I was accused of being a complainer as a teenager. To be fair, I think many teenagers are—but I heard it often enough to become self-conscious about it.
As an adult, I figured I was better. But then I started paying more attention.
Every “ugh” muttered under my breath, each text of anger or anguish sent to my husband during a hectic spell at work, and all the “vents” shared with my mommy friends on tough days with the kids—they added up.
I don’t think of myself as someone with entitlement issues or a pessimistic attitude or a lazy disposition. But that’s the person I sound like when much of my self-expression comes out as a complaint.
So, for Lent this year, I promised God and myself that I’d give up complaining. Here are the tricks I picked up to help me catch myself before I complained—and turn those thoughts into something productive instead.
#1: Just breathe for goodness’ sake.
I forget to do this in difficult moments. I rush from one thought to another without pausing in between, jumping to conclusions and recalling missed expectations and wishing for different outcomes. It’s not helpful and it’s a ticket straight to Self-Pity City.
So, when I can feel my thoughts start to spiral, I try to pause for a second and focus on breathing instead. It’s impossible to empty my mind completely (at least for me), but it can help to pace my breathing and give my higher intellectual functioning a break. Then, I can make a conscious decision on how to step forward—so it’s easier to move in a positive direction.
#2: Before you voice your thoughts, bleach them of entitlement.
I realized during this exercise that so many of my complaints come from a place of entitlement:
- “Why won’t these kids sleep when they’re supposed to? I need a break!”
- “I can’t believe this appointment is running so late—I don’t have time for this.”
- “Couldn’t he/she have just done that one thing right? It shouldn’t be on me to fix it.”
Sound familiar? I have never sensed this about myself so acutely before, but it’s huge. Huge. And I hate hearing it come out of my mouth.
So, when I’m frustrated over a situation that isn’t going the way I’d like, I’ve learned to examine the source of that frustration. Is it because I feel I deserve something better? Or maybe an unspoken expectation I had for someone else was not met?
Too bad, bub. If I want to feel any better or improve the odds at a better outcome next time, I need to get rid of that sense of entitlement and make an effort instead of demanding more effort from others. (Especially from toddlers.)
#3: Request help instead of demanding it (and that goes for passive aggressive demands, especially).
Speaking of demanding, I also learned that I used complaining as a crutch. Although negative feelings are natural and allowed, I saw that I would give voice to them—subconsciously—in such a way that some small, ugly part of me thought might procure sympathy and, thereby, help.
This is passive aggression at its finest. I’m not here for it anymore. It’s petty and it’s icky.
Instead, if I find myself in a difficult position and I need help to get out of it, I ask for it. So this:
“This day has been an absolute nightmare. Everything went wrong and all of my energy is gone. I need to go cry with a glass of wine for a while.”
Turns into this:
“I’m having a tough day and have a lot going on. Could you take this task for me so I can recharge a little before I need to get started on the next thing?”
Who knew I could sound so human when I feel like a complete zombie?
#4: Make it a habit to be positive first.
The best offense is a good defense. I try to block complaints completely by making a habit of thinking positively and praying without ceasing during times of trial.
Frustrating encounter with a stranger? As soon as things get tense, I utter a quick prayer for them (even something as simple as “God, send Your love” helps). Who knows what they’re going through?
Endless tantrum from the toddler? When I feel my temper coming up short, I ask Mary to remind me of her shining example. She’s a tough act to follow, but God’s grace can help me close a tiny bit of the gap.
Car trouble in the middle of a busy day? I thank God for getting me where I am safely, and ask for a little help taking the next step to hold onto that safety.
It doesn’t always work, but I’m learning to make this kind of positive, prayerful conversation my first reaction to stress (instead of the typical anxiety/disappointment/fury).
#5: Don’t complain about your complaining.
This one seems obvious, but it isn’t. Scrupulosity is real, and it can destroy your confidence while subverting the love of God. It’s easy to get sucked into feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy when you’re failing at trying to improve yourself.
The thing to remember? You’re not failing. You’re actively walking on a path of progress. Even if you stumble, you’re still moving forward.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy to complain about ourselves. Interiorly, there is no one to defend us from our own attacks—making self-criticism a resistance-free outlet for negative emotions. Expressed aloud, self-deprecation can be funny and others may miss what we’re inflicting on ourselves.
I learned that, when I stopped giving myself permission to complain about my own shortcomings in this oh-so-easy way, I started complaining about things outside of me much less. I changed the shade of my mind to something more pleasant and forgiving, and that was easier than expected to share with others, too.
Think this is something you’d like to try? Hit me up on Facebook for questions, prayer requests, or support. I’m here for you, friend!