Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Criticism-To Complain or Not, To React or Not?

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Sep 27, 2013 9:01 PM

It's such a truism of many self-help books not to complain. After all, complaining doesn't do much good, unless it's followed by positive improvement of a situation. The idea is to ask for help, come up with an idea for improvement or change, or express disappointment in a way which doesn't make someone else feel blamed or helpless. That all sounds great.

Unfortunately, it's not always realistic. If we're just human and have a gripe or problem which is a result of someone's mistake or negligence, can we always couch it inside a positive statement or a question without being phony and manipulative? If the greens right from the grocer are slimy and old, do we go to the store and say, "These are ok, but can I have my money back?," or the truth, "I just bought these and they're spoiled," or do nothing and let it happen over and over? If the doctor's procedure, surgery or presciption doesn't work, do we politely compliment the doctor for trying or complain that the problem is still with us and needs to be corrected? I say, tell the truth because it's patronizing to pretend things are normal when they're not.

Then, what if the recipient of the complaint becomes defensive, annoyed, or even offensive and abusive in return, putting down the complainer, rather than empathizing and admitting that there's a problem to be fixed? Sometimes, the negative reaction is combined with a plan to solve the problem. Take a fully grown-up, professional person who is so used to praise that a complaint feels absolutely out of line. If he can't handle the situation gracefully and becomes sarcastic, defensive, overreactive and offensive, it may be that a nerve has been touched. In childhood, maybe his parents blamed him when his siblings misbehaved. Or, maybe he was the hero of his family and held up as an example of perfection and can't stand any suggestion to the contrary. Or, it could have had something to do with a never-satisfied wife.

Whatever the back story, the overreaction suggests more than the situation warrants on the surface. Any which way, someone who is exposed to a complaint should listen, understand and work with the complainer or a remedy. And, although complaining as a general habit is not advised or ideal, there is a time and place where it can be appropriate, honest and the only choice.

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