Love A Good Moan? — The Quick Guide To Productive Complaining
I’ve been thinking a lot about toxic positivity lately, and I definitely used to be someone who didn’t want to entertain any complaining in any form. What I learned is that complaining isn’t harmful in itself, and can serve a useful purpose.
Toxic positivity is ignoring all the negatives, refusing to acknowledge the challenges or the downsides of any situation. In fact, a quick Google search of it and you’ll see it compared to Gaslighting. At the same time you don’t want to get caught up in being a moany coconut either!
Complaining has its place in allowing us to recognise a bad situation, feel what we’re feeling, and move on. If we get stuck in complaining, negativity, or hopelessness, it can become harmful.
So here’a quick bullet point guide to productive complaining.
Step One: Express, Don’t Repress.
No need to say “everything’s fine” if it’s not. Repressing or denying a ‘negative’ thought or less than ideal situation can be harmful. Express what’s wrong. The key here is to express it appropriately, and in context. Is is a complete disaster, a minor inconvenience, a drag of your mental energy, or something else?
Whenever we express something we’re compelled to define it. Left in our head we can ruminate and things can get out of control. What might be a minor convenience sours your entire day. Or if it really is a life altering issue, defining it allows to come to terms with what the impact will be.
State the facts. State your assumptions. Lay out what you believe the consequences are or will be. As you do this it stops the rumination in your head.
Step Two: Identify The Feeling.
What emotions are stirring up because of it — sadness, fear, shame, anger? Again no need to repress ‘bad’ emotions. We need to feel them to be emotionally healthy, and let them flow and dissipate. Accepting an emotion helps you get to the next stage.
Repressing an emotion, on the other hand, just allows it to fester. It’s going to come out in some way, shape or form, at some point.
Letting the feeling run its course could involve some movement, sitting with it, making a noise or all three. This doesn’t mean lashing out, punching some drywall and cursing out your boss! That’d be a less than productive expression of your emotion!
Step Three — Identity The Need.
Steps one and two helped you let it all out. You have to let it all out before you can take action. If you’re stuck in anger or frustration it’s hard to think clearly and make your next move. Once you have had your rant, and let your emotions run their course, the best thing is to identify what need isn’t being met.
Feelings or emotions are signals from the body that a need is unfulfilled. Do you need help? More freedom, security, connection…?
Step Four — Decide What Action Can You Take.
Once you know what your need is , you can take some action. It may not 100% completely satisfy the need, but it moves you towards agency and stops you getting stuck in negativity.
The need could be to just let out your frustrations, or ask for help, or maybe it’s changing the narrative about what’s happening. Maybe it’s removing yourself from this situation or something else entirely.
If your ‘need’ is for something to change, or for someone else to do something, and your plan is to sit and complain until that happens, then I’d strongly advice you to revisit step three until you find your fundamental need. There’s many ways to get our needs met, and very often we get fixated on one particular strategy. If your strategy is reliant on some magical external event, you’re going to stay stuck in powerless complaining for way longer than is healthy.
Following these steps you’ve acknowledge and accepted the situation as it is, which includes the downsides. Once this is done you’re no longer trapped in disempowering thoughts and feelings, which gives you the freedom to get back to centre.