Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to Cut Down on Constant Complaining

Dear Jocelyn,
I have a problem with my mom (I know I'm the first!). She has a tendency to be a very negative person. For example, if she is struggling with something she would rather spend time complaining or emphatically stating that she is incapable of doing it rather than trying. I try to be uplifting and encourage her to give it her best, but she seems to enjoy being down (about almost everything). I'm getting tired of listening to constant complaints! HELP!
-Losing Patience

Dear Patience,
Let me share share with you a trick I've learned—whenever an incessant complainer begins on a litany of sadness, ask, "So what are you doing about it?" Your mother, for whatever reason, struggles with negativity and probably draws comfort from other's reactions to her complaints. Alas, this comfort is not doing anything to help fix her problems. As a caring child, you have tried your best to encourage her. However, it sounds like your mother is very assertive about controlling the conversation, so it is time to take charge. Next time she complains, tell her, "I love you, but it discourages me when you complain about your problems instead of doing something to solve them. I'd rather just hear what you plan to do to fix them, or what I can do to help." In the future, when she begins to grouse about her life, say, "Well, I can't wait to hear what you do about this problem. Until then, let me tell you about what's going on in MY life..." At the very least, you will be sending the message that you do not want to hear about all the things she thinks she can't do. Hopefully, though, seeing how you take charge of your own life will help her stop focusing on her unfortunate circumstances.


Unknown said...

It bothers me when people see the worst in everything, too. This would probably be easier to deal with if you're out of the house, Losing Patience. I'm out of college and living away from home, so having my own stable world to turn back to after listening to all the troubles my family members are facing helps counteract the potential discouragement.

Jess said...

Good advice Jocelyn! I would just add a phrase that I use sometimes, "If you're not willing to do anything to fix these problems, it can't ACTUALLY be that terrible." When I deal with chronic complainers I have used Jocelyn's ultimatum of "If you're not going to talk about how to fix these problems, then I don't want to hear about them anymore". It does work and as far as I know no one hates me for saying that, so that level of assertiveness is very practical in the real world.
I would also try to redirect the conversation toward more positive or neutral topics. I think Jocelyn uses this tactic on me when I get too gripey.

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