We all know someone who could make an Olympic sport out of complaining. You know who she is. She’s the girl who arrives at work ranting about the traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road. She only takes a breath to grab a coffee – except someone else has polished off the milk. Cue another moaning session. When her computer plays up, she whinges so loudly, you think she might lob her PC through the window. At lunch, her meal is too bland, and when she seasons it, it’s too salty. In summer, she’s too hot, but in winter, she’s never quite warm enough. Her landlord’s a nightmare, her boyfriend is lazy and her boss is a tyrant (according to her, anyway)... In short, she’s never, ever satisfied.
Psychologists say this type of habitual moaner is usually a former spoiled child who has grown up getting exactly what they want, when they want it. In adulthood, when the world doesn’t automatically bend to their will, they can’t handle it. They constantly moan in the hope that everyone else will solve their problems, which is ultimately a massive waste of time – and a huge bore to listen to.
“There are limits to how often we should moan,” explains clinical psychologist Renee Mill (www.reneemill.com). “Moaning in itself is worthless. It becomes habitual and can involve never ending repetition. If you moan relentlessly then you are perpetuating your negative feelings and may even be escalating them”
However, there are times when it’s okay to have a little grumble. After all, keeping all your little gripes bottled up can often make you madder. “Moaning should be seen as a short-term solution to prevent your anger from escalating,” explains Mill. “You should moan with specific aims like getting something off your chest, getting support or gaining clarity.” Here, we reveal those situations when it’s perfectly acceptable to release your inner brat and have a tiny tantrum...
You know those days when it feels like the world is conspiring against you, and you are completely alone? It could be a snide comment from the office creep, a ticking off from your line manager or a demanding client testing your limits, but don’t suffer in silence – go and grumble to someone about it.
Julie, 32, was having a bad time dealing with a male colleague at work - until she decided to share her woes. “Jeff* was the typical alpha male in our office and didn’t like the fact that I’d been promoted above him. He used every opportunity to try and belittle me in meetings – sometimes talking over me and on one occasion, he made a derogatory comment about my weight. I had nothing concrete to bring to HR, as he was always careful not to put anything in writing, so I couldn’t file an official complaint. I was so frustrated, I even thought about quitting. Then one day, after a particularly sexist dig from Jeff, I stormed off to the kitchen and unloaded to a female colleague. She admitted that he’d been doing the same to her. When another female colleague overheard, she confessed that he’d been making her life a misery too. The three of us spent an hour having a massive moan about what a pig Jeff was and afterwards, I felt so much better,” says Julie.
This is a phenomenon that philosophers call ‘The Scapegoat Mechanism’, when a group focuses their moaning on a cause, person or event and become united in their misery.
“When you have a feeling and it is not expressed, you tend to ruminate over it,” says Mill. “Then it grows and sometimes begins to feel too big to deal with. However, when you express it, it feels manageable because it is now finite.”
Blowing off steam
A group moaning session can not only serve to lighten your load and bring you closer to other people, it can also result in a solution – as happened in Julie’s case. “After we’d got our gripes off our chest, we decided to write down all the things Jeff had said or done to us. By the time we’d finished, we had a pretty damning report to present to HR. Eventually, Jeff was given a written warning and he soon backed off,” says Julie.
Let’s not forget, it is turning group moaning sessions into organised action that make up the backbone of most unions and political parties. But on an individual level, sharing your feelings can simply help you to blow off steam.
“Moaning can act as an outlet to stop us bottling up anger,” says Mill. Imagine this scenario: it’s 6pm and you’ve still got a stack load of paperwork to get through before cocktails with the girls at 7pm. Then your boss appears with an urgent report he needs back on his desk first thing. Resist the urge to scream in his face (unless you want to get fired) and instead, vent your frustration with your friends later, urges Mill.
“Those angry feelings have to go somewhere,” says Mill. “Friends are great for helping you to feel normal, accepted and part of a bigger world where nice people and things do exist. Also, the person who is listening can give a different view, and their perspective can change yours, thereby helping you to feel less angry.”
Sometimes, it can help to redirect your anger by moaning about something innocuous. Kelly, 36, loves to use moaning as a form of release after an argument. “If I’ve had a row with my husband, I’ll take some space to cool down and direct my anger at something else rather than him. If I’m driving, for example, I’ll moan to myself about the driver in front or I’ll grumble about the programme on TV. This allows me to vent my frustration without escalating the fight with my husband. By the time I see him again, I’m all whinged out and ready to forgive and forget!”
Three Times You Shouldn’t Complain
1. Your boyfriend buys you a disappointing gift. You were hoping for something sparkly, preferably in a little blue box. Instead, he plumped for The Good Wife box-set. You’re gutted, but instead of letting it send you into a stroppy tailspin, try thanking him for the thought. If you show gratitude now, it’ll make him all the more eager to please you next time. We like to call it ‘present karma.’
2. Your friend gets promoted. It’s natural for our little green monster to get a bit twitchy when good things start to happen to everyone around us. But instead of wallowing in ‘why not me’s’ use your friend’s success as inspiration to chase your own career goals.
3. Your mother-in-law criticised your cooking. Yes, we know, inside you’re fantasising about screaming ‘If you don’t like my lasagne, you can wear it!,’ but when it comes to matters concerning his mother, biting your tongue is the best course of action. After all, she’s already got you down as a bad chef, you don’t want her to be able to add ‘grumpy madam’ to your list of crimes too, do you?