Do you struggle to stay positive and upbeat about life? The problem may be someone close to you - the Chronic Complainer. To illustrate how chronic negativity and whining can impact you, let me share an email I received recently from a reader: Dr. Rick, what does one do with someone who likes to complain non-stop? My neighbor is 61 years old, is still/always will be alone, and lives month to month while waiting for her social security to kick in. She has health problems ... probably because she doesn't exercise or eat healthfully. She did quit smoking ... but only "because she can't afford to smoke anymore." Even praising her for not smoking makes her whine about how she doesn't know where her next meal will come from - even though I bring her good home-cooked meals 2 to 3 times a week! There is nothing I can say that doesn't earn a negative response. I can't afford to move, and she is becoming worse by the week! What can I do? It sounds familiar, doesn't it? Because we all have a Chronic Complainer in our lives. It could be an employee, a relative or a neighbor. Regardless of what role that person plays in your life, tolerating chronic complaining is bad for your mental, and sometimes physical, health. It robs you of energy and exacerbates the problem by giving complainers someone to whom they can complain even more. If you want to escape the negative effects of ongoing exposure to chronically negative people, you must save yourself. The good news is that doing so allows you to have a positive impact on your negative person. Here are the three things you must do to free yourself: 1. Understand the process of negativity and whining. 2. Give yourself an attitude adjustment. 3. Draw a line and hold it.
Why We Complain Human beings have a limited amount of conscious attention, and we form generalizations very quickly. If we drive somewhere and stop at two or three lights, we proclaim, "All the lights are red today." If we meet two or three people in a bad mood, we say, "Everyone is in a bad mood today." The other fact that is helpful in understanding why chronic negativity is a problem for some people is that part of the human brainstem acts as radar. It continually scans the environment for things that are important to you at the time and takes special note when it finds those things. You've probably noticed this phenomenon if you've ever shopped for a car or liked a new style of shoe - you suddenly start seeing that car or shoe everywhere. Here's how our brain radar applies to chronic negativity/whining. If people have a major negative experience or disappointment, their brain becomes focused on negativity ... naturally starts scanning for other negative experiences. Over time, they build up a body of evidence that validates their belief that life is unfair. This is why a negative person typically tells you, "I'm not being negative; I'm being realistic." With chronically negative people, the whining and complaining problem escalates because they develop a polarity response, which means they automatically respond opposite of what other people say, think or do. The more you tell Cathy the Complainer that life isn't so bad or offer practical solutions to her perceived problems, the more deeply she will indulge in her negativity. Tuning Up Your Attitude Once you understand why your chronic complainer behaves the way she does, you need to give yourself an attitude adjustment. There is a point where you have to let go and trust in this person's destiny and life. You can try to help Cathy, but ultimately you cannot be attached. You are not and cannot be responsible for her happiness. So offer your suggestions and encouragement, but then detach from the outcome. It is up to the complainer to make different choices; you need to focus on your own life and happiness. Set Your Boundaries The final step in freeing yourself from your complainer's negativity is drawing a line. Tell her you like her, you want to support her, and that what you are about to share is because you care about her. Then tell her that you will no longer listen to how bad things are. If she wants to complain or be negative, that's her choice - but you will not be around for the ride. If you hold that line (and if your complainer enjoys your company), she may be inclined to talk about something that is not complaining or negative. Be sure to reward her change of behavior by thanking and appreciating her when she is positive. If she tries to deflect the compliment with some negative comment - an entirely natural reaction for a chronic complainer - cover your ears and loudly proclaim, "La la la, I'm not listening." Expect to enforce your new boundary a number of times on many occasions. Remember, you are helping her to break a lifelong, deeply ingrained pattern. Your efforts will empower Cathy, because she is in the driver's seat. She gets to decide if having a relationship with you is worth playing by your rules. If she doesn't want to respect your boundary, she is free to make another decision that won't include you. It's her call.
If Cathy goes along with your plan, you'll be training her to focus on something other than what's wrong for a specific amount of time during each visit. This valuable practice can develop a new ability that ultimately will influence her general behavior. With enough practice, your complainer will see - without working at it - that it's partly sunny outside.
Want to learn more about how to deal with chronic whining and negativity? Dr. Rick Brinkman is motivational public speaker best known for his Conscious Communication ® expertise which has reached millions of people around the world.Get Rick's Free Conscious Communication® Newsletter at http://www.rickbrinkman.com