In recent days, the word “complaining” has occurred in rather synchronistical ways. In the first scenario, I was complaining about how it seems as if I am the only one listening in dialogues that I participate in. Meaning, most of the conversations I am invited into end up being hour-long monologues without a moment of consideration for my perspective or opinions on the topic. Generally, I don’t mind the monologue. In my profession, I get paid by clients to listen to them talk so I can help encourage the development of the erotic self. I am a good listener. And despite being a podcast host, I do like to listen more than I like to talk.
But sometimes, damn it, I want another person to just let me have space to speak. Lately, I am not receiving what I need. So, I started kvetching. I didn’t know the term for it at the time, and I will explain in a minute. But ultimately, my goal was not to simply complain. I needed to vent it out. I had felt like I was bottling in those feelings of exclusion from the conversation for too long. I was beginning to feel ill about engaging with others. My regular introversion was slowly turning into something insulated, heavy, and dark. I wasn’t looking forward to any potential social interactions, including podcast interviews or client sessions.
My husband, Cory, provided the space for me to vent. He validated my feelings, didn’t try to fix the problem—because how could he force other people to listen? And he put his arm around me and just held me close. And as easily as I let the complaints roll off my tongue, I felt really empty of the heaviness and darkness that had been weighing on me. Cory suggested that I get this out through another medium. That I journal about it, record a monologue myself and air it on the podcast, or blog about it. He reminded me that I am not alone in how I feel about not being heard. The idea is to share my complaint in a way that provides constructive instruction to curtail the one-sidedness of conversations.
It’s the same advice that I would recommend to a client, too. Writing out what you are feeling is such a cathartic way to liberate yourself of clogs and fog. It’s one of the reasons I doodle and paint, too. Sometimes, literal words don’t help us clear out the clogs—a paintbrush or a colored pencil sometimes aids with that release needed.
In the second scenario, it was Esther Perel’s telecast on complaining that caught my eye. She talked about the art of kvetching; in that, it’s layered like baklava. It’s a cathartic way to express what you may internalize and act out in a passive/aggressive manner. It’s venting it out. But done so in a process through layers, free from guilt, judgment, and shame. There are ways to complain in a manner that provides itself as a healing agent for what has been activated.
We can complain civilly, we don’t need to be condescending or contentious in tone. We complain like civil adults who choose their words carefully as to not hurt the other person. The idea of writing out a letter about what the complaint is, while deep in the emotive activation, can help you better articulate your formal complaint in person. It’s like a rough draft versus a final draft.
We can pick one thing to complain about and be specific about that complaint. How does it affect you? What it is activating. What’s underneath that surface complaint? What does it make you think about and feel? Refrain from lashing out. Recognize there can be shared complaints that unite you and the other. And it’s alright to inject humor into the complaint. It keeps it light and airy. It keeps things real. Humor is a present action, and it keeps us in check with reality. It helps us remove the anger and aggression that sometimes comes with complaints.
If someone is sharing their complaint with you, don’t assume that you have to fix the problem. This is about venting. Squeezing out the excess emotions that are activated by fears or feeling excluded. Your responsibility to the dialogue is simply to hold space for that expression.
After listening to Perel validate the nuance and necessity of complaining, I felt more liberated by my previous airing of grievances. Perel said, “You can’t just live on one side of life.” We can’t just live in the dichotomies of complaint versus appreciation. We can be both appreciative and have complaints.
Complaints help us reinforce our boundaries. It is by venting about behavior and treatment that we find violates our integrity. This allows us to articulate the words to encourage people we love and care about to further develop for the betterment of our relationships with them. So long as we are constructive about our complaints, they can help us evolve our relationships and interface with individuals more harmoniously.
In the third scenario of complaining, I came across a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.” A friend of mine had shared it on their Facebook wall. After the week of confrontation with complaints, I decided to opine.
Sometimes, complaining is also a form of ventilation for our minds and bodies. If we can squeeze it out, we can release it easier. Look at a complaint like a wet rag. Once you squeeze out all the water from it, you must lay it on the sink and leave it to dry. Squeeze it then leave it.
If we look at complaints differently, if we are more specific about what it is that we are complaining about; it doesn’t have to be seen as whining. It can be seen as the first step to a very layered process that helps us facilitate a solution. And sometimes, there isn’t a solution. But we do live in a world where not everything requires a solution. So, rest peacefully with that notion.