Dr. Robin Kowalski, a professor of psychology, describes three types of complaining: venting, sympathy-seeking, and chronic complaining. Complaining is an activity of expression that actually wires the brain. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to train neurons to fire together. Meaning, that the more you complain, the more your brain will help you find something to complain about. As a result, you become more negatively minded.
Someone who vents is only interested in releasing “the steam” of what they have to complain about. Usually, they’ve been holding back from expressing themselves about what is bothering them. Rather than seeking a solution based in action to confront their one or many problems, venters act passively. Venting is non-conclusive. While getting things off one’s chest can be helpful, it is usually not very healing. Making room for plans of action is the healthy part of venting. However, if there is no action to follow venting, the act of complaining turns us into a container for resentment. We simply fill up until we cannot take anymore, then release it all on anyone who will bear witness. Unfortunately, through the venting process, we don’t create any new habits for solving our problems. More importantly, we don’t create any new avenues for finding spiritual peace. Unless we turn our “venting” to God, and ask for his guidance in soothing our woes, we continue on suffering.
Sympathy-Seeking is the dramatic telling of one’s problems, maximizing and exacerbating their circumstances. For the sympathy-seeker, there is no match. Not a single person could have it worse, or as terribly as they do. A sympathy seeker could receive all the sympathy they desire and it likely wouldn’t be enough to console them. Thriving on the drama of your life leaves out room for the miracles God can perform. Despite our desperate desires, God didn’t make us, or anything that happens in our lives, by mistake. We slight God’s plan and our faith in it when we overly sympathy seek.
Not only does a chronic complainer always have something to complain about, they complain about the same thing over and over again. Stuck in their resentments of the past, chronic complainers are lacking in one key spiritual ingredient: gratitude. By being ungrateful for the past, chronic complainers prevent themselves from being grateful for the present.
One of the most effective ways to change complaining is to practice more gratitude. Find time in your day to be grateful for at least one thing. While neuroplasticity can rewire your brain for negativity, practicing gratitude can rewire your brain for positivity.