How to Deal with Chronic Complainers

October 10, 2019

We all know at least one chronic complainer: someone who truly believes the world is out to get them and feels the need to vocalize each and every disappointment in their life. After spending some time with a chronic complainer, you probably feel like complaining about that person (and rightfully so) but are perhaps afraid to even do so out of fear that you would put someone else through what that person made you endure.

In reality, may chronic complainers may not even know they complain so much or have a reputation for incessant negativity. They may even mean well—trying to alert others to potential hardships. Regardless of their level of self-awareness, being around a chronic complainer can be grating. If you find yourself in that position, here are a few tips to help you handle their endless list of grievances.

The difference between negative people and chronic complainers

When somebody is constantly complaining, it’s easy to think that they just have a negative outlook on life in the same way that a pessimist might. The truth is, chronic complainers are a whole different breed. They may not have a negative outlook on life at all, but they still want you to know that nothing is ever quite good enough. Guy Winch, Ph.D. at Psychology Today explains the difference perfectly:

Optimists see: A glass half full.

Pessimists see: A glass half empty.

Chronic complainers see: A glass that is slightly chipped holding water that isn’t cold enough, probably because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water and wait, there’s a smudge on the rim, too, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?!

Negative people in general are notoriously difficult to deal with, but the chronic complainer requires a separate approach. In fact, as Winch further explains, they don’t even see themselves as negative people. In their mind, the world is what’s negative, and they only know one way to respond to it. Chronic complainers may even be relatively positive people who don’t actually know how to express themselves in a positive light, so it’s important you approach them the right way.

How to survive a conversation with a complainer

Many of us have to deal with these people every day, unfortunately. This section is about ways to get through the conversation at hand—we’ll cover the long term later on. If you’re forced to work with a chronic complainer or have a family member you just can’t shut out, these tips are the next best thing to getting them to stop. If possible, you never want to enable this kind of behavior if you can help it, but sometimes you just have to make it through a conversation where both parties end up alive at the end.

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