Complaining: Habit, Hobby, or Depression?

I remember when I filled out my profile on my personal Facebook page years ago.  When I got to the question about hobbies, I answered “complaining.”  I was reminded of this the other day when I browsed my wall and found a meme saying something to the effect of “Of course I complain!  I’m a Jewish mother!”  It was funny.  Sort of.  Reading that, though, made me realize it’s time to change this “hobby,” which I think, for myself, is really more of a habit.

When I hear people complain or speak negatively, I tend to consider whether it a symptom of some degree of depression or anxiety.  Those who consider the glass half empty, often can’t recall it being full just a few minutes ago, or imagine it being full again, and tend to focus on that glass while ignoring the fact that they are standing in a room covered in cups running over!  It’s indicative of a focus on the negative, of what’s missing, rather than a focus on the positive or abundance or possibility.

When I work with folks who struggle with these issues, I tell them that their thoughts are like wagon wheel ruts carved onto the path that their brain led them down so often that the grooves are now deep and automatic.  Once that path is cut, it’s difficult to turn the wheels  to head in a different direction!  In fact, it’s entirely possible that someone wouldn’t notice that they are in a rut.  They can be so deeply immersed that the possibility of a different path is completely lost to them!

Climbing out of the rut requires a lot of deliberate attention to changing one’s focus.  How do we do this?  It’s what I call target practice and I tell my clients that they won’t get it right all the time and that the aim is toward improving, not perfecting.  So how do we start?  I’ve listed a few things that might help you along the path of thinking more positively.

  1.  How was your day?  When someone asks you that, what’s your go-to?  Do you lead with what went badly?  If so, do you ever get to what went well?  What would happen if you answered that question with the good parts of the day and let the negative things take a back seat or, better yet, get out of the car entirely?
  2. What did you do?  When you tell someone about an event or adventure or list of errands that occupied your time, do you end up describing nothing but what a pain it all was?  Do you ever convey a sense of humor, fun, or accomplishment when you answer questions about your weekend or trip to Europe?  Do you simply focus on the negative to answer the questions?
  3. It’s all bad.  Honestly, if you’re struggling with feeling like there IS no positive to anything you do or anyone or anything in your life, it’s definitely time to get help with depression.  Can you poke through the darkness and see any light?  Take a moment and consider what IS good or enjoyable in your life and put your focus there.

When I find myself habitually answering questions by leading with a complaint, I know it’s time to question whether I’m feeling down or if I really mean to put a negative spin on my experience.  If not, it’s time to back track and put a positive foot forward.  In an effort to build better ruts, I’m trying to be more frequently and explicitly appreciative of others, of my experiences, and of myself.

Sometimes I need to take a second to edit my habitual negativity and allow my positive thoughts to come forward.  I do believe in the power of positive thinking but I’m also very aware that years of complaining first and praising second will take a bit of time to unwind.  That’s ok!  Putting forth the effort breaks the habit and brings me that much closer to being the person I aspire to be.

If, like me, you complain as a habit or hobby, I urge you to make efforts to turn that around.  If your negativity is depression or anxiety based, please call me to see how we might work together to combat your discomfort, sadness, or dissatisfaction on a deeper level.  I’d love to hear from you.