The habit of “taking your tensions seriously” shows up in many ways. Today’s lesson is about the most important: complaining.
For all of its bad press, complaining is a good thing. Complaining is a way to process tensions. It can help us get clear on how we really feel. Without being self-conscious or pre-filtering. Sometimes we need to complain to get things started. Complaining as a way to get help, by itself, isn’t a bad thing. But complaining so someone will feel bad for you... so they will help you, is a crappy way to solve your problems.
Notice the difference between these comments:
#1. “I don’t understand why he raised the price. We are losing customers... this is a joke...” [waits for you to say something]
#2. “I don’t understand why he raised the price. We are losing customers... this is a joke... I don’t know... maybe, I just need to tell him what happened yesterday... what do you think?
”Which one feels better? Which one makes it easier for you to help? Of course the second one does, because the speaker has explicitly asked for something.
In fact, the issue isn’t even complaining or not complaining.
The issue is whether you know why you're complaining.
Just need to vent? No problem. Just say so. Looking for some help? No problem. Just ask for what you want. Not sure what you need? Fine. Knowing that makes all the difference.
Too often complaining is used to manipulate others. Either we complain to someone we want to change (the guilt trip), or we complain to someone else about a third person, hoping to build an alliance (“triangulation”).
We do this when we don’t know what we need or we are scared to ask for what we need. Those are both real concerns. But they are our problems to deal with.
When we get sick, we have to take the medicine. No one else can do it for us.
Of course it’s great if you have supportive people around you, who implicitly know what you need but that can’t be the expectation. It’s just not realistic to always implicitly know the needs and desires of others. Even if we are good at intuiting them.
So, notice when you are complaining. Even to yourself. Driving home. Eating dinner. There is that little voice saying, “I can’t believe Tom did that.” Listen to that voice. Take it seriously. We have to deal with reality, not our imagination. The trick is understanding our inner voices are real. Telling yourself, "It's fine, it's fine, it's fine," is ignoring a fire alarm to put out a fire. That's fantasizing away reality.
Complaining is often how things show up. Raw and unpolished. Listen to it, just don't stop there.