You're a mean one, Mr Grinch
May 4, 2010 3:11 AM   Subscribe

I am a whiner. I get easily irritated by things and complain a lot. It doesn't bother some people, but it bothers others who are close to me. I don't want to stress them out, so I'm asking for ways I can tone down that aspect of my personality so it doesn't alienate others.

My default response to a lot of the world is mild anger: be it politics, people who talk loudly in the cinema, unhelpful customer service, etc. I get it out of my system by bitching. I don't feel like I am particularly unhappy or need therapy but I just seem to engage with a lot of the world in a grumpy way.

This AskMeFi question could easily be written about me, although I know it isn't. I know people who probably started out like me and gradually became much grumpier and stressier as they got older to the point where other people don't want to hang out with them anymore, and I don't want to get to that point.

How can I become less irritable? Or how can I effectively suppress negative thoughts when they are not appropriate or when they will stress out other people?

(This is my first relationship filter question! I feel I have come of age)
posted by Ziggy500 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Don't suppress your negative thoughts. You need to get them out. But, try to get in the habit of saying when you do like things. It should balance out a bit. Like when food is good, or customer service was good, or a good political decision was made, vocalize your approval. "Wow that was great pizza", or "Hey, he was really helpful". But don't do it in an exasperated "oh my god, finally something good happened"-way. That just sucks all the joy out of everything.
posted by molecicco at 3:27 AM on May 4, 2010

Train yourself to STFU for at least a few seconds before reacting to stuff you don't like. Say nothing. Use the cliche "count to ten" trick, but instead of counting, go through a mental checklist of things you ought to think about: "Will my comment make this situation any better? Is it an unnecessarily personal attack? Will it just make me look negative?" Something like that.

If you wait, often the opportunity to complain will just pass. If you still have to say something about it after consciously waiting, at least you'll have had time to start putting together a calm and reasonable response with the ragged edges trimmed off.
posted by pracowity at 3:38 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I get it out of my system by bitching.

Try to stop taking it out on people around you, especially friends and acquaintances. Do take it out on the people who are causing your troubles. Every chance you get. When you do this, adopt an assertive demeanor—as opposed to an aggressive one.

I have a _similar_ problem but found that this approach helped me improve control/sanity a little bit.
posted by polymodus at 3:41 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seems like you feel that this is an aspect of your personality and so something therapeutic is not the answer. I can't say if it is the case for you, but I feel this kind of thing is a sign of low level trauma that most people have experienced and are experiencing, making them irritable. In my experience it can change relatively quickly. One thing that's good is body psychotherapy...and people find their own preferences with meditation tai chi etc.

And also if you have any major irritations in your life like a job you hate, consider changing it instead of carrying on because you 'should'
posted by Not Supplied at 3:50 AM on May 4, 2010

You are grumpy because you perceive things that annoy you, and you feel that you can't do anything about them. Maybe in general you feel that you are powerless to make positive changes in your life.

Your grumpiness is irritating because you are complaining about all these things without making an effort to do anything about them.

Find a couple of areas where you would benefit most from making changes in your life. Make an exercise of changing those things without blaming other people for whatever obstacles lie in your way. Who knows, your level of irritation at all the other things may decrease. If not, repeat this exercise until it does.
posted by emilyw at 4:02 AM on May 4, 2010

Is there any way you can change your habits by writing down things instead of saying them?
Carry a little notebook and instead of bitching to your friends about the barista, write down "barista serves coffee like crap!!!"
You could even let your friends know you are about to experiment with that to become less bitchy, and make it a kind of joke between you. So they can laugh and remind you "don't bitch, write!"

At the same time, this will help you keep track of what irritates you and why - like emilyw says - you feel powerless in those situations. You could better decide when to do something about specific irritants. For instance, my anger at a company completely vanished once I made up my mind to write a formal complaint and get an apology. I felt powerful, not powerless.

A second idea, echoing molecicco, is to try to find something awesome as well, every time you have a complaint. So the barista sucks, but man, the sunshine is lovely. It will help you become more aware of nonsucky things and you will sound more fun to be around.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:17 AM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: To avoid driving all my friends away, my mantra is "keep your mouth shut." It's okay to feel angry. It's okay to be angry. It's not okay to talk angry. Why does my first reaction to everything have to be verbal? It's not enough to say something like 'think before you speak' because these whiny responses are triggered automatically. There is no contemplation between the observation and the comment. No, for me, the remedy requires taking physical control of my mouth. Keep your mouth shut and the problem of irritating your friends and yourself goes away.

Also, you say your whining doesn't bother some people. You're wrong. Whining and snapping at people bothers everyone around you more than you're willing to admit. They may tolerate it but they don't like it and they have branded you as a whiner. How does that make you feel? For me, the realization that I was a whiner was motivation to work more on my attitude. I like my friends and didn't know I was inflicting my issues on them.

How to be less irritable? That's a bigger concern for which I still struggle and offer less advice. I have had some success with exercise to work off tension. Being physically tired often blunts my reaction time which is a good thing but that doesn't work for everyone.
posted by birdwatcher at 4:27 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can get overly complainy, too. Here's what helps:

- Making a conscious effort to let the little things go. If someone cuts me off in traffic or whatever, getting pissed is not going to solve anything. Even if I managed to catch up to the guy and punch him, it wouldn't solve anything. I probably won't even remember the incident in four hours, but if I let myself get angry I might still be angry then. (Sometimes, if I can't un-anger myself, it helps to imagine that, as soon as the guy disappears from sight, his car explodes or a piano falls on him. Not only is it a cheap revenge fantasy, but it's a reminder that I'll never see him again anyway.)

- Being aware of how often I complain about a certain situation. Being in a relationship has helped me with this a lot; my boyfriend is the type of person who will suggest solutions if you present a problem. Hearing my complaints met with "well, you could do this" made me realize that most of my complaining is both redundant and ineffective. Find someone in your life who will say "well, what are you gonna do about it?" instead of "oh man, that sucks." If you can't find that in a person, find it in yourself: every time you complain, ask yourself if and how you can fix the problem.

- Having a friend who does willingly listen to your complaints, in addition to the one who will call you out on them. They're out there. No matter how well you live by the Serenity Prayer, stuff still sucks sometimes. Note that friends who will listen to your complaints often have their own complaints that they want someone to listen to.

It might be a good idea for you to set up an anonymous Twitter account for nothing but your random complaints, to have an instant release valve and to get a sense of how often you really do complain. If you go that route, set it to private/friends-only, because people responding to your complaints might only prolong your anger about the subject.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:39 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: some would consider this a "spiritual" matter. here's what Eckhart Tolle says on the subject:

"See if you can catch yourself complaining in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness."

here's a Tolle group discussion on the topic:
How to deal with: opinions and complaining
posted by mrmarley at 5:31 AM on May 4, 2010 [17 favorites]

I second Metroid Baby's suggestion of a private Twitter account. Or a public one, if you want to actually interact with people. Do it under a different pseudonym than what you normally use for stuff online and don't tell most, if any, of your real life friends about it.

I too am a complainer who is often very grumpy; I have been this way since birth, as far as I can tell from my relatives' anecdotes about my childhood. I try to cool it around people who find it grating, and also around people who are also inclined to be grumpy for whatever reason, because then we feed off each other's negative energy and just get genuinely angry, and the anger is not satisfying the way grumpiness is.

I find that keeping a blog helps a lot, and I carry a notebook for various purposes -- including writing down things that irritate me during the day so that I don't store it all up to write in my blog at night.

Oh, and I definitely second the suggestion to go out of your way to vocalize positive things. Acknowledging the positive stuff happening around you is an extremely great tension reliever, and it cheers other people up, making most of the experiences you have with them a lot better.
posted by shamash at 5:34 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I try to stay away from people who complain all the time. You may not be aware how many people are avoiding you.

Saying positive things is good. Also, ask yourself if you're willing to do something to improve the bad situation. If you are, do it. Doing something is better than complaining about something. If you're not willing to do something about it, then don't complain.

When someone does something obnoxious to me, I also try to acknowledge to myself the times I have done the same obnoxious thing -- cutting someone off on the freeway -- and ask myself if I really have a right to complain.
posted by musofire at 5:53 AM on May 4, 2010

I'm a complainy type too. And it's such a habit that I often don't even realize consciously that I am doing it. I realized if I stopped whining, I'd have nothing to write about in my blog! hehe

Lots of good suggestions here - it does help to become conscious about your triggers and keeping that little notebook might be a good idea to look for patterns. Drawing your attention to what those triggers are might be a good step in helping you avoid that behavior.

Me? I mostly whine in my head. Some days I whine so much I can't stand being around myself. :-) A coma seems like fun during those times.
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:04 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: I have been exactly like you. My default reaction to most things was annoyance or anger, and my default expression was to complain. A lot of people claim that venting or complaining is important and good, but, honestly, I have found that 9 times out of 10 all it does is reinforce those negative feelings, make you feel worse, and make everyone around you uncomfortable. Not only that, but letting yourself get annoyed and then verbalize that annoyance reinforces the habit of getting annoyed and complaining.

Yes, there is a time and a place for getting angry and vocalizing that anger. It is much less often than you or I would normally do it, though.

I found that cognitive behavioral exercises dealing with negative thoughts really helped me. I first learned some exercises in a depression support group, but have read very similar ones in books like the Feeling Good Handbook. Cognitive behavioral exercises are a great way to help you identify your thoughts, determine whether they are rational or irrational, and reframe them. Over time (and not much time, either), you can then train yourself to react differently to the triggers that previously made you angry.

I'd start with reading up on the types of cognitive distortions that often lead to this kind of negative thinking, and things you can do to fix those cognitive distortions.
posted by tastybrains at 6:08 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a naturally complainy, mildly irritated person. I had a bit of a revelation when struggling through a crowd at Grand Central--that maybe, if everyone's bumping into me, it's not them--it's ME.

Just for fun (not thinking it would work) and tried to be a more positive person. If something smallishly irritating happened, I would consciously let it go instead of saying something. If my complaint could not solve an actual problem (ie, bitching to a friend about a situation instead of complaining to someone who could resolve the situation), I didn't say it. I guess, in a way, I did supress a lot of negative feelings. But you know what? Instead of bottling up and exploding, they went away.

I think it's a mistake to assume we need to get all feelings off our chests or out of our systems. In some ways, the feelings that you express and talk about breed more of the same. So if you stop spreading negativity, eventually you will stop feeling so much negativity. (This isn't true of, say, true depression or even anger, but certainly true of irritation for all those petty experiences in life.)

My friends comment to me now that I'm a much happier person. And it's true--I don't know why I always used to be so whiny. My life hasn't changed all that much, but I don't have a lot to whine about anymore.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:15 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

I used to complain a lot, and bonehead, bless him, was patient enough to listen to me. But the truth was, it was the work situation I found myself in that was the root cause. It spilled out into all sorts of different areas of my life, and was only remedied when I took control of the situation and sorted it out. Being stressed, sleep-deprived, and trying to self-medicate with food didn't help matters either.

If you find yourself getting irritated easily, it might be fruitful to look at underlying factors that may be at play.
posted by LN at 6:25 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: Don't suppress your negative thoughts. You need to get them out.

No, please suppress your negative thoughts, you are driving the rest of us crazy. Ever think of it that way? Your complaining is making the world a crabbier, more stressed-filled place. As Miss Manners says, "What the world needs more false cheer. And less honest crabbiness."
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:20 AM on May 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I get it out of my system by bitching.

This is an interesting metaphor you use, one that is pretty widespread in our culture. You see your anger and irritation as a sort of poison, something that you have to purge out of yourself lest it sits, festers, and kills you from the inside. May I suggest that this is not a helpful way of thinking about irritation (and anger in general, especially for petty shit)?

Studies show that blowing up, punching a pillow, yelling, or slamming doors makes you feel worse, not better. (A more academic take here, if that's your preference.) You might think that you're "getting it out of your system" by complaining, but in reality you're probably just working yourself up more. Think of a two- or three-year-old getting upset: does distracting them with something else rather than let things escalate to a full-blown tantrum cause them irreparable emotional harm? If that sounds silly to you, why do you imagine it's different for adults? You're not going to give yourself a heart attack by not giving in to your desire to ruminate on your anger. Seriously. You don't need to "get it out."

My preferred metaphor for irritating shit in my life is biting flies, not poison. Have you ever gone hiking or picknicking somewhere with biting flies? Your first instinct when the little fuckers start buzzing around is to focus on them, to start swatting, to try to chase them away. This is futile, only riles you up (and I swear to god makes the little flies buzzier and faster, if that's possible)--and you end up sweaty, unhappy, and about to lose your shit. The secret to dealing with biting flies is to maybe give one or two swats for the egregious behavior (like landing on your face) but otherwise to ignore them and *force* yourself to focus on the beautiful weather and beautiful scenery all around you. Once you've trained yourself to re-focus elsewhere, it only takes about 30 seconds to forget about the flies and start enjoying yourself.

That's what you need to do if you want to complain less. You need to train yourself to redirect your attention elsewhere. Carry an iPod around and whip it out to listen to a favorite song when you find yourself getting irritated. Or a book. Or whatever, really, is an effective distraction that will keep you from ruminating on the irritating thing. If you find yourself wanting to complain about work when you get home, go for a run instead. Turn on your favorite show. Kiss your partner. Do anything, really, *other* than complain, and I bet you'll find that you have less and less of a desire to complain about the petty shit that annoys you.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:30 AM on May 4, 2010 [15 favorites]

Don't suppress your negative thoughts. You need to get them out.

No, please suppress your negative thoughts, you are driving the rest of us crazy.

Here's a good metaphor: negative thoughts are like excess snot; they eventually happen to everyone. Some people prefer to sniff the excess back and swallow it, where it gets eaten by the stomach. Others need to blow their noses and get that stuff out. Do whichever works for you, but for the love of god don't wipe your boogers on anyone else's shirt.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:39 AM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't feel like I am particularly unhappy or need therapy but I just seem to engage with a lot of the world in a grumpy way.

American Zen teacher Cheri Huber teaches that
"The quality of your experience is determined by the focus of your attention."
Take a look at her book The Key: And The Name of the Key is Willingness.

If you approach life all grumped out and negative, than you will find things to be grumpy and negative about. And then your experience of life is grumpy and negative.

I disagree with the "You need to get it out of your system" advice. I used to be that way, until I finally got hip to the fact that that meant was I shitting in other people's perfectly good experiences rather than dealing with my own shit. And that's a selfish and douchebaggy way to be.

Your mind is telling you all sorts of stories. I'm unhappy. This motherfucker wronged me. That customer service sucked. That politician is lying. Yadda, yadda, yadda...

Trust me, I grew up in New York City. I know what it's like to go through your day like that.

But just because you think something doesn't mean that it's accurate, useful, compassionate, or a good thing to share with the class.

I have found reading Cheri's books and sitting facing the wall counting my breath to have been of great use in becoming more aware of my mental process. And that has made me less subject to its conditioned desires and responses, especially when it comes to being an unpleasant, hostile, negative, whiney, Eeyore.

Trust me, I'm no Ghandi. I still have my moments. But awareness of how your mind is conditioned to react and the stories it's telling you is the first step toward not being jerked around by it, and subsequently acting like a jerk, and feeling like one.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:42 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I find humor to be more cathartic than irritation, and occasionally more useful for dealing with people who really *are* trying to make me angry--if they know that they are just amusing me, it seems to be discouraging for them. If you have an angry inner monologue going about how ridiculous and annoying some situation is, maybe try to mentally capitalize on the 'ridiculous' rather than the 'annoying'? I find that framing something in this way sort of defuses my temper, but YMMV.

I feel like it's important be careful about distinguishing between laughing at a situation and laughing at a person, though. The latter isn't really a great habit to cultivate.
posted by _cave at 8:20 AM on May 4, 2010

Best answer: I think this is less a question of negativity and positivity and more a question of the quality of your complaints. A hilarious complainer is an entertainer. Woody Allen is a hilarious complainer. George Carlin was a hilarious complainer. We have room in our culture for the amusing neurotic who finds holes in our society's fabric and pokes his finger through them to point out how flimsy and ridiculous it all is. I guess it's probably a tall order to command you to be more amusing, but maybe my advice is not so different from what the above comments have suggested, which is basically, editing yourself. People who complain about everything are boring. People who complain about things that are complaint-worthy are more tolerable.

Have a thesis with your complaining: What do you hope to accomplish? Then again, I think "have a thesis" also applies to general conversation, because I prefer quiet people and loathe inane chatter. In your defense, I actually find whiners less annoying than perpetually sunny and cheerful people who preen about how great their lives are and want me to notice the weather or acknowledge how wonderful it is that they have hand-picked basil in their pasta or something.
posted by millipede at 8:24 AM on May 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I empathize with your post, at least former-me from a few years ago does; I like to think that I've changed my habits since then.

One trick I use (and I think I learned it on AskMeFi) was to force myself to say a positive comment and to take a deep breath before saying a negative. Sometimes, the positive comment will spark another positive comment from a friend and before I know it, I'm distracted by positivity! Other times, I will lose the desire to voice the negative comment by the time I get to it.

people who talk loudly in the cinema

BUT there are certain times you need to be honest with yourself about what you find irritating. For me, "people who talk loudly in the cinema" is a MAJOR annoyance, so I just don't go to the cinema anymore. Period. It's not that big of a sacrifice (I can still watch movies at home) and it reduces my stress level by a significant amount.

Good luck with your efforts - people will really appreciate it.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:33 AM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a lot of opinions about things, and I'm quite prone to openly disagreeing and complaining with changes or alterations to systems, if not the flaws in the system itself. As you can imagine, this pops up at work a lot; there's always a change in how we do things, or a weakness in the process of how we're supposed to do things.

However, after three years or so of working with other people who ALSO have a lot of opinions on things and are prone to openly stating their disagreements, it became obvious that complainers can often be more useful when they apply their observant minds to fixing the problem. And not that all complaints can or will be fixed, but now I try to only complain about things when I can see a clear and present solution to the issue.

A lot of systems break down, and we have a lot of people doing a lot of different things at a lot of different skill levels. If I don't have a reasonable alternative, then I try to hold back.
posted by redsparkler at 9:16 AM on May 4, 2010

It's not "just idle bitching" - any time you say something whiney, that is taking an action, and this action will influence the situation. So pause and consider: will this action help address or solve a problem? will it make people I care about feel bad? will it make people I don't care about feel bad? will it make people I care about feel frustrated? What other actions could I take that might have a better outcome? Will it, as millipede suggests, make people laugh, or defuse the situation?
I also like molecicco's suggestion of balancing things out (penance?) with positive statements. I'd also suggest working on making understanding statements. So after "The service here has got to be the slowest I've ever seen!!" you have your choice of "but the pizza is amazing", and "but the table in the corner sure doesn't have to yell at the busboy, it's not his fault", "but I know I'd be crap at a job like waiting tables"
posted by aimedwander at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2010

Start a Twitter or blog to vent on. DON'T give the address to your real-life friends.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2010

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