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That Thing You Do: The Chronic Complainer – Episode 3

OMG seriously! This sucks! I can’t believe I have to do this.

Complaining, we all do it sometimes. We vent, describe, assert, and tell stories of dissatisfaction. Of course we do!

Like all emotional habit patterns, we get a juicy satisfaction from the act of venting frustration or discontent. Complaining provides a short-term boost, both from the relief of ‘getting it off our chest’ and a reward, from the sympathetic ear of a friend.

Is this one of your things? How might it be getting in the way of the grown-up you want to be? If you wanna start letting go of this insidious habit (or know someone who does), read on Seeker!


Negative Natasha: What You See on the Outside

“You are NOT going to believe the crap my boss pulled today!” groaned Natasha as she blasted through the door after a long day at work. Before a hello, or any other greeting to her boyfriend, she could barely contain herself to get right to unloading her distress.

Natasha’s boyfriend, and her friends, tried to be supportive. They validated, asked questions, and tried to help her find solutions so she wouldn’t feel so miserable. But inevitably, somehow, the validation was never quite right, and the solutions were met with a “Yeah, but…”

It’s easy to spot complaining behavior in others of course. These folks share their judgmental opinions rather freely. And the feedback they give others can be off putting, and even relationship destroying!

But it’s often much more difficult to catch our own tendency to kvetch, moan, grumble or whine about how things should be other than they are.


What’s Going on Inside?

When we see someone else complaining (or engaging in any other unpleasant behavior), we see it as something about them; ‘their personality’. But when we’re doing the complaining, we tend to attribute our own behavior to the situation. This is called the ‘attribution bias’ in psychology.

From the inside, complaining is experienced by many people as cathartic. It provides initial release from negative emotions by getting stuff off our chest. As with Natasha, it may also elicit validation and support from the environment, which is rewarding.

But in order to get skillful at interrupting this, or any autopilot habit, the key is to mindfully explore what it is the behavior in question is in reaction to.

So ask yourself, “What is the discomfort that complaining alleviates?” For Natasha, as for many of us, the feelings preceding the action impulse to complain were tension, righteous indignation, frustration, and anger.

Before that, were more subtle assumptions and tacit beliefs: Your thoughts. Remember, our beliefs are highly subjective, often unconscious, and based on your unique past experiences.

PAUSE: Take a moment to consider a recent complaint of your own, about someone or something. What underlying belief do you hold, which the facts of the situation disturbed? Is that belief 100% true?


The Skillful Alternative: Self-Validation & Acceptance

Checking in with the components of our emotional experience in this way is the first step in slowing down the ETA system spirals that keep us stuck in our emotional habit patterns.

For Natasha, a lot of her difficulty sitting with the frustration stemmed from her particular past experience. She was raised in a family where complaining was very common. So her assumption was that this is just how people communicate.

Additionally, as noted above, her complaining behavior was so reinforced by those around her, she had little opportunity to practice sitting with the discomfort of her dissatisfaction. She actually needed more practice at this!

To do this, we had to help her actively practice mindfully acknowledging and accepting the thoughts and feelings that preceded the impulse to complain.

So, are you willing to practice? Great! Head over to Mindful-Mastery to get a great practice for sitting with the discomfort!

This blog is inspired by Dr. Fielding’s upcoming book: Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-Up, which includes QR code linked skill videos to guide you on your journey of self-discovery and emotional self care! To get the blogs, AND a free skill video, straight into your in box, sign up for the Mindful-Mastery SKILL WEEKLY newsletter. Or check back here in two weeks for the next post: The Emotional Stuffer. We can also hang out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Or YouTube for skills videos.

That Thing You Do: The Chronic Complainer – Episode 3

Dr. Fielding

Lara Fielding is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, who teaches, supervises, and specializes in the Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT). Her private practice is in Los Angeles, where she is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and a Supervisor Psychologist at the UCLA Department of Psychology Clinic. Dr. Fielding teaches clients how to master the auto-pilot tendencies of the mind-body emotional system with mindfulness and self-care skills. As a behavioral psychologist, she works with clients to empower their skillfulness in managing stress and regulating difficult emotions. The skills she teaches are based on her research at UCLA, Harvard, and Peperdine, to incorporate the psycho-physiology of stress, emotion and cognition. Dr. Fielding has exhaustively studied the Mindfulness-Based CBT treatments (DBT, ACT, MBSR, MBCT) and their application for problems with Emotion Dysregulation. From this study, she derived a set of therapist guidelines for evidence-based practice. Dr. Fielding’s work is further informed by her research experience at UCLA and Harvard. Her research there explored the relationship between health behavior and the psycho-physiological effects of stress on cognition and emotion. Dr. Fielding is trained and experienced working with groups and individuals suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences, anxiety, and mood disorders. She has taught hundreds of clients concrete skills to better manage difficult emotions in the face of stressful life situations. With these cognitive and emotional skills in place, clients are guided towards personal values consistent behavioral change, in order to achieve their life goals.

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APA Reference
Fielding, L. (2018). That Thing You Do: The Chronic Complainer – Episode 3. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Nov 2018
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