In Praise of Complainers

Reframing Complaining

© By Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T., MCC, SCAC
Foundational Concepts in the Self-advocacy Series

ComplaintHorseYou have no right to complain . . .

How many times have we heard that one?  What in the world is that supposed to mean?

OF COURSE we have a “right” to complain! We all maintain that right, regardless of circumstance.  It’s feedback — it communicates to others that something is not right with our universe.

Is the expectation that we will suffer in silence?

Feedback is an essential component of the success of any life lived in the company of others. Nothing works for everybody. How else are we likely to get our needs met, if we don’t provide negative feedback when something isn’t working for us?

Whether one is able to offer feedback in a “charge-neutral” fashion or not, without our negative feedback, the rational assumption is that “all is well.”

If that’s not the case, we MUST “complain” if we ever expect more functionality and life satisfaction than we have right now.

HOW we complain makes a difference, however.

The Self-advocacy Series will take a look at some of the more effective ways to get your needs met, but until you get over some unconscious fear of “being seen as a complainer,” you probably will find it difficult to use any of them.

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Free-clipart.netThe dark side of complaining

Negative feedback is frequently accompanied by extreme frustration that quite often slides its communication over to the inappropriately expressed side of the “complaint” ledger.

Fear of complaining — the lack of a feeling of entitlement to express dissatisfaction — is the real problem here.

  • We wait too long, putting up with something that isn’t working for us in a misguided attempt to be a team player, a nice person, the perfect spouse, or some other unexamined source of our willingness to attempt to “go along to get along.”
  • All too aware that we’re less than perfect ourselves, we don’t feel we have the “right” to complain when somebody else shows up the same way.
  • We gunney-sack our grievances and displeasures until we are about to explode.  And we usually do.

It’s time to reframe “complaining” – especially where our health is at issue.

Let’s jettison the black and white thinking about this term, so we can move forward to embrace our right to express our needs in a healthy manner — even if that means something isn’t working and we need to “complain” about it.

What IS Complaining?

A quick search came up with more than a few definitions.  Below are a few items that caught my eye, from a number of different sources listed on the Free Dictionary site, massaged into my own take on the subject. 

To my mind, complaints fall in four different categories, which frame the appropriate manner in which we language our complaints.

  • To express dissatisfaction, displeasure, annoyance or resentment about an event or a state of affairs.
  • To report a service or product, or feature of a service or product, that is not working as promised
  • To make a formal accusation or bring a formal charge.
  • To state that one is suffering from a pain, discomfort, sickness, disease, disorder or other symptom of illness.

We’ll address all four in some fashion, but the first and the last will get the lion’s share of attention.  These are the categories that most people have the most difficulty handling appropriately.

Effective Complaining

Nobody wants to be seen as a chronic complainer – a whiner, a baby, a victim, a weakling – one of the crisis kiddos.  Even chronic complainers don’t want that label, and don’t think they deserve it.

In my experience, it is not the frequency with which you complain that puts you into the chronic complainer category, but the person to whom you complain, the manner in which you voice your complaint, and the reason you are complaining.

What separates effective complaints from those of chronic complainers, essentially, is whether or not there is an intent to resolve the matter of the complaint – and whether the person at the receiving end has the power to change the situation.

But what if they don’t?

compassionateHeartSometimes we all need a bit of sympathy and understanding about a situation where little can be done but to continue to put up with it, and that’s okay.

I believe we all have a right to expect those who claim to care about us to be willing to offer their services as an empathetic sounding board once in while – without making us feel like we are breaking the rules of social engagement.

I also believe that it is a priceless gift to offer a non-judgmental ear to a friend in a difficult situation. They aren’t complaining so much as venting.

  • Care-givers for loved-ones with chronic illness sometimes need a shoulder to cry on.
  • A willingness to listen to an exhausted new mother can be the wind beneath her wings during the many nights she drags her exhausted and under-slept body out of bed for another 2 AM feeding.
  • An unemployed friend or unpublished author who just received another rejection in a long line of rejections may need a little loving kindness to be able to get back on the horse the next day.

But if you find yourself frequently complaining to someone who has no power to resolve the issue, watch out. You’re dancing close to the chronic complainer edge – especially if you don’t make it a point to return the favor.

  • Nobody healthy likes a one-way complainer.
  • Nobody healthy allows the dynamic to continue for long.
  • You risk being seen as a chronic complainer yourself if you complain to somebody else about the fact that you have made yourself a one-person complaint department for a chronic complainer.

In the rest of this series we are going to distinguish the various flavors of “complaints” from one another, identify which are most effective where, and how to get your needs met with your doctor — so stay tuned!

As always, if you want notification of new articles in this series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too) STRICT No Spam Policy

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

9 Responses to In Praise of Complainers

  1. janetkwest says:

    Very well said. I love the hands on, practical advice you give. I’ve found the more I practice speaking up, the more I am heard.


    • For me, the less time I allow to go by before I voice my objections, the more apt I am to do so effectively. Even though I know HOW to feedback effectively, if I gunny-sack, my feedback doesn’t usually come out exactly the way I intended — and we’re off to the races!

      THANKS for ringing in – and for linking your feedback article here.

      READERS: check her out in the “Relateds”


  2. DigitalPlato says:

    Very grateful for your reblogs ADD. More power to you.


  3. Pingback: Do You Want Feedback? – janetkwest

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  6. Deshawn Wert says:

    This article really hit me between the eyes. I have found it hard to determine the difference between telling MY truth/perception and how it will be received on the other end. I’ve found it difficult to stand up for my ideals or disagree. I know I have the right, but I always feel like a complainer. I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!


    • GRRR – just lost my reply due to an “unresponsive script” — whatever THAT is! I’ll draft in Word and be back to cut & paste in THIS response box – so check back if the only thing you see these words (you won’t get another notice)
      AS I WAS TRYING TO SAY . . .

      I struggled with this for many years myself – primarily in my intimate relationships.

      Ironically, my attempts to be accommodating were totally overlooked, and the eventual explosion, after months of tolerating, earned me the label of “high maintenance.” It took me a while to figure out what was going on with me!! (LOT’s of collapsed distinctions.)

      The next article in THIS Series is on my plate for June, along with follow-ons in the Transitions Series, Sleep Series, Beloved Series, along with more about a couple of ADD Coaching foundationals (Distractions & Hyperactivity, if all goes as planned.)

      Writing the ADD way, huh?

      Actually, most of my readers have their particular favs, so when I concentrate on finishing a single series, they get grouchy if it’s not the one they’re waiting for. Some days I feel like the old woman in the shoe 😀

      Thanks for stopping by – and especially for taking the time to comment. It keeps me going.



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