What is a complaint?

Really, what is it? It is a communication conundrum.

What do people mean when they complain?

I used to unload all my troubles on my husband the minute he walked in the door. (I understand this is a common young mother symptom). I regularly felt bad for being SO NEGATIVE and I know it couldn’t have been my husband’s favorite greeting. What did I mean? What did I want?

After round after round of this very unsatisfying pattern, I had the presence of mind to ask myself, what in my dream world would be the response I’m looking for? It surprised me. I wanted appreciation. I wanted something like, “Wow honey, with all that difficulty you still made it out on top. I love you so much. You are so amazing.” Something like that.

When I realized I would likely NEVER GET appreciation by whining and who could appreciate a wife that was complaining all the time, I quit. Just like that. We were out of the cycle. Honestly, I didn’t even like myself acting like that.

Now, I catch myself with the same problem in reverse still trying to decode other people’s complaints.

What is wanted?

Is it simply a statement?: This is the way it is (and I take it as a complaint. But, if it is just a statement, I have to ask, why are you stating it to me? and, what is the point?)
Do you want sympathy? You poor thing, that is terrible, that is the way it is?
And what if I don’t agree? What if I wonder, why don’t you do something about it, then? It makes me want to complain about complaining!

Is it a request?: Fix this, it is bothering me, not good enough, etc. But, if so, it is a completely indirect, nearly invisible request. How to translate? It takes a lot of thinking (and maybe mind reading)to figure out everything–what is the problem, what are possible solutions, what can I offer, what should the person take care of themselves, etc. I think this is often frustrating to me as I try to decode the meaning. Do they want me to do something? If so, what? Should I do it, or is that not my responsibility to correct it? and on and on

Is it a command?: In unequal relationships like parent to child, or boss to employee, a complaint can often be seen and understood as a command with simple body language and voice tone especially when responsibilities are previously clear. For instance, if the child is responsible to start the dishes and the Dad says, “THE DISHES ARE NOT CLEAN.” That is a statement, a complaint, and a command. But, at least it is clear (because the child and the whole family already knows it was the child’s duty to prevent and/or fix it.)

In marriage relationships, or close, reciprocal, equal relationships, it gets a little more confusing.
Complaining could mean anything. Is it an indirect request? Is it just a statement? If it is a request, what is it a request for?

Do you want sympathy?
Do you want comfort?
Do you want understanding/validation?
Do you want company (not alone with problem)?
Do you want a sounding board (so you can talk and figure out the problem yourself)?
Do you want ideas, suggestions, or advice?

Do you want me to get involved or do something about it?

If so,
What do you want me to do?
What types of involvement would make it better or worse for you?

What is expected and is it reasonable to expect? Can I even do it?

Another confusing aspect is the timing.
Let’s say I finally figure out that something is wanted and I know what it is AND agree to do it,
there still come more problems when it isn’t on the other’s expected time line.

So we have to figure out WHEN as well?

Look at all the questions a little complaining can cause another caring person. Aside from understanding that something affect the complainer in a negative way, really, what is a person supposed to do with that kind of communication?

I’m not supposing that we should or could all just stop complaining. But, what I am hoping to point out is that the listener definitely needs help here in properly decoding the message. Let’s help them out a bit and if it isn’t asking too much, maybe the complainer could include what is meant, wanted or needed.

It won’t stop the whining, but it could really make complaining much easier to listen to. (and maybe even more rewarding for the person going to all the trouble to complain.)

Griefwork resource: Notes from How to be an Adult by David Richo

A Mourning Resource: How grief is part of growing up

Personal Abridgements

I am really enjoying this book.

In the first section, he points out how every hero story starts out with a disaster of some kind– a loss, rejection, mistake, illness, disaster or even attack.

This first part points out how we all have things we needed in the past that we didn’t get–even though it is not necessarily anyone’s fault but of course it could be. These we carry around with us now–as a wound or an unexplainable longing, big feelings, beliefs or attitudes and these affect us now.

So, the first part, surprising to me, is learning how to mourn. It is grief work. Because I recently lost my Dad, I’m more familiar with grief and interested in grief than before. But, accepting what we don’t want is a loss–it is grief. Accepting anything in the past we did not like–is grief. If we can work through it instead…

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Assertiveness Skills from How to be an Adult by David Richo

Assertiveness resource: avoiding aggression and passive victimization

Personal Abridgements

Several years ago I noticed that so often we can turn into a victim/martyr vs the bully/needy one battle. This dog eat dog world, I’ve never bought into—consciously, but often I play the role. I read another book that described 3 roles–the victim, the bully, and the hero. But, what if we didn’t play those games?

I realized that another option had to be the right one. What would that look like– to not be the victim, the bully or even the hero? (Of course with only those 3 options, who wouldn’t want to be the hero?)

I wrote it this way:
Plan A–Ate (I am the winner/bully)
Plan B–Bait (I am the victim/martyr)

What could be plan C?
I wrote Charity

I have been personally trying to discover my way out of all those other roles. How can we just be free and let others be free as well?

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