For years, we have used the same person to wash the windows of our house in Sedona. He does a great job when he comes, but about a third of the time, he calls to tell us that he can’t come because he has a headache, a cold, or some other minor body ailment, there is too much traffic, or it is too hot or too cold to work. We have learned not to ask him how he is doing because we always get the same response. He is doing terrible, business is bad, his health is suffering, and all his employees turn out to be lazy, unreliable, and incompetent. (We still use him because when he does show up he does a great job)
Susanna is an attractive, vibrant, intelligent 42-year-old woman who is deeply passionate about her work with abused women. However, she constantly complains about the men she dates as not being intelligent, sensitive, energetic, or insightful enough. No matter who she is with, and there have been many, very quickly she finds some fault in them. Her complains spill over to the weather, her environment, or any situation when things are not going the way she wants.
Matthew chronically complains about his work as a computer analyst. His boss is too bossy, his colleagues are too stupid, and the office he works in is too noisy and chaotic. Basically, he is unhappy with what he is doing and always dreamed of becoming a therapist but has never felt confident enough and cannot yet see himself in a position to help people. Instead, he stays in a comfortable job that he hates and complains.
All of us have times when we feel negative and discouraged, and we complain and blame people or our environment for things not being the way we would like.
We complain when we are compromising in our lives and not living in a way that deep inside we know is right for us.
Or we find all kinds of reasons to complain about our love partner.
But when we allow this habit to become pervasive, it will affect our lives, and the way we see ourselves and others.
Furthermore, the more our thoughts and speech is filled with negativity, complaint, and blame, the more we poison our self-esteem.
Blaming and complaining are like an addiction.
We do it automatically, habitually, and much of the time, unconsciously.
So, how can we stop this negative habit?
The first step toward dealing with blaming and complaining is to become aware that we are doing it and realize that it is sabotaging our lives.
When we are blaming and complaining, we are taken over by a victim consciousness believing that the difficulties we are experiencing are happening to us. In this kind of consciousness, we feel helpless and powerless but without really feeling the deeper feelings. We are taken over by our wounded child and we cannot see things clearly. Furthermore, in this state, nothing ever changes in our life until we start to take responsibility for what is happening. Negativity attracts negativity. Our transformation is to see what we are doing and own it. And to be very gentle and kind to ourselves. To feel the pain underneath.
The second step is noticing if we are justifying our negativity, believing that our complaints and blame are true and realizing that there is no real reason for blaming and complaining.
The third step is understanding why we do it.
Many of us were conditioned to become negative because we absorbed the negativity of our parents or our confidence was crushed as a child and because the way we were treated crushed our trust in other people and life.
In Susanna’s case, it was obvious that it came from her parents.
She was raised by an alcoholic and raging father and by a mother who was self-obsessed, unaffectionate and blaming everything and everybody. Furthermore, her mother frequently responded to her understandably rebellious behavior by telling her that she was a bad person and would never find a man to love her. When she “misbehaved,” she asked her father to beat her. The beatings were frequent and harsh. Because of this abusive behavior, she lost her trust. Her continual complaining is simply a cover for her lack of trust and her fear to open deeply to anyone.
Matthew was raised by a mother who was overprotective and smothering who discouraged his efforts to separate and find himself. Now, when he imagines doing something new and risky, the inner voice of his mother causes him to remain with what is safe and familiar.
So, the fourth way that helps to stop blaming and complaining is by connecting with the fear and helplessness in those moments when we catch ourselves in this negative mode.
In short, to stop blaming and complaining we become aware when we are doing it, stop justifying it, understand where these negative thoughts and behaviors come from, have compassion for ourselves when we see ourselves doing it, and connect with our helplessness underneath.
But because these habits are so deep and we are so used to them, it is not easy to bring mindful awareness when we are doing them. It takes some work.
We began by helping Susanna understand how her childhood taught her this habit both by absorbing the negativity of her parents and by losing trust by the way she was treated.
We invited Susanna to take special care to practice watching each time she complains or blames and to remind herself to do this with compassion and without judging herself.
Then, we invited her to take the further step of asking herself, “What is my fear at this moment?”
We didn’t do the same work with our window cleaner because he is just our window cleaner, not our client.