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Complaining Begets Complaining

Complaining Is Contagious – Watch Out

We have talked about the ways in which your brain makes negative thinking come more easily than make the spaces between synapses easier to navigate, increasing the ease with which these types of healthy thoughts occur. Today, I want to focus on a phenomenon you may have experienced, in which feelings seem to spread among people who are close to one another. It's true. When you are feeling happy, those good vibes radiate to those around you. Unfortunately, complaining is contagious, too. Let's explore how that works and what to do about it.

Why Complaining Is Contagious

If you are a chronic complainer, you've likely created pathways within your mind to readily accommodate such pessimistic thinking patterns. It becomes a habit. However, this negativity does not just affect you; it also seeps its way into the thoughts and emotions of those around you. The same goes for when you surround yourself with people who complain a lot. You will begin to pick up those vibes. That is due, in large part, to our innate inclination toward empathy. We tend to mimic the facial expressions and tones of those around us. When we do this, we are able to bring forth memories of the feelings that come with those actions. This is problematic because it begins the whole cycle in which complaining takes hold in your mind.

Complaining Doesn't Help, Anyway

Initially, complaining may feel good. It can help to get frustrations off your chest and to have a sympathetic listener. However, it's been shown that the emotions associated with venting play into a negative reinforcement process. Meaning it simply feeds upon itself and perpetuates. A cycle of complaining doesn't help you to feel better in the long run, as you might think. It simply reinforces the patterns created through your neural pathways. Finding ways to deal with your frustration helps more than venting proactively and effectively because it ends this cycle, leading to a healthy and results-oriented solution. Once a solution is reached, there is no longer need for the repetitive cycle of complaining, and you will feel much better.

What to Do Instead

Instead of giving in to the immediate release and validation complaining offers, try to get control of your emotions for just a moment in order to formulate a different plan. If you are able to do this, you can then make a choice that will help to manage your negative emotions and lead to a more satisfactory outcome than venting ever could. Try some calming strategies like taking some deep breaths while counting to 10. It may seem simplistic, but such techniques truly can help you to feel less angry and buy you the time you need to help you come up with an alternative solution to the issue at hand. For example, you will now be ready to approach the source of your frustration with proposed solutions or to find ways to better handle the problem on your own. If you are not ready to deal with the issue after your short timeout, perhaps finding a way to reflect on it over time can lead to a sense of peace. Try meditation to clear your mind or journaling to vent your emotions in a more productive manner.

Complaining is contagious. Not only does the pattern settle itself into your own brain, but it affects those around you. What is more is that it really does nothing to help in the long run, anyway. Making just a few adjustments to the way you react to frustration can help you to overcome a habit of complaining, leading you closer to the contentment you seek.

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8 comments

  • Instead of complaining- seek out paths to make it better. Eventually, the cause for complaint will evanesce.

    Roy A Ackerman, PhD, EA
  • This is interesting. I agree that complaining doesn’t help – I have a family member who is always finding something to complain about to me and when I say that I would rather not hear it, she says “well, I need to vent to someone!” (to which I always answer — “No, no you really don’t.” I do believe that you can spread the negativity to others. I don’t let things bug me, but when someone feels that I’m a good person to vent to, it really does put a thorn in the rest of my day. 😒 Thank you for sharing this!

    Angela Vallejo
  • I am blessed to be able to surround myself with like-thinking people. People who find the best in every situation. Complaining may be contagious but so is the opposite.

    Carol Graham

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