The Healing Power of Complaining.

“Well, my back and leg really hurt …I’m still nauseas a lot of the time and I couldn’t even have imagined this level of exhaustion before getting pregnant,” without even meaning to, this list of complaints begins falling from my lips.

Instantly I feel a little bit lighter. It was tempting to answer with the standard, “I’m fine, thanks.” But now I’m not alone with this. My friend knows where I’m at. 

Even still, my body tenses almost instinctively and a voice in the back of my head pipes up with: “You’re bringing down the vibe. You can choose to see love instead of this.”

In the past I would have identified this as my small, quiet voice. The voice of truth. The voice of my intuition.

Now I’m not so sure. Those aren’t my words and are they really coming from a more honest place inside of me? Because what I said felt honest. It felt like the most real explanation I could offer right now.

***

If we can internalize societal beliefs around our body image, self-worth, and sexuality then surely the spiritual beliefs that we consume en masse have a similar effect. Taking up occupancy in our minds and exerting their control over our thoughts.

Modern self-help and new age spirituality seems to have all of us who subscribe to their tenets in the throws of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, we need to honour our fear and fully feel it. But on the other, fear isn’t real and if we don’t choose to see the love in every situation than we’re creating our own suffering. It simultaneously lifts up a belief with one hand while striking it down with the other.

And these thoughts begin to flow so naturally through our minds that we don’t notice the incongruities, or the damage they’re inflicting.

Because our feelings are real and when we don’t fully process them, we create trauma in our bodies. This isn’t just a precept of modern spiritual thought. It’s backed up by medicine and psychology. Science and spirituality agree on this one.

***

But surely complaining is bad, right? It’s not just the self-help books urging us to keep quiet, write another gratitude list, and choose a better mindset. This negative connotation runs deep in our society. There’s a reason “I’m fine, thanks” is our standard response when asked how we are and that many of us would feel too rude to send back a meal at a restaurant even if there was something horribly wrong with it. Almost all of us have been taught to slap a smile over our discontent and just get on with things. Yet we’re also striving to be our most authentic selves. How can these two competing priorities coexist?

This is the question I’ve been grappling with: Where does the line between being real and not complaining fall?

In considering it, I’ve concluded that it’s not really complaining but dwelling that causes the problem. This is what causes us to get stuck. Dwelling looks like:

  • holding tightly onto pain and negativity, subconsciously wanting to keep it rather than allowing its natural movement
  • not recognizing your own ability to make things better
  • allowing the fear and pain to take over your agency
  • getting that buzz that can come from expressing our pain and feeling like a victim and wanting another hit and another and another… (this is where complaining can become an issue)

On the other hand, being real is just honesty about where we’re at, admitting that we don’t have it all figured out, and being light-handed with our pain - allowing ourselves to feel it but also giving it space to move and dissipate.

To complain just means “to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief; to find fault.”

When we demonize complaining we’re telling people to put on another mask, to pretend, to push down their feelings. When we disallow dissatisfaction we violate people’s boundaries in a way that is potentially dangerous. We’re cutting off a healing form of expression that brings discomfort out of the internal experience and allows it to be more fully processed while also helping us feel less alone with our suffering.

When we expect ourselves to be “high vibe” all of the time or believe that we should never express negative feelings, we set ourselves up for failure while denying integral parts of our human experience. Jumping straight to gratitude and the lesson stops us from fully processing our experiences. How can we ever fully learn a lesson that way? Not to mention the trauma we inflict on our bodies.

By demonizing complaining we’re creating a society obsessed with shiny highlight reels where we feel alone in our pain, as if it makes us defective.

Instead let's allow ourselves to fully feel and express while holding only lightly onto our pain so that it can move and evolve and integrate as it naturally needs to. Complain when you need to but cultivate the self-awareness of when it's expression and when it's indulgent dwelling. It sounds simple but it’s not easy. Yet it’s the only way I know to be really real.