Why Complainers Need Your Compassion More Than Anyone

Relentless positivity has thrown society out of balance.

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Most of us complain from time to time, at least in the privacy of our own thoughts. And there are plenty of reasons why people complain: Bad weather ruins an activity planned months in advance. Changes we didn’t ask for, and don’t want, assault us. A friend or family member lets us down.

Complaining is a silent or vocal response to such dissatisfaction. Sometimes our complaining targets someone in particular. At other times, we direct a general “Why me?” at the heavens.


Since our culture values positivity, complaining is socially, emotionally, and spiritually problematic for many Americans — even non-chronic complainers like you and me.

Many people avoid making negative comments in public as if it were the same as passing gas. They don’t want to “make a stink” about anything, because then others might say they have a bad attitude, or even label them a “Debbie Downer.”


But relentless positivity (“Hey, at least you’re still alive!”) isn’t the right or only answer to a complaint. Life goes out of balance when constant light banishes every shadow.

RELATED: 10 Pick-Me-Up Quotes To Help You Feel A TON Better When You're Down

The darker emotions don’t disappear. They go underground. Society becomes ill with anxiety, depression, alienation, and violence. Anything sound familiar in that scenario?

There’s another way: We can respond to complaints by acknowledging the emotional pain that gives rise to them. 



It starts with validating our own feelings. For example:

  • “Yes, it stinks that it had to rain on the day we planned the picnic. What a drag.” (disappointment)
  • “Ugh. I voted against that measure, but it passed, and now I have to live with it. How depressing.” (despair)
  • “My husband forgot to pick up the one thing I really needed, darn it!” (frustration)

RELATED: 15 Quotes To Help You Stay Positive When Times Are Tough

If we get good at constructively wallowing in our negative emotions like this, we’ll be better able to make room for others’ occasional complaints. Hearing a negative statement from someone else shouldn’t be uncomfortable or embarrassing; it should be just another aspect of social life.

Acknowledging so-called “negative” feelings — resentment, regret, dread — doesn’t make them worse or prolong them. On the contrary, feelings that are allowed safe passage often burn out more quickly than those that are buried unaddressed.


Any toddler can prove this point: feelings don’t stick to young children the way they do to more practiced adults. In this way at least, many who appear to have reached emotional maturity may lag behind the average two-year-old, in that the adult isn’t able to experience and express a full range of emotion.

The next time you or someone else shows the courage to make a negative statement in the form of a complaint, look for the emotion underlying the observation, and give it (the emotion) some love by validating it. 


Remember, no one gets hurt by a feeling. Only behavior can do harm. Your compassionate response to complaints will help restore emotional balance in society.

RELATED: How Your Negative Attitude DESTROYS Your Chances Of Finding Love

Tina Gilbertson, LPC, is a counselor and workshop leader, and the author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them.