The Case Against Kvetching OR Don’t Be a Miserable Cow

amazing things

Saw the above meme today. A friend posted it on her Facebook page. It’s a reminder—perfectly humorous and perfectly true.

I’m trying to break the kvetching habit. The bitching, moaning, oh-my-god-can-you-believe-what-happened thing. It’s so easy to do and when it’s happening, for a minute or two, it seems like it feels really good. Especially if the person you are kvetching to is as outraged as you are. Or is sympathetic to the Utter Horror of the situation you are describing.

Did you ever notice that most complaining is about other people? I guess that makes sense since very few “situations” are immaculately conceived. I mean, people conceive and birth most all situations in life.

Maybe because of the fact that it’s about other people, at some point in the middle of a big kvetch-fest, it starts to feel not-so-fun. Plus you end up feeling like a total victim and that sucks.

At first, we are fascinated by the very fact that someone could be stupid or clueless or selfish or mean or insecure or bitchy enough to do whatever the Unacceptable Thing was. Or not do whatever thing we thought should have been done. We become personally insulted by this person’s actions. We are offended, shocked, hurt. We must tell someone. Now that person has to share in our fascination/hurt. If things go as planned, now both people, kvetcher and kvetchee, are caught up in the negative energy of the kvetch-fest. It builds on itself.

Even after it stops feeling good and actively feels pretty crappy, the bemoaning continues. (Have you ever eaten the last quarter of a bag of chips, even though you feel overwhelmed with salt and grease and your stomach is objecting? And you say, “They’re almost gone. It won’t be long now.” Like it’s a chore you must get through. It’s like that with complaining. “I’ll just get this off my chest and I’ll feel better,” while really you are wasting valuable time you could use to write a poem or take a walk or build with Legos.)

And p.s. you don’t feel better. Not even a little bit. Don’t kid yourself. You have just RELIVED The Horror. Whatever it was. The Unforgiveable Thing that happened/was done to you. You’ve relived it in words, which are like tiny nails that hammer that Unforgiveable Thing even more firmly into your brain and body. You now feel the hurt/insult/offense all over again.

It’s a weird thing that happens inside the human body when we wallow. And believe me, everyone has wallowed at least once. It’s like marinating a piece of meat in a balsamic and red wine mixture with lots of garlic, black pepper, and cumin. Pretty soon the meat is so infused with all those flavors that it can’t be un-infused. We are now “one” with the bad shit that happened. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I once thought we humans were naturally inclined toward kvetching, but I’m not so sure. I know people who never do it. I know people who taught themselves not to do it. I’m wanting to unlearn the habit and I feel like I’m actually making progress. So I don’t think it’s innate. I think it’s learned. We grow up surrounded by people on the subway, in line at the deli, in our own living rooms, and we hear, “You’ll never guess what insanely offensive thing HE DID NEXT!” or “Wait till I tell you this truly horrible thing that HAPPENED TO ME.”  As if we can’t wait to smear our misery all over our nearest and dearest.

So here is the super-simplified list of what complaining does to us. I got this info from this very comprehensive article full of links for further study, and I recommend you read it because it’s awesome.

  • Repeatedly thinking negative thoughts makes it easier to think negative thoughts in the future which is all brain science and has to do with synapses and stuff. It means bumming out makes it super likely that being bummed will be your default. You can rewire your brain to be dark… or light.
  • Being with negative people can rewire you too. Our brains seem to be so empathetic that other people’s emotions go into us like they are our own. Who you surround yourself with really can change your life. The good news is that happy people can rewire your brain in the direction of love, love, and some of that love.
  • Angry and negative thoughts weaken the immune system, raise blood pressure, and increase your risk for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Because stress. Which is a killa.

How do we navigate life while communicating and being open but avoiding the truly damaging effect of complaining? I do not have an answer to that. It has been proven that the “ya just gotta vent” theory is dead wrong, but on the other hand, you might want to casually mention to your mom/friend/husband/cat that your boss is Darth Vader in disguise…. So I’m thinking that if we

  1. Don’t take shit personally (remember Don Miguel Ruiz and the Four Agreements?) which means we…
  2. Understand that when people do crappy things it’s all about them, not us, which means…
  3. It can’t “marinate” us and we can…
  4. Do what my friend Teri suggests and say, “Isn’t that interesting?” and then let it go….

A nice buffer against the negative stuff, the kvetch-fest, the marinating in damaging emotions= gratitude. When you see how amazing and helpful and hardworking and kind most people are today, it helps you notice it tomorrow again too.  Another probiotic for life is love. (The Beatles got that.) Look at a picture of your kid… or look at your kid. Or put your face against the purring furry side of your dozing cat. Or watch a blue jay flit from branch to branch outside your window (as I am doing now). Or make a call to someone who loves you as much as you love her or him. Or remember peanut butter. (Better yet, go eat a giant spoon of it.)

I’m really working on this. I’m lucky that my default mode is one of optimism. I get excited about things and I have hope for the future. I can take no credit for the way I was born. The fact that my mother was a mentally ill narcissist could well have fucked me up but good. It didn’t. Not in any ways that really matter. Plus, she was pretty badass too, and that’s the stuff I like to remember. And my brain chooses to remember the good stuff almost all the time. But we can all do better. I’m trying to figure out how to extricate myself from other people’s need to come into my space and vent. A kind and polite extrication. (Any advice? I’d be grateful.)

Baby steps. For now, I’m grateful to have a Sunday morning to write this blog and make friends with the blue jay outside.