by Guy Winch, Ph.D.
We all complain many times a day to our families, friends, co-workers, customer service representatives, and even strangers in the elevator. But what many of us don’t realize is that how we voice our complaints can have huge implications for our mental health.
So Many Complaints, So Few Results
We complain today more than ever before in history but few of our complaints get us the results we want. Instead we usually find ourselves repeating the same tale of woe or dissatisfaction to one person after the other in an effort to rid ourselves of our frustration. Of course, even if the person is compassionate enough to validate our emotions, we typically find ourselves reliving the aggravation every time we tell the tale.
The problem is that today we associate the act of complaining with venting far more than we do with problem solving. As a result, we complain simply to get things off our chest, not to resolve problems or to create change, rendering the vast majority of our complaints completely ineffective. Even when we do address our complaints to the people who can do something about them, we tend to be unsuccessful far more often than not.
Studies show that when we’re dissatisfied with certain products, 95% of us fail to complain to the company because we fear doing so will be annoying and time consuming, and we’re unlikely to get the response we want. We are equally avoidant when it comes to complaints to our loved ones. We fear voicing them will only lead to an argument and resolve nothing. Instead, we reach for the phone, call our friends and vent to them instead.
How Complaining Ineffectively Harms Our Mental Health
Take a moment to consider how many things you complain about in a given day. The weather, public transportation and traffic, your spouse, your kids, your friends, your boss, the movie you just saw and hated, the meal that arrived cold in the restaurant, the sandwich shop that got your order wrong, the elevator that took too long, the reality television show that booted off your favorite contestant, and the list goes on and on.
When we have so many dissatisfactions and frustrations, yet believe we’re powerless to do much about them or to get the results we want, we are left feeling helpless, hopeless, victimized, and bad about ourselves. Obviously, one such incident won’t harm our mental health, but we have so many complaints, this scenario happens many times a day. This accumulation of frustration and helplessness can add up over time and impact our mood, our self-esteem, and even our general mental health.
How Complaining Effectively Benefits Our Mental Health
Think back to when you called a customer service hotline and were successful in resolving the matter, or when you voiced a complaint to your spouse and they responded with an apology and a promise to make better efforts in the future. Do you recall how pleased you were with yourself? How happy that made you in that moment? How empowered you felt?
Just as ineffective complaining can damage our mental health, complaining effectively and getting results can be incredibly empowering and it can affect our mood and self-esteem for the better. Further, learning to complain effectively to our loved ones will do wonders for our relationships. By addressing issues in our relationship that need attention and problem solving them together and cooperatively, we can actually strengthen our relationships and become even closer.
All it takes to turn pointless whining into complaints that solve problems and create change is to learn the tools and techniques to complain effectively.