The Role of Kvetching/Complaining in Resilience
After peaceful, playful travel over the winter holidays, I returned home to a previously (and naively) scheduled complete electrical rewiring of my home. Necessary and timely, but I did not foresee the level of noise, dust, internet disconnections and general chaos and disruption for a full week. Home with the crew to make the many little decisions (new light fixture here, new light switches there) trying so valiantly to see clients, catch up to hundreds of emails and hours of prep for upcoming teaching, shunting the cats from bedroom to bathroom as needed.
I teach resilience and we teach what we need to learn, but as the days went on (the crew always gracious and courteous but also always moving furniture and drilling holes) I grew cranky and irritable. No doubt part of being human when coping with even first world plus problems. I did begin to look for the silver lining – what was adaptive, even appropriate about getting so kvetchy?
When coping with “too much,” I do resource by spending time in nature (not available that week with very needed and very welcomed downpours of winter rains). I do learn from other people’s stories of coping – falling down seven times and getting up eight – and in the evenings could see some inspiring films – my favorite film genre – triumph over adversity on behalf of a noble cause. Most importantly, I called on the empathy and understanding of supportive friends.
That’s when I learned the importance of kvetching/complaining.
Behavioral scientists know from research, and we know from experience, that finding refuge and resource in other people is an essential factor in moving through any difficulty or disaster. From time to time we all need a safe place and safe people to have a good cry, to have a good rant, to fall apart and not have to explain or justify why. To be listened to, understood, companioned, but not “fixed” or pushed.
As I began to call friends, whining and complaining about not nearly the worst things in the world, the gentle receiving and normalizing and sharing of similar experiences of disruption, and similar experiences of handling those disruptions not so resiliently either, was calming, soothing, helping me normalize my experience and my reactions to my experience. I could find my balance, shift my perspective, recover my self-compassion for what was hard and aggravating in the moment.
The role of kvetching/complaining is to be validated in the moment and to recover the big picture, a broader perspective of the larger moments. Friend after friend, hour after hour, helped me do that. To be righteously upset, and to laugh about the upset – a temporary bump on a pickle that would be over and would become a story to share.
Exercise: When you know you’re in distress, and when you notice you’re kvetching/complaining about being in that distress – not fair; lousy timing; leaning into “poor me”…
1) Ask a good friend/neighbor/co-worker for five minutes of time to bitch and moan. (You may be surprised how quickly you can move through your gripes when you feel met and accepted in them.) Make sure you’re clear and they are clear you just need to unload and be heard; you’re not asking for advice or solutions.
2) Voice your gripes and complaints, as many as you need to for as long as you need to.
3) Take in the support of the engagement of the other person – the listening, the accepting, the rolling with the punches. Take in the common humanity of shared experiences, the normalcy of occasionally going off the rails and needing to gripe.
4) Notice shifts in your own experiences of the situation and of yourself dealing with the situation.
5) Thank your friend. Appreciate yourself for knowing/learning this skillful response to annoyance and irritability.
P.S. Complaining to your journal or to the open air on a walk around the block can also be helpful; the unloading catalyzes the shifting.