Mr. Freydick and Mr. Krekhtser (fictional characters) are acquaintances who bump into each other from time to time.
“How are you?” asks Mr. Krekhtser.
No matter how he’s feeling, Mr. Freydick typically smiles and replies, “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
Mr. Krekhtser never says he’s fine. This week it might be a sore back. Another time it might be a headache, a cold, a restless night or his allergies acting up. It’s always something. Mr. Krekhtser has an endless catalogue of ailments. He never fails to seize the moment and launch into a soliloquy that leaves Mr. Freydick wondering how to politely extricate himself from this mentally exhausting encounter.
Are you more like Mr. Freydick or Mr. Krekhtser? Are you starting the New Year with a positive or negative attitude? Do you see your glass as half full or half empty?
Why do some people feel the constant need to kvetch about their afflictions, not just to immediate family and close friends, but to anyone and everyone from the barista to the person ahead of them in the checkout line? What do chronic complainers gain by unburdening themselves in this manner?
People have different psychological needs and boundaries when it comes to sharing personal information. Going on ad nauseum about every twinge or ache – real or imagined – may provide some emotional comfort, but it’s unfair to the person on the receiving end. Such routine negative talk can be a symptom of anxiety or some underlying need for attention, sympathy or something else that is lacking in their life. Habitually focusing on what’s wrong instead of what’s right can alienate people and doesn’t solve anything. Sharing one’s health concerns from time to time in moderation and being open to suggestions for resolving the problem is very different from the incorrigible bellyacher who simply seeks captive ears.
People who constantly over-share about everything from their upset stomach to their sore knee or hemorrhoids or whatever their ailment-du-jour happens to be, may be hypochondriacs or may simply lack self-awareness. Or perhaps they’re lonely and lacking the social skills to engage in a discussion other than about their health concerns.
Sometimes it takes two to tango. Complainers may select like-minded people with whom to commiserate. They feed off each other, even one-upping each other. Such conversations can sound like a competitive sport.
“Not uncommonly, people who complain a lot are struggling with obsessive thoughts leading them to ruminate and worry using those close to them as sounding boards,” notes Elliot D. Cohen (https://tinyurl.com/z5ds6vo ). Routinely telling yourself and others how poorly you feel can become a vicious cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can reinforce fears and make you feel physically worse off than if you’d spent your energy on positive thoughts and conversations.
The first step towards any change is self-awareness. Once the individual recognizes himself as a chronic complainer, he can take the appropriate steps to reshape his thoughts and modify his interactions. Here is a quick and informal quiz to help you determine if you’re a chronic complainer:
1 How many times in the past week have you shared information about your health, including in person, on the phone and on social media? (a) 0-2; (b) 3 or more times.
2 When someone asks you how you are, you usually (a) say, “Fine, thanks” and ask how they are; (b) use that opportunity to launch into a discussion of your health issues.
3 When you discuss a health issue with a friend or acquaintance, you usually (a) keep it brief, (b) feel the need to list your symptoms, medications, every therapy you’ve tried and/or your past medical history.
If you answered b to any of the questions, you may be a chronic complainer. A visit to a hospital ward or volunteering as a friendly visitor to patients or shut-ins can put things into perspective and help you focus less on yourself. It might even change your inner dialogue from “woe is me” to “how blessed I am.” Reading self-help literature that provides additional strategies may be valuable. In severe cases, professional help may be beneficial.
The more you Google and discuss your health issues, the more addictive and unproductive it becomes, taking you down a slippery slope of anxiety. Reset your expectations – you don’t have to feel perfect all the time. Make a commitment to yourself to stop dwelling on and sharing the negative and to focus on your blessings, your attitude and gratitude. And practice saying, “I’m fine, thanks.”