This week I had an upsetting encounter with an individual that reminded me, painfully, of the thing I dislike most about myself. I’m not going to go into detail about that encounter because doing so would be the emotional equivalent of picking a scab. But the experience led me to be reflective, and I find it cathartic to force my reflectiveness onto you, my lovely readers.
I am addicted to complaint. I’m not particularly whiny about it, usually, and I don’t complain about everything. Mostly, I complain about stressful situations and, sometimes, stressful people.
Now, before you start composing your eloquent comment to assure me that everyone complains, and that it’s really just “venting” and that’s healthy, hear me out. And I know that it’s an unwritten rule of girl-culture that my friends who are women should immediately protest my self-criticism and affirm my personal excellence, but that’s not necessary. I’m not having a crisis of confidence.
You see, the problem is not that I complain, but that I do it way too often. When I’m feeling particularly stressed out, any innocent acquaintance who happens to ask something as innocuous as “How’s it going?” is liable to be the victim of my emotional purging, in which I will catalog everything that is bothering me at the moment. Other times, it’s more of an outburst upon whoever happens to be nearest to me. I become Charybdis, sucking innocent bystanders into my whirlpool of negativity.
And, more than that, I complain about the same things over and ovER and OVER and OVER again until even I am sick of hearing the words coming out of my mouth. As I begin talking about the source of my stress for the hundredth time–in a day–in direct opposition to my paltry resolve not to talk about it anymore, my interior monologue says, “Why are you bringing this up? Stop talking! Just stop!” But my defiant voice rolls on of its own accord.
I suppose that dwelling on a stressful situation is mostly a byproduct of my highly obsessive personality, and I’ve come to realize that complaining is simply how I process stress. But after I’ve emotionally puked on someone, I feel embarrassed about it and disappointed with myself. I need a t-shirt to wear all the time that says, “I handle stress through complaint.” Or maybe a tattoo across my forehead. That way, people would understand what’s going on while I’m complaining, and then maybe I wouldn’t feel the need to find them later and explain my bizarre, socially-inept behavior.
But the real problem is that all my complaining doesn’t actually make me feel better. If I were really just venting, wouldn’t it bring some form of release? Instead, the more I talk about stressful situations, the more I feel mired down in it. And so I talk about it more. It’s an ugly cycle.
I don’t want to be that person who complains all the time. It’s not an accurate reflection of who I am–optimistic, cheerful, content, friendly, caring. Just the other day, I was reading Matthew 12:34-35 and the surrounding verses. This is where it says, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” and this verse has been coming to mind as I’ve reflected on my habit of complaining. Has the overflow of my heart become bitterness and stress? Is that what I’ve allowed to live in my heart? Apparently. Where is the joy and love and gentleness and all of the other things that I want to come from my heart and my mouth?
So, I’ve concluded that I need to find a healthier way to deal with stress–a way to avoid taking it to heart. And I need to spend more time–especially during periods of stress–cultivating joy and peace in my life. And I absolutely need to practice more self-control when it comes to my wagging tongue.
Proverbs 18:7 says, “A fool’s mouth is his undoing and his lips are a snare to his soul.” You know, I’ve heard loads of Sunday school lessons with verses like this one and the one from Matthew above used to illustrate why we shouldn’t gossip, why we shouldn’t curse, why we shouldn’t say ugly things about people, whatever. I’ve probably even taught some lessons in the same way. And as a person who is not given to gossip or slander, I felt free to pridefully acknowledge the wisdom of such scriptures without allowing them to speak fully into my life. Now, I am realizing that there are other dangers in the words we say than what can hurt or offend others. Because my words of complaint have hurt no one more than myself.
I’ve played the fool too long. It’s time for a change.