There are times in all our relationships, personal and professional, where things build up. Unmet needs or overbearing demands congeal into resentments, and we can get overwhelmed. I have noticed that the first indication that things are building up, is that I start to complain a lot to my friends and beloved. I complain about how other people are not doing what I think they should, or are deliberately thwarting my happiness! If I don’t attend to what is bugging me, in a way that it can be resolved, then I can get very stuck. I start to shut down, and withdraw from the person I am upset with. I may then aggressively push back when other innocent people ask me to do things, or collapse into tears at the end of the day and feeling like I am ‘failing’ at life.
A complaint often masks a desire or need, one we don’t feel we can directly ask for. Some part of us feels unsafe to ask, so we create a barrier and don’t fully express ourselves. The physical and emotional tension builds up in our bodies, starts to infect our relationships, and drains our energy. We start to second-guess ourselves, censor ourselves, or over-react to something minor. Either way, we never feel the simple relief of asking for what we want.
It’s our bodies that usually wind up being the place we store up our complaints, disappointments and sadness. Take a moment and think about one thing you feel is unfair, or something you are complaining about. Breathe deeply and feel into your body. What does the energy feel like? What are the emotions you feel?
I often feel a heavy weight on my shoulders, a tightness, like a ball of iron in my stomach. I feel over-whelmed, disheartened and discouraged.
Many of us have a history of being shamed for our genuine feelings. We learned that telling the truth, or voicing our needs and desires makes someone else uncomfortable. And further that their discomfort, or more accurately keeping them comfortable, is our responsibility. We have been shamed for having needs, so a lot of us learned to do it all ourselves, not ask for help nor ‘burden’ others with our needs.
∞ Were you scolded for being upset?
∞ Were you told you would get a ‘smack’ if you didn’t stop crying?
∞ Do you try and suppress your anger because it’s ‘not nice’?
∞ How does feel when other people complain to you? Do you think they should just get over it?
While complaining about work, friends and partners is socially acceptable, we all know it feels rubbish. It doesn’t actually make us feel better. Sure we let off steam, but if the essential issue remain unresolved then it pops back up the next day. Then we feel even more stuck.
What if there were another way? What if you could stop the spiral down into resentment, stress and distress? Let me be clear here, there is nothing wrong with these feelings. They are messages that something very important is going on. And there are ways to attend to some of your needs before you end up in these states.
Take the time to make a short list of any complaints you currently have. If you start to fill in two pages worth, looks like you have some things that need attending.
Look at your first complaint. Think about what you actually need, what you really want. How could you ask for what you want? For example, when I notice myself bitching about work and a new manager, I take a breath. What do I need and want at work? I want to be able to give my best. So if meetings are scheduled on days I don’t work, then I ask if the meeting can be scheduled on a Tuesday instead? This may seem like a simple solution, however, as you look over your list of wants and needs, there are often simple requests you can make that start to release some of the pressure. So start there.
If you notice that you want other people to value you, listen to you, or take your needs seriously, then pay very close attention. Are there places where you are prioritising other people’s feelings and needs above your own? Are you compromising yourself? Are you suppressing your genuine feelings and saying Yes when you want to say No? If so, then the person you need to have the first conversation with, is you.
When I notice myself complaining to my beloved that I feel overwhelmed, tired and I have all these things to do, then I know the person I first need to speak to is myself! So I breathe and realise what I need is some quiet time to myself. And that is what I say. “I need some time to myself. I know we had plans but I really need a day to rest and not run to a schedule.” At other times, I really need a hug and so I ask for that. Or I don’t feel like cooking, and ask if he feels able to make dinner or get take-away. Then it is up to him how he responds, and he can state what he needs.
Sometimes one of us feels energised and generous, sometimes we both feel worn out, and sometimes the other person just can’t meet the need or desire in that moment. And all of that is OK. There are two critical parts to this discussion. The first is having the courage to share what you feel and ask for what you need. The second is being open to the other person sharing their thoughts and feelings about your requests. Are there deeper issues at stake? Sure, there often are. But it is good to make a start on what you need right now.
As you honour yourself, you give the other person permission to also be honest about what they want and need. As you get more practiced, you can start to intervene earlier, and ask for what you want long before it becomes a complaint about the other person not doing what you want. As you build trust, you can go deeper together and talk about more sensitive issues. And that is good news for any relationship.