The Art Of Complaining: The Key To Avoiding Burnout

Truly connecting with people, both professionally and personally, has been dealt a severe blow, by the mess our culture has become.  The political polarization, the economic meltdown and the disappearance of any predictability and security, has created a persistent malaise, akin to having a low level chronic illness that never quite clears up and never gets bad enough to seek treatment.  Accompanying this, is a sense of helplessness, and a feeling that there is little an individual can do, to change this for the better.  It is a wicked, almost paralytic combination. As far back as I can remember, I can’t think of a time when so many of us felt so unable to turn our lives in a more positive direction.  In my professional and personal life I haven’t met anyone who thinks that we’re doing fine as a country and that better times are just around the corner.  If they’re around, they must be with the circus.

So, given this cheery assessment, what can we do to avoid the burnout that seems to be lurking around every corner.  The answer is simple, but counter-intuitive.  We need to Complain; loudly and regularly. I know that this sounds weird and goes against what we were taught.  There are two types of Complaining:  The first, and most unproductive and irritating, is a generalized whining and self-pitying that prevents whiners from having relationships.  It is a one-way street that pushes people away and leaves the whiner feeling isolated and victimized.  

The second, and highly productive form of complaining, involves a sharing of feelings – not “positive” – with people in one’s life who have shown the ability to actually listen.  It is characterized by reciprocity – a commitment on the part of both people, to talk about how crappy each one feels.  Of most importance, it is Not about trying to cheer people up, or change their feelings.  This is very hard to do.  All of our training and most of the messages from our culture, mitigate against listening, and push us toward trying to change people’s feelings, including our own.  Trying to change people’s feelings is a form of invalidating other people. 

Why is this helpful?  It is helpful because it gives people an outlet for feelings that are roiling around inside them,  putting enormous emotional and physical distress on them.  An important point here:  We do not need to have every problem in our life solved, in order to have a good, satisfying life.  What we do need, is a vehicle for releasing the pressure behind the feelings.

~ Morrie

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