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Working with Complaining

Gather round, kids, today I want to talk about “complaining”. Oh yes, this is a big one.

First: Complaining is a sign of unacknowledged pain

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You are essentially trying to justify to yourself that yeah, this thing you don’t like is actually kinda crappy.

You don’t just say “This thing is crappy and I’m in pain”. THAT would be making your feeling of pain “legitimate”. “Yes, I am in pain, of course I’m in pain, and I’m allowed to be in pain, this thing is painful, yo!”.

Instead we go on and on about how this thing is “wrong”.

Like this:

“The minimum wage should be twice what it is. I mean, it’s a joke. Why do they get away with it? It’s exploitative as Hell! And paying people so little has terrible effects on the economy. If people don’t have money, they nobody can buy anything! And then we’re in a recession! Duh! Why can’t politicians just double the minimum wage already? They could do it with the stroke of a pen. They need to tax the rich as well. No economy can survive when people have no money.”

(yes, this is yours truly on a daily basis)

*sigh*

All of the above is true. And I grant you, it may not sound so much as “complaining” as “speaking some very sound truths about the nature of Capitalism and this current recession”.

But guess what? It doesn’t acknowledge the pain that being poor is causing you.

So we complain. Once again: complaining is a sign of unacknowledged pain.

Of not recognising that, yeah, you’re in pain and you have a damn good reason for not wanting to be in pain or discomfort. 

Our complaining is basically us trapped in the loop of trying to justify not wanting this pain. “This pain really is truly painful, I swear. There’s all these reasons!”. 

If we could just accept that “yeah, the pain is real and it does hurt and yeah, we would much rather not have it, thank you very much!”, then we would acknowledge the pain and move on.

People mean well (sometimes)

People may say “you have all your limbs”. Or “stop complaining, you don’t have it as bad as (those people in other countries who have actual reason to complain)”.

I cannot think of a single instance where this kind of response would actually be helpful.

Not a single one.

The fact is, it never helps. Ever. I would greatly appreciate it if the entire planet stopped using it.

But even if I can’t stop the entire planet, I can tell *YOU* this: please, please, please stop saying that to yourself.

Because you have grown up in “this” culture, chances are you have been told this your whole life through. And chances are, you have internalised it.

Which means, it is probably something you tell yourself, at the back of your mind, when you find yourself complaining.

It may be entirely unconscious, but I can practically guarantee that it’s happening. You will be saying to yourself some variation of “stop complaining, this is not so bad”.

My story

Wanna hear my story?

I grew up complaining. And, simultaneously, being told to shut up about my complaining.

“Complain – being told not to complain; complain – being told not to complain”. Ad infinitum.

Only now I’m beginning to realise the strange effects this has had on me.

One is that I tend to complain a lot. Another is that I tend to put up with a lot. And I mean A LOT.

Wait… W00t?!?

Yup.

You only have to take one look at my life to realise that I put up with way, way more hardship than an average woman my age would.

List of things I’m enduring:

  • heart-wrenching poverty (there aren’t enough words to describe this);
  • not having had a “decent” job in my life, despite having all the brains and a university degree and being bilingual;
  • serious single-ness; (say no more)
  • (up until recently) only having one pair of yoga pants, requiring me to wash and wear (and showing up at yoga class with wet “just washed” pants);
  • an unbelievably obnoxiously loud housemate (‘cuz I don’t have the courage to tell him that having parties at 4 am is inappropriate; I’d rather suffer in silence and then burst into tears);
  • said housemate eating my food (same: lack of guts);
  • living with housemates full stop rather than get my own flat (see: enduring poverty);
  • (up until recently) a bike with a loose pedal, which required me to adjust it after 2 turns (this went on for almost a year, mind) rather than getting a new bike.

*(are you thinking to yourself? “But these are not real issues! Not compared to my issue here…”. That’s probably your stuff talking. It’s your chance to say “hi” and acknowledge it; it’s trying to tell you something)

I could go on.

Please note I’m not “complaining”. I’m lovingly interacting with my stuff. I am acknowledging that this is going on. I am acknowledging that I am “enduring” and “toughening up” rather than looking after myself and meeting my needs. It’s a conscious process.

 “Complaining” would be talking about these situations and not acknowledging how much pain they bring me.

“Complaining” would be trying to justify the pain they bring me by going over and over how bad they are.

I am not doing that. This is part of my story, giving you “proof” of what a lifetime of complaining and being told not to complain can cause.

Again, people mean well. They think that your complaining is hurting you. And maybe it is.

But you know what else hurts you? NOT complaining.

Yes, this is a paradox

The spiritual woo-woo path is filled with paradoxes.

Complaining doesn’t mean that you can’t put up with discomfort. It means the exact opposite: complaining means you are putting up with way, way, way too much discomfort.

But you are not acknowledging that to yourself.

Complaining is a sign that you’re putting up with too much; much like depression is not a sign of weakness, but a sign you have been strong for too long.

The solution to complaining is not to “toughen up”. It’s to soften up… to be kind and loving to yourself and gently acknowledge that, yeah, you are in a lot of pain right now, and it sucks. And I’m sorry.

The solution to complaining is never, EVER to “shut up”. Or to “put up with it and carry on”.

That’s a dangerous “bottling up of emotions”… and that always, always ends up in disaster.

The solution to complaining is to complain some more… but do it “mindfully”. Make it a conscious process. Notice that you’re doing it while you’re doing it. (And yes, I know how hard this can be, that’s why we complain on “auto-witter” instead of actually looking at our pain)

This is why I’ve come to hate the expression “First World Problems”

And I come from the “Third World”!

Yes, it does grind on me when people complain about how much it costs to maintain their cars… and I’m thinking “dude, that car is costing you as much as I get paid to live on”.

But you know what? That’s MY stuff. That’s me having my stuff triggered. My stuff regarding poverty and “not having enough”… and feelings of “not being supported” and “not being appreciated”.

I’ve learned the hard way to accept other people’s stuff. Because you know what? That person complaining about how much it costs to run their car is probably having the same stuff triggered: their stuff is also about “poverty” and “not having enough” and feelings of “not being supported and appreciated”.

Because at the end of the day we all have the same stuff, just weaved into different stories.

And yeah, sometimes other people’s complaining will trigger all your stuff. It happens.

Technique!

So here’s what you can do the next time you catch yourself complaining:

Take a moment to fully believe that this sucky situation is as sucky as you “think” it is.

Try to stop giving yourself very sound arguments for why it sucks: just say to yourself “This sucks, and I’m sorry. I don’t have to like this, and I’m sorry this is going on right now. And I totally believe that this sucks, I don’t have to prove it, it just does. And I’m sorry.”

This stuff is really powerful when you begin to practice it on a regular basis. It’s hard to remember at first, but it’s so, so worth doing.

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