens when we complain, why it can be so annoying when other people complain, and how to receive all the benefits of complaining without becoming burdensome to ourselves or other people.

Let the fun begin.

The Benefits of Complaining

If used correctly, complaining offers two key benefits:

  1. It gets our uncomfortable emotions out.
  2. It’s an opportunity to heal what caused our uncomfortable emotions in the first place.

Number one happens almost immediately when we complain.

Pretend you have “emotion glasses” that allow you to see the emotions in other people.

When something happens to a person that causes uncomfortable emotions to arise, you’d be able to see a tight ball of emotions forming inside them. Once they complain about it, the ball begins to loosen as the emotions start leaking out.

This release of emotions, especially uncomfortable ones, is necessary for a healthy life. Because letting our uncomfortable emotions fester inside of us is basically what causes cancer.

Well, I don’t know that it always causes cancer, but keeping our uncomfortable emotions inside has indeed been shown to effect the health of our physical bodies.

sun, ball, energy, orange, red
This is how I imagine the ball of uncomfortable emotions. You really want something looking like that hanging around inside you?

If we don’t let our emotions pass through us, they will either boil over and make a big mess or cook us from the inside like a boiled egg. Also, harboring uncomfortable emotions requires a lot of energy and steals our vitality and liveliness.

In summary: cancer, big messes, cooked from the inside, loss of energy and vitality…can we all just agree that our uncomfortable emotions need to get out?

Complaining with perspective is a great way to do this.

More on the “perspective” thing later.

Now, on to the second benefit of complaining.

Number two happens based on the response we receive after complaining.

When people respond to our complaining with even just a little empathy and support, they are basically saying, “Ah, geeze, I see how that could suck. That would give me uncomfortable emotions, too. You’re smart to get them out.” All of this happens implicitly and in a millisecond, but it happens. This is really important because getting positive feedback after we open up and release our uncomfortable emotions can be profoundly healing.

Let me explain it a different way. Put on your emotion glasses again.

Before someone complains, you can see the ball of uncomfortable emotions inside them. When people do something to release this ball of uncomfortable emotions, like complain, the emotions leak out and leave an empty space inside the person where the ball once was.

How other people respond to that person is what fills this space.

So, if people respond with empathy and support, that space will be filled with empathy and support, which will travel directly to the root source of what caused the uncomfortable emotions and sooth it.

Ahhh, feels SO nice, right?

But there is a flip side.

If who we complain to shuts us down, ignores us, or makes us feel guilty for complaining, that space we created in our bodies fills with guilt and shame, which will travel directly to the root source of what caused the uncomfortable emotions and make it worse.

Luckily, we are in complete control of what we take in to fill that space. So even if someone responds with the equivalent of flesh eating acid, we can choose to reject that and instead fill that space with our own empathy and love. You have complete control over that.

But what I really wanted to get at here is, often times, we throw our complaints around like they’re nothing but if we take a second to really be present in the moment when we complain, we’d realize our complaints can offer some serious internal healing.

But if complaining is so wonderful then why can it be so freakin’ annoying?

I’m glad you asked…

Why complaining can be so freakin’ annoying

There are definitely annoying complainers and we’ll get to them in a second. But let’s start with you taking responsibility for your own annoyance first.

Basically, it all boils down to how you don’t want to stop what you’re doing.

You selfish bastard.

Juuuust kidding. It happens to most of us. And isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

We’ve already gone over how your response is a big deal when someone complains to you. It’s a big deal because you now have the responsibility to respond in a helpful way, which requires energy to stop what you are doing and thinking and feeling in your own little world and spend a second in someone else’s. The energy spent directing your train of thought to a screeching halt can cause some serious annoyance toward that person.

This annoyance is like a little alarm clock in your head saying, “Your energy supply is being threatened!” If this alarm clock wasn’t working, you’d be expending all your energy on other people all day long and have little left for yourself.

There are people worth spending your energy on, though. Like people who fill your energy supplies up in other ways.

But there are also people who you may want to be cautious to spend your energy on. Like people who suck your energy dry and get angry when you don’t have more to give (you know the type).

clock, multiple, wall, lots, many, clocks, old, analog
Sometimes it takes more than one alarm clock to get the picture…

Every time someone complains to you, you have control over how much energy you spend on the response.

If it is someone who usually fills your energy supply up later, you’ll probably receive a lot of benefit by stopping what you’re doing and supporting them. Empathy and compassion extended to people capable of empathy and compassion always creates more empathy and compassion.

But if the person complaining to you is someone who sucks your energy dry, they are probably one of the annoying complainers discussed below, and you may be wise to save as much energy as you can in that exchange.

Empathy & compassion extended to people capable of empathy & compassion always creates more empathy & compassion. Click To Tweet

Two Types of Annoying Complainers

It is because of all the annoying complainers out there that lead people to believe complaining is bad and should be avoided at all costs. When really, the annoying complainers are just complainers at their worst and can be totally avoided if we complain with perspective.

I’m willing to bet we’ve all been an annoying complainer at some point, so try to read the next sections without too much judgement. Rather, a willingness for your own annoying complaining style to become exposed. Because that’s the only way we can learn to be better, right?

There are all sorts of intricate blends of annoying complainers, but there are two main categories that almost all annoying complainers fall into:

Annoying Complainer Type 1: People who use their complaints to multiply their uncomfortable emotions (not release them)

We all know these people. Every other word seems to be a complaint. The more they complain, the worse they feel. Their constant complaints only reflect victim-hood and helplessness. At their worst, this type of complainer is basically society’s biggest bummer.

Put your emotions glasses on again so we can see what’s happening with these folks.

From the top: something happens to fill this person with uncomfortable emotions. The ball grows inside them, they become aware of it, and then they complain. But instead of using their complaint as an outlet for their emotions, they continue to hold on to the uncomfortable emotions.

When the complaint isn’t used as an outlet, it becomes as a catalyst. It will multiply the uncomfortable emotions and cause them to fester and become doubly toxic inside of them.


When a complaint isn’t used as an outlet, it becomes as a catalyst for toxic emotions. Click To Tweet

Their subconscious wisdom continues to trigger them to complain, however, desperate to purge the ever-growing toxic emotions. But on the surface, these complainers will not let go of their emotions, resulting in the constant complaining but no benefit.

When these people complain to us and we offer them empathy and support, there is no place for the empathy and support to go because the person hasn’t freed up any space inside of them to take in the good vibes. It just bounces off and all of our effort spent on stopping what we were doing to support them is wasted because the person can’t take it in anyway. No wonder we get annoyed.

My advice for these folks (myself included) is to remind them that if they never let out the festering, victimizing, negative, uncomfortable, and unhealthy emotions, they will never be able to take in any of the healing, empowering, positive, soothing, and healthy support.

This support is what you are subconsciously dying for. So now that the intended process of complaining is clear to you, you can realize that only you have the power to release your emotions and, in fact, need to release them if you want to step outside your chronic Debbie-Downer life patterns. (No offense, Debbie).

factory, toxic, pollution, sunset, smoke, gross, carbon, dioxideThese complainers are basically just toxic emotion factories.

If you aren’t already this type of annoying complainer, you are likely afraid to become one. All helpless and broody and self-victimizing. I’m with you, it seems like the absolute worst.

But you don’t need to fear complaining. As long as you try to allow your uncomfortable emotions to release when you complain (also called venting), you’ll remain empowered, but with less uncomfortable emotions stuffed inside. Sounds like a win-win to me.

One last note on this: even if you complain about the same thing a couple of times in a day, that doesn’t mean you are this type of annoying complainer and have a problem hording your uncomfortable emotions.

The reason for this is, in the outward-focused culture we live in, it is likely you are still learning how to fully feel your emotions and let them go. I know I still am.

How this usually plays out for me is, I complain about something and then feel a little emotional release. Then, a few hours later, I become aware of my uncomfortable emotions ball again and complain again. This time, a little more emotion gets released. Until, eventually, I’m able to move on.

There is no limit to how many times you’re allowed to complain about something. As long as you are intentional about trying to release your pent up emotions little by little each time you complain, you will steer clear from falling into this Annoying Complainer Type 1 trap.

I still have a long way to go with this “feeling my emotions” business, but I am learning in leaps and bounds through the coaching of Bez Stone and the teaching of her mentors, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks. Anything you can get your hands on by these people will be a great start to increasing your emotional awareness as well as your ability to feel and let go of your emotions.

Annoying Complainer Type 2: People who complain to others who are worse off

These are the people with two mansions complaining about how they don’t have three mansions. Since most of the world has zero mansions, it can be really annoying for us to respond to this person with empathy and support. Because I mean, you have two mansions. Do you really need me to spend energy to stop everything I’m doing to help you be happy about that?

These complainers may be able to let out their emotions when they complain, but have zero perspective about how their complaints fit into the big picture or how they may come across to other people.

For instance, you wouldn’t complain about the state of your tap water to someone who has to walk seven miles in the smoldering heat to a borderline toxic water source to get water for their family.

But on the other hand, it may feel quite normal to complain about the state of your tap water to the CEO of a water filter company.

This is because you have the basic skill of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and evaluating whether or not what you want to complain about is appropriate for this conversation. The way you can evaluate if it is appropriate or not is based on the perspective you have about how your problem fits into the greater world view.

house, fancy, expensive, lake, bay, ocean, abroad, big, luxuryIDK about you, but give me just one of these and I’m set.

Sometimes you may slip up and complain to a friend about your difficult day at work only to realize their house burned down that morning. Woops. But even the fact that you are aware of that being a “woops” moment means you have some perspective.

It is crazy to believe, but some people honestly just do not have that skill, and would continue to talk about their own problems. These are the people who fall into the Annoying Complainer Type 2 category.

BE CAREFUL here, though. As this can be an extremely slippery slope. I’m not saying that the uncomfortable emotions that arise because of your difficult day at work are discredited because your friend’s house caught on fire. You still need to feel and release those emotions fully and you should feel no guilt for that.

All I’m saying is that the friend who’s house burned down may not be the best person for you to complain to at that time.

In her book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown highlights this point perfectly. So I’m just going to copy and paste it right here:

“…fear and scarcity immediately trigger comparison, and even pain and hurt are not immune to being assessed and ranked.

My husband died and that grief is worse than your grief over an empty nest.

I’m not allowed to feel disappointed about being passed over for promotion when my friend just found out that his wife has cancer.

You’re feeling shame for forgetting your son’s school play? Please— that’s a first-world problem; there are people dying of starvation every minute.

The opposite of scarcity is not abundance; the opposite of scarcity is simply enough. Empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce.”


So how do we allow ourselves the benefits of complaining but steer clear of becoming these annoying complainers?

We complain with perspective.

The best way to complain: with perspective

Think about it: the first type of annoying complainers, the ones who don’t let go of their emotions, have zero perspective of how the complaining process works, and the second type of annoying complainers, the ones who complain to people worse off than them, have zero perspective about how their complaint fits into the greater web of problems across the world.

If you hold on to two key perspectives; how complaining is a tool for emotional release to create space for empathy and support and how your problems fit into the greater web of problems across the world, you’re going to reap all the benefits of complaining without succumbing to the annoying complaining tendencies that burden ourselves and other people.

It is as simple as that. All we’ve got to do is complain with perspective. And since there are fundamental and profound benefits to complaining if we do it with perspective, this leads us full circle back to my motto:

Complain as often as you need to.

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