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5 Steps to help habitual complainers

It's hard to listen to people complain all the time!
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

How many times have you had to listen to the same painful story over and over again from one of your friends or family members? And how many times have you had to listen while secretly wanting to scream?

“Get over it already or do something about it, but please stop stewing in this problem!”

If you are consciously walking a spiritual path, living from a mindset of accountability and have a desire to practice what you preach, then you may be challenged when it comes to striking a balance between being compassionate to your family and friends and coaching them through their difficulties. After all, you are their friend or family member – not their Spiritual Life Coach – so how should you respond when they want you to listen to their on-going tales of woe that you have been listening to for years?

There are multiple, valid responses, but the one that is right for you depends on the possibility you wish to create with the other person and for yourself. Let’s use an example scenario to help illustrate this idea:

Let’s say you have a female friend who has been working for 12 years at a job that she hates. Every time you speak with her, she complains about how miserable she is that she “has to work there.” She consistently groans about how horribly the corporation treats its employees and that she just can’t take it anymore. She has been there for so long that she is afraid to quit because she doesn’t know what else she could do to pay the bills. All she knows is that she can’t take it anymore – but she has been saying this for 12 years! She feels stuck – and she truly is, given her current mindset!

You - being the compassionate soul that you are - have been listening to her lament over the years and mustering as much sympathy as you can, but your friend is becoming a broken record and you are now dreading calling her back when you see she has left you a voicemail message on your phone.

You really want to be a good friend, but you are not sure that you are helping her by listening to the same negative story over and over. Yet, you are afraid of seeming insensitive to her plight by asking her not to complain about it if she isn’t going to take any kind of action. And most importantly, you feel like she is sucking the energy out of you every time you talk with her and that is not a healthy relationship for either of you! What should you do?

A.) Don’t call her back and ignore all of her future voicemail messages until she gets the hint?

B.) Call her back and listen yet again to a story that makes you both feel hopeless, depressed and depleted?

C.) Have an authentic, powerful and compassionate conversation about how you’d like to address this situation moving forward?

If you are reading this article, then it’s safe to assume that although you may subconsciously desire to take actions A or B, you probably wish to step into action C.

Here are some examples of what you could say the next time you find yourself in a conversation with this person and she begins complaining about her job again:

I’d like to talk with you about your job situation and our friendship. I realize that this has been such a difficult situation for you and I feel how incredibly unhappy you are at this job. In fact, I have been listening to you talk about how miserable you are working there for 12 years now. I want to be a good friend to you and support you, but I feel like we need to discuss this situation in a new light. I care about you and so I tend to absorb the emotional energy that you feel when you talk about how much you hate this job. I wind up feeling very bad after our conversations and I have not known how to share this with you without hurting your feelings. I would love to see you either happy in a job that you love, or at peace with the job you currently hate. I can no longer listen to this if you don’t plan on taking any kind of action because it just keeps you stuck and that’s not the kind of friend I want to be to you. I don’t want to help you stay stuck, I want to help empower you – but I don’t want to come off as “coachy” or pushy, so I want to check in and let you know that I am coming from a place of peace. I realize it’s scary to make changes, but perhaps we could brainstorms some positive action steps together so that you can have a new experience? Would you be open to seeing this situation differently? And if so, would you mind if I shared some ideas with you?

The above sample script is especially ideal for if you are a coach, counselor or healer by trade and want to draw clear boundaries so that your friend doesn’t feel like a client, but also allows you to share your insights and tools with her so that she can move forward. It also allows you to express yourself honestly and set an intention together for how you want your friendship to be in the future.

But what if you aren’t a professional therapist or coach? Try the same script, but with the following tweaks:

At the end, rather than asking if she would mind if you shared some ideas with her, insert the following sentiment: I know it’s so hard to see things differently when you are so deep in the experience, and I am sure anyone in your situation would feel stuck. Would you be open to consulting with a life coach who could help you get unstuck and create a game plan for how you can move forward in a more positive direction? I can see you are really conflicted here, and I have heard that speaking with a professional can really help clear the path for people who are struggling with this kind of thing.

What’s nice about this approach is that it takes the pressure off of you to solve her problem and yet it offers her a first step that she can take towards a solution. Also, it is phrased in a very non-judgmental way that expresses your feelings such that you take ownership of them.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when having these types of conversations:

1. Set a clear intention for what you want for your relationship. For example, rather than focusing on how annoying and frustrating it is to listen to your friend complain, step into your compassion and honest self-expression in a way that allows your friend to see how much you value her in spite of the situation.

2. Offer solutions rather than complaining about the past. When people are complaining, it’s because they are in pain. Making them feel bad about the fact that they have been making you feel bad just makes it worse.

3. Own your own feelings rather than accusing her of making you feel depleted. Using the phrase, I feel, lets you be accountable for your own reactions. For example, saying “I feel bad when I listen to you complain,” rather than “you make me feel bad when you complain all the time,” expresses your feelings without making her defensive.

4. Ask permission before offering suggestions. She may not want your advice right now – or ever. She might just want to complain. If that’s the case, let her know that you are not comfortable listening to any more complaining about her job because you don’t feel it supports either of you in a positive way but that you would be open to talking about other topics.

5. Keep in mind that we are never upset about what we think we are upset about. The real issue for our friend in the above example is not the job, but the fact that she feels unworthy of peace or not good enough to have work that she loves. If you can hold a vision of her in your own mind that she is whole, complete and worthy of peace in all respects, you can help her energetically to step into that possibility herself.

Realize that it’s not about doing this “perfectly.” When dealing with hot-button topics, emotions can get triggered – especially when asking other people to look at their own “stuff.” Also, don’t abandon your own needs by being so empathic that you try to “fix” the other person’s issue for them. This type of situation is really about drawing clear boundaries while holding the highest vision for someone when they have forgotten the Truth of who they are.

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