Jan 7, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

I used to be one of these people who complain about everything. I was a professional complainer. I think depression drove that too, that was my favorite complaint actually, my own treatable illness tsk tsk. And god, how annoying I was! I'd wake up every day and my brain would automatically look for something to complain about and that would be my topic for the day. I remember when I was ill, even during periods when the symptoms weren't so bad, I felt this need for attention. Deep down I liked to be like that. I refused treatment for many years, partly because of the depression that makes you feel like you don't deserve to be cured and that there's no hope for you and partly because I was afraid of losing people's attention.

But I didn't want collective attention, like, going into a class room and having everyone there super worried about me, asking what happened (okay, maybe sometimes), because I like being a more anonymous person. But I pissed off people in my circle. Sometimes I even noticed that they were extremely uncomfortable, especially when they were having a really happy time and I'd come to suck all the positivity out of the place, but I kept going. And I remember getting angry when people started not caring anymore, so I started talking about bigger problems, complaining even more, being dramatic and lying. Like, if you don't want to give me free and spontaneous attention, I'll make you give it to me through pain. I'll trigger your empathy so that you only think of me. I wasn't content with my suffering, I wanted other people to suffer with me and for me.

At some point I noticed that people would do almost anything I wanted, because they felt sorry for me. Most of the time I remember doing all this consciously, I got addicted to it, playing the victim and spreading the word about how the world was cruel with me, was conspiring against me, yada yada.

My closest friends even tried to help me, of course, but they have their own lives and duties and most of the time they avoided me because they knew that if they came to talk to me I'd have a long and tedious list of complaints and that they would "have" to listen to me for hours and maybe do things for me. I don't blame them for that.

At some point people got tired of me and I felt like I didn't have any options either. I still tried to keep the drama for a while, but after a big argument with a family member, in which I was extremely aggressive, I realized how far this was going.

Well... That's what I remember feeling back then when I was a professional complainer. I just look at it all now and see how much of my precious time I've given to something so stupid. Today I'm much better and depression is no longer an issue, but sometimes I still feel the urge to start complaining about something and play the victim, just to get a little attention. But I'm trying to suppress the urge as much as I can and become a decent human being, and I'm actually doing a great job so far. I now realize that complaints aren't going to get me anywhere and that they're just a waste of my time and creativity. It's not worth so much effort just to have the false feeling that people care about me.

Random people often come to me too, to complain about their lives, tell all their dramas... And god, how annoying that is. Today I realize how much I bothered people and how f*cking annoying I was.

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Jan 7, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

Real interesting— consider emotions a physical substance that unless dealt with it weighs on a person, festering.

As a brick wall wont provide a positive input, it is not a suitable means of exorcising this "negative emotion".

Though I imagine that complaining to a brick wall would be helpful as it would provide a means of introspection; but i think people are just too embarrassed to do so (seems a bit like the purpose of journalling?)

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

About two thirds of the Psalms in the Bible contain a little or sometimes even a lot of lamentation. Clearly not all lamentation is the same as "complaint" but sometimes it is. Considering that these are expressions of people, but also seen as expressions of YHWH (the God of the Bible), they are very important as a part of Christian Spirituality in the human experience.

This is significant because in the case of someone who defines reality by their words, they have the choice to express anything they want (the writers of the biblical text know the principle of "performative language"), the author still has the choice to lament about a state of affairs, and can request that something be done about it. These are situations where the circumstances appear beyond the speaker's ability to address them and must wait for another moment or season.

I find your being mystified by it refreshing. On the one hand, some neurotypicals (as you call them) sometimes take these for granted, because they figure that people just complain, and some others avoid dealing with them because they are told they ought to think positively and optimistically about everything. However, as you talk elsewhere about copying neurotypical behavior and project it with a mask, in order to follow a social contract, you can appreciate that words of lamentation can have a didactic function - they can teach us about thoughts and feelings of others and ourselves.

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Jan 7, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

As I read your column and also read these comments, I realize there can be two very distinct motives for complaining. One being an indirect means of asking for advice (how do I fix this?) and the other as a means of asking for sympathy (oh you poor thing). Both are indeed rather unskilled methods of interacting with people.

My SO and I used to have a friend, he was also a roommate for more than a dozen years, who basically complained a lot. He did it in the guise of asking for advice, but since he never took any of the advice and never improved the situation he was complaining about, it did indeed become pretty tiresome. Worse, however, was this became his primary means of interacting with us. (He did run a restaurant, so had plenty of other social interactions with both customers and employees; however, complaining seemed to be his primary means with friends.) We got Really Tired of this because he essentially complained about the same thing all the time, and for this and other reasons (what he eventually was like as a roommate), he's no longer someone we spend any time with.

As I look back on it with this lens, clearly he was trying to have a relationship with us that gave him warm fuzzy feelings (love and acceptance?), but apparently did not have effective tools for gaining love and acceptance, so he opted for this "oh you poor thing" type of sympathy instead? And essentially wound up losing even that. Like you said, it gets really tiresome.

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

I read this carefully and was sort of puzzling until I pondered my own method of expressing displeasure. That being to explicitly state what the problem is and whether or not I could see a remedy.

That's pretty much what you laid out as your way of dealing with issues but I realize that a fair number of people don't want to work with things that way. People frequently have a deep need to "talk it out" and "come to terms" with their problems and they want emotional support while they are doing it. I'm no really good at the whole emotional support thing though

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Jan 8, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

After giving this some thought about the times i do complain, which aren't really often, I find the reasons for it are mostly to get someone's thoughts about a situation . Which I will it right all for after voicing my complaint.

At times it's just to vent some frustration, which does seem to lesson the frustration a bit.

When something, like constant pain becomes out of control, it can build the emotion of being frustrated and helpless and even can cause depression. Sometimes just talking about it helps to relieve some of this.

Mostly when I do complain, I'm checking to see if I'm being reasonable about my situation or if I'm over reacting to my lack of control over it.

So I'm bouncing what's running though my head off of someone else and maybe they will have an idea I haven't thought of.

Rarely, but sometimes I'm looking for a little compassion.

I think most people complain, some more then others . I know someone who is like you said, complains about everything.

Everything is always bad, the glass is always half empty, but he's also depressed and mostly isolated. I think he just wants someone to care about him but doesn't see that complaining about everything just makes people tune him out or avoid him, which of course only isolates him more.

He won't get help, never takes the advice he's offered, he always has a reason why it won't work for him. He's also someone who's always right and thinks he's smarter then everyone else. In his case I think it's mostly for attention.

Now he does have reasons to complain, pain being one of them, however he finds reason to complain about everything else. His life sucks, the world sucks, and so on. Yet he will never out right ask for help when he needs it. This i just don't get . I can't tell you number of times I've said"if you need help with something, why don't you just ask?" One time he replied " I thought I just did". I honestly didn't get that's what he was doing by his complaint.

So I guess sometimes people complain when they are overwhelmed, sometimes they are looking for answers or help, and yes something complaining is for attention an becomes like a bad habit.

So that's my 2 cents.

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Jan 8, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

This post has given me so much to dwell on. I have had to think a lot about how to even define complaining in its various forms, before thinking about what psychological or social purposes it serves. And I have questioned whether I am a complainer myself. On the one hand, yes, I sure am, I frequently rail and grumble, but on the other hand, no, I don't worry about small discomforts and inconveniences and can be pretty hardy, and not even notice many annoyances, as my chosen lifestyle required that adaptability. 

I think so much depends on your audience, what the people around you find acceptable, and how they interpret your complaints. They may understand that it is not necessarily attention seeking but rather just a sort of commentary. Indeed good natured and detached complaining can be hilarious. Complaints that make no demands on people to solve your problems are not really complaints, as I see it.

So what is complaining? Many things are, technically, but not really by my definition. Small talk about bad weather or the dire state of the world with a stranger at the bus stop, no. Pouring your heart out to a friend for catharsis and shared understanding and possibly new insights and advice, no. Telling people around you that you are currently in pain or miserable, no- the purpose is to inform them of your state so they don't expect too much, it's really a kind of advance warning, though NOT a free pass, I should stress. It's not necessarily a 'poor me' thing. Doing this used to be less acceptable, and to the extent that that has changed, I think it's a good thing.

I was puzzled by what you wrote about complaining to a partner or friend, when it would be best to be frank and direct about your needs and wants. While that is true, I'm not sure I see much difference. To me, even that frank request, rather than ambiguous grumbling, is itself functionally a complaint, and may be held against you. Do that too much in any relationship and it won't go well, I think.

The changed tactic of someone who has failed to get sympathy by complaining and is then over nice to you.....yes I have experienced that. My interpretation, which may be totally wrong, is that they have realised they overstepped, pulled back, feel bad, and are now trying to make it up to you a bit as best they can. That is how I would feel if I were them in that situation, others may differ.

I have a lifelong friend who is superficially a whinger. They will engage in a constant commentary on everything and how bad it is, while maintaining a sort of immunity because it's all just trivial stuff. EVERYTHING is run through that filter. A red light? Yes it would happen, that's just typical, swear swear. A poorly topped pizza? Yeah, what can you expect, that'd be right. A passerby? Yeah, they would get in front of you as you went through the door. An effective laundry soap? Yeah it's probably full of chemicals that cause cancer. Everything in the world is conspiring against them, it's all negative. The degree to which this person does this approaches self parody, but it is so entrenched as a lifelong habit that I don't think it can change. I have mentioned it and they genuinely seemed not to know what I was talking about, but they are not reflective or introspective by habit. It used to be exhausting and a fun killer, but now I just ignore it as one would a tic. It is also explicable as something that developed from a child feeling perpetually unheard, which was a given in the time and place we grew up, where violent authoritarian parenting was acceptable.

Perhaps it is sometimes a mistake to assume that the complainer has some expectation that you will fix things. Or that they are trying to draw attention to themselves. If asked, I'm sure many would honestly and credibly deny these aims. The need for shared understanding seems to me the greater motivation.

A few months back, I was chatting to a homeless man at the bus stop. We spoke of how much we liked this reliable free service, the shelter where he was currently staying, his home state which I know and love, his childhood good and bad aspects, his son who committed suicide 18 months ago who had two small children that would never know how wonderful he was (he took pictures out of his holdall bag to show me), his daughter who he was so proud of as a retail manager and problem solver but who won't talk to him anymore as he drinks (he was sober when I spoke to him), and it did become a tail of woe. But what shook me was the agony in his eyes as he spoke. Real agony combined with furious strength trying to muster himself and carry on. And I was in a bad mental place at the time but thought, this man has it so much worse. He never asked me for anything, was never in any way unpleasant, and when he later got off the bus and we wished each other well, I started bawling right then and there, and was shook up for the next few days, thinking about the amount of pain in this world. I in no way felt imposed upon by his 'complaining' and can only hope that it helped him to talk.

As for those who really do make far too much of a fuss and turn everything into theatre? Well, I am lucky not to have such people in my life. They exist, but I don't think they are representative of neurotypical complaining and its purposes as a whole. Anyway, I have always been suspicious of seeing silent stoicism as somehow virtuous, I see no need and many downsides.

Also, I have often seen reluctance to complain being taken advantage of, an atmosphere of 'being a good sport', to ward off justified criticism of safety or service. Particularly used against people who are from a culture that is reluctant to complain, or just very young and naive. This cynical exploitation infuriates me. So I complain about it! 

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Jan 11, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

I watched one group (probably mostly NTs) that had a social norm of complaining, almost. It seemed a group bonding ritual. I think it helped maintain an "us" against "them" for this group. There were some costs though; the complaining and structuring of the "us" kept the group members from changing their perspectives on some situations. It might have kept group members feeling like the "them" people had more power over everything than was true...

Being part of a group is a huge thing for social primates often! I guess I can feel some of the comfort of it but I don't like it when people seem unaware of these influences.... of course who knows if there is any truth to what I thought was going on...

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Jan 10, 2022·edited Jan 10, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

I complain to close people, though I do so rarely and only when I see that doing so will help me or as a part of the story. Like complaining to someone about something health related and checking if what I experience is normal or not, when I am not able to evaluate it myself. I don’t expect pity. Another example would be telling about an unfortunate event in a conversation. I tell about events that I consider interesting and or funny. As it happens most of such events are bad ones, so I tell about them. I don’t expect pity or help without directly asking for help either. The reaction of people offering it has always been confusing to me.

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Do not complain about that what you need not suffer from - Anton LaVey (Church of Satan)

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

Oh! I forgot to mention that at the same time, there was lot of human complaining that YHWH found detestable and wearing.

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Jan 6, 2022Liked by Athena Walker

being a victim often provides mental comfort; fake victims more prefer to complain

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