One very rainy day I met with several clients and kept track of how many complaints about the weather I heard. Twenty-four! Even the cashier in the grocery store complained about the weather. And not one complaint changed the weather. I guess that's my complaint about complaints. Complaining is not effective in creating change. Lily Tomlin tells this joke: "Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain."
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines “complain” as “to express pain, grief or discontent.” And certainly there are appropriate times that you need to complain. We all have the right to express pain. And yet dozens of complaints every day can have a very negative impact on your health, your relationships, and your quality of life. Studies have shown that complaining about your health actually tends to make your health worse.
From my point of view, incessant complaining is a self-destructive habit. If you want to claim your power, feel happier, and less stressed in life, then stop complaining. Take up assertiveness instead to state the facts. For example, a simple statement of fact ("The shipment didn't arrive as scheduled.") is very different from a complaint ("You people always mess up my orders.")
Here's my advice:
1. Stop and Notice.
Notice every time you whine, judge yourself or others, make nasty comments (even in your head), or negatively vent your feelings. Just take note that you're doing it. Perhaps you can jot it down. Your complaints may be about the weather, your boss, the kids, your spouse, the flavor of the mustard in your sandwich, the crazy drivers on the road, your too tight jeans, your bad hair day, or not having enough time. Count your complaints each day.
2. Analyze for Control.
So many complaints are outside of your control. There's absolutely nothing you can do to change the situation. This would include things like the weather, the other drivers on the road, or your country's foreign policy. If that's the case, you need to let it go. If you can control it, then change it. If you can't control a situation, do you have some influence? Then use your influence in a positive way to effect some change.
3. Analyze for Effectiveness.
Then ask yourself if your complaints helped the matter. Or did your complaints cause you to focus more on what you didn't want? In other words, is complaining effective as a strategy for getting what you want? If it is, then keep complaining. If not, learn to let go. And give yourself some time to do this. Deeply ingrained habits take some time.
4. Beware of Secondary Gain.
If you just can't give up complaining, then you may want to look at your secondary gains. This is a psychological term meaning the benefits of undesirable behavior. It implies that you're getting something out of complaining that keeps the bad habit in place. It may be personal attention, self-pity, or release from unpleasant responsibilities. You remain in a "victim consciousness." And feeling like a victim contributes to both depression and anxiety. Is that really what you want?
"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain." --Maya Angelou
Copyright © 2009 Kathie Keeler, All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or transferred by any print or electronic means without the express written consent of the copyright owner. Thank you!
Caregiver Syndrome is the name for the ongoing emotional stress and physical strain of caring for a loved one.
You may feel exhausted, fatigued, powerless, anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed.
You may have physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and a compromised immune system. Perhaps you feel sad or resentful.
There's too much to do and not enough time to do it. You're not getting enough sleep and not watching your nutrition. There are so many demands and not enough help in your life.
Who's prone to burnout?
- Those who can't say no.
- People who sacrifice themselves, putting themselves last
- Nonassertive people
- People who are impatient with themselves
- People who have difficulty setting limits with others
- People who have control issues
- People who are unwilling to confront their own fears
- People who have big hearts, who are empathetic
What do I do?
The articles on this website are designed to help you to overcome caregiver syndrome. What you really need to do is learn to take good care of yourself. That's a process, a journey. As you learn to take time for yourself, give back to yourself, you're going to get better and better.
You will need to look at your self-destructive habits--those habits that rob you of your energy, health, vitality, and well-being. If you're going to be there for others, you will need to first be there for yourself.
Claim your power. You can change things. One day at a time. Start looking at those areas of your life where you have given away your power. Assertiveness is absolutely essential if you're going to take good care of yourself.
If you don't have enough support in your life, it's time to change things. You need support. We all need each other. Do you have family members who can be supportive of you? Make a list of extended family members who may be able to be supportive of you in one way or another.
Start connecting with others. What do they do to get the relief that they need? Ask. Spend time with others--either in person, on the phone, or on the internet.
Rather than feeling resentments about someone, rather than nagging or yelling, learn to deliver bad news in a complaint sandwich. If you have a parent, a child, a friend, or co-worker, you have probably run into situations where you've had a complaint or criticism about them. This is where a lot of people feel anxiety. You need to deliver some bad news, negative feedback, or *helpful* advice. This is a part of assertiveness training--expressing a complaint. If you really want the other person to listen to what you have to say, you ought to package it in a complaint sandwich. You'll want to eliminate the possibility of feeling guilt about the conversation later, so practice what you have to say before you say it. Here's how it works.
The bottom piece of bread is what you like or admire. Examples:
To your son: "I liked the way that you picked up all your toys and put them in the toy chest. Thanks for doing that."
To your spouse: "Thanks for picking me up from work. I appreciate the fact that you had to go out of your way to do that for me."
To your co-worker: "You did a nice job on that project. It looks terrific!"
Ready? We're now at the difficult part, the meat in the middle--the negative feedback or complaint.
To your son: "I noticed that all your dirty clothes are under your bed. Would you please put those in the hamper?"
To your spouse: "I've been waiting for forty-five minutes and wondering if I told you the wrong time." (You didn't.)
To your co-worker: "I wish you had included me in the process since we were asked to do it together."
You always put the praise on the end, too. This is the top piece of bread in the sandwich. Without doing this, you run the risk of offending the person or having them not hear you at all.
To your son: "I'm so proud of you. You've come a long way."
To your spouse: "However, I really appreciate the fact that you came to get me. Thanks so much for doing that."
To your co-worker: "But you did a really nice job on it and deserve all the recognition for doing this."
Get the idea? Find a way to put this little complaint sandwich in use today. You'll feel better about yourself when you do this. Also, you'll bolster the self esteem of your listeners. Give it a try!
This "asking for change" script can be helpful for couples, families, and employers. It's a standard technique that is used in assertiveness training, anger management, and family counseling. What changes do you want the other person to make? Be very specific. Tell the other person how you feel about the behavior in question. Name the specific changes that you would like to see. Also, think about what you might need to change in your own behavior to help the other person. Claim your power and reduce the stress in your life by practicing this script often.
I feel ______________________________________________(mad, sad, bad, glad, scared, disappointed, hurt, frustrated, embarrassed, etc.)
I wish (or I want)________________________________________
If you can do that, I will____________________________________.
- While Person A talks, Person B listens.
- Person B can ask for clarification, take notes, or ask Person A to repeat the request. But Person B cannot interrupt Person A.
- When Person A finishes, Person B should summarize the message (leaving nothing out) and then say, "Did I get it right?"
- Person A says yes or no. If person A says no, then clarification is in order.
"When you yell at me, I feel hurt and angry. I wish you would speak quietly to me. If you can do that, I will listen and respond to you."
"When you leave the house without telling me where you are going, I feel disappointed and scared. I want you to tell me where you are going. If you can do that, I will not insist that you come back in an hour."
"When you don't go to school, I feel irritated. I wish you would take school seriously and go every day. If you can do that, I will allow you more freedom on the weekends."
See how easy it is? Give it a try!
How to define healthy relationships in twenty-two words:
1. I can be me.
2. You can be you.
3. We can be us.
4. I can grow.
5. You can grow.
6. We can grow together.
This marvelous summary is from The Struggle For Intimacy by Janet Woititz. If you value yourself, you allow yourself to be yourself. You allow your partner to be him/herself. Assertiveness helps you to speak your truth, set limits, appreciate differences while respecting your partner.
Struggle for Intimacy by Janet Geringer Woititz
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If you feel people use you, take advantage of you, or break their promises to you, then you need to make some new choices. No one wants to be victimized, but victims often don't know how to get out of their rut. They don't understand that they have taught people to treat them poorly by the poor treatment that they have accepted in the past.
I used to work for an employer who often asked me to work six or seven days a week on a very meager salary. I really needed the job because I was a single parent at the time. However, as much as I did not want to lose my job, there came a time when I needed to stand up for myself. My fear-based behavior acted as a lightning rod for my corporate bully boss. I took a big risk as I firmly but politely set limits with how often I would work overtime. Fortunately for me, he backed down.
Learn to Value Yourself
- One of the easiest ways to learn to value yourself is to learn assertiveness training. When you assert yourself, you speak your truth in a kind, calm, mature manner.
- Ask yourself, "Is this relationship a two-way street? Am I getting as much as I'm giving?" If not, time to re-think your relationships. You deserve to be treated with as much respect as what you give to others.
- Determine your boundaries. Where do you draw the line? Claim your power so that you don't feel victimized. Being a doormat is a self-destructive habit that can be changed.
- Remember that every adult relationship is voluntary. Yes, I said every relationship. You get to determine how close you want to be with your sister, parent, spouse, neighbor, or boss. To a large extent, you also determine the quality of the relationship.
- Be good to yourself. Be as kind to you as you are to others.
Becoming Your Own Best Friend
When you start treating yourself as if you are fabulous, terrific, and wonderful, you don't allow others to walk on you. When you start believing that you're a magnificent limited edition of one--unique in every way, you put out a different energy in relationships.
If this is something that you can't believe right now, then becoming your own best friend is really important. Because if you feel good about yourself then other people will treat you with respect. Remember: we teach people how to treat us by how we treat ourselves.
People who are prone to anxiety tend to share certain personality traits. Some of these traits are positive--such as empathetic, sensitive, creative, intuitive, and amiable. These are the traits that endear these people to their friends and relatives.
Other traits tend to aggravate anxiety and interfere with relationships. These traits are:
- An excessive need for control
- A tendency to ignore the signs of stress
- An excessive need for approval
Let's look at these traits more closely. Perhaps you can start to identify, work with, and change these traits that provoke your anxiety.
Perhaps you're overly concerned with small flaws and mistakes in yourself and/or others. You may have expectations about yourself, others, and life that are just unrealistically high. When anything falls short of those expectations, you feel disappointed and perhaps become critical. Nothing is ever good enough. And you perhaps drive yourself to the point of stress, exhaustion, and even burnout. Your self esteem suffers. You don't value yourself.
Tips for Perfectionists:
- Recognize your thinking errors. Are you using the words "should, must, ought, have to, or got to" in your thoughts (e.g., "I should be able to do this." "I must not make a mistake."
- Let go of the idea that your worth is determined by your accomplishments. You're not a human doing, you're a human being.
- Stop magnifiying the importance of small errors. We all make them. Let it go!
- Focus on what's right. A positive point of view can really help in this area.
- Make your goals realistic.
The Need to Control
You want life to be predictable. This is the opposite of faith; trusting the process of life. And you probably have very good reasons for not trusting the flow of life. But, if you want to eliminate anxiety and be more happy, you're going to have to let go of this need to control.
Tips for Control Freaks:
Here are some practical strategies that can work for you. Keep in mind that the cultivation of these strategies take time.
- Cultivate patience. When I'm in a hurry, out shopping and in a long line, I use this silent affirmation: "I'm practicing my patience virtue." For me, this is a good time to check the voice mail on my cell phone, read a magazine, tell myself positive thoughts, and perhaps think about what I'm going to prepare for dinner.
- Trusting that most problems eventually work themselves out. We don't know what the future holds for us, so it's best to choose to trust life.
- Acceptance. This is big. A sense of humor will help with this. Very often things don't go our way. And that's OK. (By the way, those are the precise words that I tell myself--"That's OK.") If you have the irrational belief that things ought to be a certain way, you're in trouble. You're swimming against the current of life, and you're going to get hurt. Learn to go with the flow and accept things the way they are.
- Developing your spirituality. In AA, we talk about "Let go, and let God." Learning to trust a power higher than yourself can help in this area. Another way that spirituality can help is learning to trust that there is a larger purpose in life beyond what we can see. Things happen for a reason, although we may not know why they happen.
Ignoring the Signs of Stress
Many people with anxiety disorders have a long history of ignoring the physical and psychological signs of stress. They push themselves unreasonably, and it eventually catches up with them. Are you ignoring tension in your muscles (jaw, shoulders, forehead), upset in your stomach (bowels included), or fatigue? Are you sleeping enough? Do you have mood swings? Do you feel overwhelmed?
Tips for Noticing the Signs of Stress:
Get in touch with your body. It may have some message to give to you.
- Breathwork can be very helpful. Go to the related article on this web site and read how to do this.
- Relaxation Techniques that can help include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, bodywork, and massage. See the related articles at the bottom of this page.
- Assertiveness training can be very helpful.
- Develop your sense of humor. Watch funny movies, read funny jokes and books, laugh and have fun!
The Need for Approval
Yes, we all need approval. But the person with anxiety seems to have an excessive need for approval. If you're overly concerned with approval, you will need to address your inner sense of feeling unworthy or somehow flawed. You may be the ultimate pleaser.
Tips for Pleasers:
- Look at the thinking errors that lead to an excessive need for approval. They could be as unrealistic as "If people really knew me, they wouldn't like me." to "If someone doesn't seem friendly to me, it's because I did something wrong."
- Learn to look at criticism objectively. My mother always said, "First consider the source." Do you value that person's opinion? Is this person qualified to make an objective criticism of your work, your skills, your traits? If so, ask for specific details. Decide whether or not it has validity, then decide if it's a good opportunity for you to learn something new.
- Recognize your codependency. And then let it go. A need to be needed can only cause you sorrow. Learn to shift the focus to yourself rather than always having a focus on others.
As you can probably tell, addressing these four traits is a process, a journey of self discovery. This journey will go a bit faster if you do it with a therapist.
Assertiveness is the practice of openly and honestly expressing your feelings, learning about your rights as a human being, firmly and kindly protecting those rights (without feeling guilty) and becoming more aware of who you are. Assertiveness is NOT aggressiveness. Nor is it bluntness. Assertiveness training can help the angry, aggressive person just as much as it can help the meek, passive person.
Almost any therapist can help you to become more assertive. Although you can read a book about it or read about it on the internet, it's very difficult to apply unless you have a "mirror"--another caring and emotionally healthy human being who can accurately communicate to you how they see you. If you choose to use a friend or family member, be aware that the person you have chosen may have a hidden agenda--it may serve them to have you behave in certain ways that benefit their lives.
Assertiveness is for everyone. But, it's particularly powerful for those people who suffer from "learned helplessness." For example, many people have adopted the "victim stance" their parent(s) modeled for them when they were kids. Learned helplessness is characterized by passivity, powerlessness, and strong dependency needs. Some people call this the "doormat syndrome."
The benefits of becoming more assertive tremendous:
- less stress
- improved communication
- better relationships
- more self confidence
- greater self-awareness
- better decision-making skills
Using these assertiveness tips is a terrific way to take good care of yourself while respecting the rights of others as well.