Spent most of your life with your chin up, your glass half-full and on the lookout for the silver lining? Turns out you may be wasting your time. Conscious complaining, or giving voice to your negative emotions, can actually do wonders for your mental health, according to Karla McLaren in her new book "The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You
." And she should know.
A childhood-abuse survivor, McLaren has dealt with a lot of negative emotions in her life. We caught up with the empathic counselor to find out why whining is sometimes the answer.
Lemondrop: What is conscious complaining, exactly?
It's an empathic skill that helps people get in touch with the part of themselves that nobody wants to hear about. Everybody wants to think that they'll be peaceful and loving and wonderful whenever they do any personal work, but that's never true because you have to deal with the reality of life and the world.
A lot of times you get into a really tough place in life and there are a lot of things you've sat on and aren't facing, and you end up being burdened by all the troubles you're feeling. If you are able to say them out loud and get them off your chest, I've found that people immediately start to feel better.
Sounds a lot like therapy.
But a lot of people can't afford therapy.
So, for those people, how do they begin the process?
Set up a quiet, private place in your home or office and when you're in a bad mood or cranky about something, go there and say, "I'm complaining now." It sounds silly, but if you give yourself permission to do it, then is becomes less toxic immediately. You can talk about what's going on out loud and very quickly, and you'll start to feel better. People don't enjoy being unhappy. This allows you to deal with it, move on and feel powerful and complete.You mean you shouldn't actually whine to someone else?
You can, but what typically ends up happening is that the person you're complaining to will try to fix whatever you're whining about. They'll stop you and try to make you feel better. It doesn't allow you to get everything off your chest.
This sounds like a quick fix, but talking about problems doesn't always make them go away.
It's actually the beginning of a process -- and a nice way to give people a chance to get into their emotions. With the support of the rest of the book, then you can begin to understand what your emotions are for. It's not just "I have an emotion and I'm going to go express it." Rather, it's "I have an emotion and I'm going to create a place where I can listen to it and then begin to understand what's actually going on."
We all know a few Debbie Downers. Are they actually healthier, because they're getting out their emotions? Do they know something we don't?
No, because they usually complain about the same thing over and over again -- or their complaints stem from the same emotion that they haven't dealt with. It's not healthy to just complain all the time, without creating some conscious behavior around it.
Debbie Downers usually don't even know they're doing it. We've been ingrained in our culture to think positive thoughts and everything will be OK. Why don't positive affirmations work? Turns out, nobody actually tested it. Everyone just assumed positive is good. In 2009, there was a study done on positive affirmation where you say things like "I am loved" or "I am wonderful," and what they found when they tested two groups of people -- one with high self-esteem and one with low self-esteem -- is that positive affirmations made the group with low self-esteem actually feel worse about themselves and the group with high self-esteem only had a slight increase in feeling better. But when people were allowed to think good and bad thoughts about themselves, they felt better.
Which is where conscious complaining comes in.
Exactly. And it really works!
Colleen Oakley is a freelance writer who will be in her complaining corner if you need her.