The Art of Complaining Effectively

Complaining is commonly considered a negative act to be avoided, and for the most part, I agree.  However, if the choice was between complaining and bottling up your hurt inside, then complaining is definitely the lesser of two evils.  Below, let me tell you how I use complaining to let out my steam.

I didn’t post for over a week because I’ve been dealing with some sickness in my family.

Nothing major, of course.  Just a common cold.

This has been happening several times a year for us since becoming parents.  And every time it happens, I feel very grateful — not because we’re sick but because common cold has been the extent of health problems we’ve had so far.

Now, if you are the type of person who never gets sick because you live a truly enlightened life — low stress, good outlets (exercise, hobbies, arts), sound diet and sufficient sleep — then this post won’t apply to you.

But I’m not there yet, so I’m glad that whenever there’s a build-up of negativity in our lives, we have these minor breakdowns.

Not everybody is like this, I know.  Do you just tough it out by taking Aspirin or something?  Thinking to yourself, “I can’t afford to get sick right now?”  And when someone asks you how you are, you lie and say “I’m fine?”

There are occasions when this is a good practice, of course.  But if you’re putting up a perfect face every time, it can build up to a greater trouble.

Tell It Like It Is

I don’t know about you, but in my family, when we’re sick, we tell it like it is.  We talk about how awful we feel, how painfully it hurts, how uncomfortable we are.  As I said above, I do mention that I’m grateful it’s nothing serious, but we don’t “beautify” our pain — it sucks, and we say so.

When we are sick, our resources are low.  Pretending, lying and putting up a façade all take great energy.  So, in the trusted company of our own family, we just simply speak how we feel.  It’s not pleasant, but there is a sense of comfort and freedom in that.

Complaining as in Letting out Steam

My mother was always my biggest cheerleader.  Whenever I was down, she would usually fix me something good, sit down and say “eat, and tell me about it.”  And I’d do that.

It wasn’t pretty, by any means.  I was basically wallowing and sulking.  But I would always feel better afterward.

Recently, I really hadn’t complained much.  And apparently, my inner rage was built up more than I realized, and I had a rare moment of losing my temper.  Badly.

It was a split second of giving in to white flash of rage, and I did something that really hurt my loved ones, and myself.  And I do regret it.

I’m still dissecting and drawing my lessons from the incident, but one of them definitely is that I need to do more spewing of the venom I intake.

I grew up in a culture where they look down upon whining and complaining strongly, even more so than Americans.  We are really supposed to bear our troubles silently.  Letting out our anguish to others is disgraceful.

But you know what?  We’re not all so pretty.  Won’t it be nice to have friends and family with whom you can let your hair down and just be yourself, warts and all?

Holding in and Bigger Breakdown

Several years ago, I lost one of my dear friends to cancer.   She was the type of person you never see complain.  Always positive, always going.  It was a shock to us all when we learned that she had a cancer that was the size of a large grapefruit.  Doctors gave her 3 months.  She fought and fought, but passed away 3 years later, in her early 40s.

I was close enough to her to know that things weren’t always as positive as she made it seem.  But even on occasions where she complained or got sick, she always made it seem like it was not a big deal.  I couldn’t help but wonder if it really wasn’t that way, or if she was pretending.

Obviously, I don’t know what caused her cancer.  But to this day, I wonder if she was concealing a greater pain inside, beneath the cheery veneer.  I wished if she would complain more.  I wished if I could have been a person with whom she could really let her hair down and be honest.  Perhaps that may not have changed the outcome.  But I do know that stress contributes to illness.

Habit vs. Reset Button

Now, I am aware that you can develop a rather nasty habit of complaining.  Chronic whining doesn’t lead to any healing — rather, it perpetuates the condition in which you have reasons to whine about.

My sulking session with my mother was not something we did often.  It functioned more like a reset button  that you push only when you absolutely have to.  When practiced with proper mindset and protocols, I do believe it can help you let steam out and purge venom from your system.  Below are several pointers on how to effectively complain:

6 Keys to Complaining Effectively

  1. Be honest.  Drop all pretense and say it like it is.  Otherwise, the purging doesn’t happen.  Don’t skirt around the issue, just let it out.
  2. Be truthful.  There’s no need to exaggerate, inflate or distort the truth to justify your need to complain.  Just stick to the truth.
  3. Set limits.  In order to prevent it from becoming a habit, create yourself a structure in which complaining is allowed. Specify time and space, in which you give yourself permission to speak your mind.  But don’t go overboard.
  4. Choose your company carefully. Obviously, complaining is an ugly and vulnerable act.  You’re not presenting your best aspects.  Choose a trusted friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable, so that you can tell the truth about how you feel without fear of rejection or judgment.
  5. Choose your occasions. Similarly, be sure to confine your complaining to appropriate occasions.  Doing otherwise can negatively impact your relationships, reputations, and self-esteem.
  6. Focus on your feelings and nothing else. Don’t shift blames, don’t try to prove something or win arguments.  Just talk about how you feel.  You can explain why you feel the way you do, but be sure not to indulge in excessive bad-mouthing or blame game.


Let me reiterate that the ideal is to have no need to complain — live your life in such a way that little negativity enters your mind and what enters are purged out through good habits and outlets.

But if you’re not there yet and if you feel your frustration bottled up inside, then by all means, grab a confidant and engage in a sulking session.  Heck, do it in a grand style — order your favorite food and drinks and go to town.  If you’re going to commiserate, might as well do it loudly!  🙂

Seriously, I firmly believe that this manner of complaining is an effective method in preventing negativity that builds up over time.  Don’t make the mistake I made — allow yourself occasions to really speak your mind — hurt, anger and all.

Do you complain?  How often?  Do you think you shouldn’t?  Has there been any occasions when you were glad you complained?  Please share below.


  1. Funny, I’ve been sacked out on our couch for two days with some sort of bug. My head aches constantly. I get hungry and then eat a small bit of bland food then feel horrible afterward. I hate being sick. I finally call my hub today at work and said I just needed to whine for a minute about how bad I felt. It was a purging experience.

    I do know that our stress level is attached to our immune system but I don’t look for a stress connection in all cases. Some people (like myself) have a heavy genetic predisposition for cancer. Living a stress reduced life would definitely help but sometimes the genes are going to turn on anyway and there you go, a lump. If I end up with cancer, I won’t blame my stress. I’ll blame my genetics. A friend recently died after a horrible battle with cancer. She set up a blog where she admitted all of her pain and struggle but in the midst of that, she always came back to her faith and her trust in a good God who was with her in the war.

    On the blog,, Corey had a challenge for a 21 day complaint free marriage. Several of us tried and it was difficult. His view was that we complain too much about everyday stuff and we need to see the glass as half full. I agree, I think we complain about everyday stuff too much which can then increase our stress level.

    There are times to complain but like you said, don’t use it as your default. If you complain about everything, then why would anyone listen to you when you are justified in your complaint.

    1. Hi Laurie,

      Yes, I think there’s purging experience, where you finally admit and accept the truth, and there’s the constant whining and negative attitude. The two are different things, entirely.

      I’m sorry to hear about your friend. May you live a long and fulfilling life!


  2. Hi Ari,

    I have been reading your posts and they are great! Thanks!

    I think the complaining you talk about with your mom is healthy when your not feeling well sometimes just sharing helps to free you up and see different sides or just get it out as you put it. Thankfully you had empathetic mom!

  3. I love the idea of complaining effectively, which puts things into a certain time and context, kind of a framework for letting off steam.

    One of my friends has recently gone through chemotherapy and was talking about the focus on positive thinking during times of severe trial. While she didn’t think this was a bad thing, she did note that it made it hard to acknowledge the bad stuff that was going on, her fears and pains, the sheer difficulty of chemotherapy combined with having a possibly fatal illness. So she kvetched a bit and we listened!

    Jennifer´s last blog post..Hello, Columbus!

    1. Hi Jennifer!

      I think it’s good that your friend didn’t stick rigidly to her “positive” thinking. All in all that’s a great attitude, but like you said, it’s also important to acknowledge the hardship. It’s a fine line to draw, and I’m still trying to figure it out myself.

      Happy Holidays to you!


  4. As you know I’ve been on a No Complaining 30 day challenge. It’s been an interesting month. I agree with a lot of the points that you make. Complaining is a great outlet. The thing is like you said, a lot of times is just whining and no healing gets done. It’s a fine line between whining and complaining.

    I’ve learned that you can also complain if you frame it in the right way. Look at Jerry Seinfeld his whole act is one big complaining session, but the audience eats it up because he puts humor in it.

    I believe complaining plays an important role in our social interactions, without it we couldn’t release a lot of our tensions that helps us connect with the people we are sharing our feelings with. The idea is to do it effectively. That’s hard. It takes a lot of discipline to stop complaining once you start. The individual needs to be very aware when he’s vented enough and isn’t continuing to please his ego. It takes a lot of practice, but eventually the overused tool of complaining becomes something that you only pull out when really needed.

    Karl Staib – Work Happy Now´s last blog post..Day 18 of 30 – Bonus – No Complaining

    1. Hi Karl,

      “eventually the overused tool of complaining becomes something that you only pull out when really needed.”

      Aha! I think you hit the nail on the head there. Accepting the truth is an important act, but a lot of us get indulgent and focus too much on the negative side. As with most things, moderation is the key — you don’t want to dwell on things to whine about, but you don’t want to be so forcefully “positive” that you deny that there are sometimes hardships.

      I’ll check in with you to see how your 30-day challenge turns out!


  5. As you know I’m a big believer in authentic expression of feelings. If toxic feelings don’t come out they eat away from within and cause greater damage, for sure. That said, other than standing up for myself, I don’t bitch much at all. I’d rather simply remove myself from a situation or accept it. I’ve found that complaining is a major form of resistance and what we resist persists.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Work´s last blog post..Five Tools to Sharpen Your Authentic Edge

    1. Hi Tom!

      “I’ve found that complaining is a major form of resistance and what we resist persists.”

      I think there’s admitting and accepting the truth about hardships, and I think there’s indulging and dwelling in it. It’s a fine line to draw, but I am sure you agree that the former is good and the latter is bad. Like you, I don’t generally complain much. But I think I lean toward carrying toxic stuff locked up inside.

      A wise friend once said “context is everything.” Some people need to stop their whining, while some others really should stop denying the truth in their lives.


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