How do you deal with a friend who complains constantly?
I find it very draining at times, and this friend is sensitive so I do want to approach the situation in a healthy way that does not upset her. I just find it exhausting to have to hold space for all the complaining constantly, and this is someone who is working on not feeding the ego – so how is this constant complaining really supporting that vision? I have had on a couple of occasions had once close friends leave my life because they took it way too personally when I reflected their self-created struggled back to them in what I thought was a gentle and non-threatening approach (re: with empathy and love). I suppose the truth hurts some times and people don’t want to look at it. And so, they become reactive to the one who is presenting it, and some go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. (I have had friends reflect my stuff back to me also, and I do believe it is healthy to be open in life, and leave space to consider all points of view, not just our own warm and “cushy” ones.) How will we grow otherwise?
When someone is complaining, they are wanting something that they aren’t getting. And they are likely believing they will never get it. They feel powerless and stuck. They actually believe that talking about it will change things somehow – bring clarity or transformation.
One thing I like to do when people are complaining, is to help move them off of what they don’t want to what they DO want. Two ways to do this. One is just to ask them, “What are you wanting?” Or “If you could wave a magic wand and change this to be how you would like, what would you change?” “If this were totally resolved, what would you be freed up to do?”
Or, I like to listen for what I think they are wanting underneath their complaint and reflect that back to them. “He is always criticizing me.” Me: “You are really wanting to be appreciated and seen and adored for who you are in this relationship. Of course you do! What is one thing you could do to help connect yourself with how special you are?”
If they continue on with that practice without change, you can be honest with him or her. “I am wondering if you could help me? I really care about you and I notice it is challenging for me to maintain a good mood when a lot of our conversation focuses on what isn’t working. Would you be willing to help me by engaging in conversations with me that are uplifting and empowering? I would really like that. ” Or “I notice when we get together and the conversation leans towards complaint and what is wrong in the world, that I feel sort of low and uninspired. I imagine you feel the same. So I am wondering what we can do to create interactions that leave us both feeling inspired and empowered?”
Good luck with shifting your experience around with her to a more positive, uplifting one!
In my own experience, I have a dear friend of over 30 years who complains constantly and lately I observe that there’s an entitlement complex behind all the complaining. “I deserve…”, “I deserve better…” etc., which plays out as a result of the identification with victimhood. The seed of it is conditioning around lack. If the friend is self aware and open to loving, constructive feedback – this can be mirrored in a gentle, non-threatening way for self inquiry, and perhaps they will take some steps to heal this old, deep wound that continues to play out in their life by working to dissolve it at the root, in order to support true healing and transformation.
I would also add that non violent communication (NVC by Marshall Rosenberg) has been incredibly helpful for me to navigate life in general, and especially in these types of situations. I have also found The Work by Byron Katie extremely useful for truly examining one’s belief systems.