Addiction to Complaining
By Margaret Paul
Complaining is a way of life for some people. It was certainly a way of life
for my mother. I don’t remember a day going by without her complaining, endlessly.
I don’t think I ever heard a word of gratitude out of my mother’s mouth. No matter
how good things were, she would manage to find something wrong. No matter how perfect
I was – and God knows I tried to be perfect! – she always found something wrong
with me, as well as with my father.
Over the years of counseling others, I’ve noticed that some people start every
session with a complaint. They can’t seem to help it. Like my mother, they are addicted
Why do people complain? What is it they want or hope for when they complain?
People who complain are generally people who have not done the emotional and
spiritual work of developing a loving, compassionate inner adult self. They are
operating as a wounded child in need of love, attention and compassion. Because
they have not learned to give themselves the attention and compassion they need,
they seek to get these needs met by others. Complaining is a way they have learned
to attempt to get this. They use complaining as a form of control, hoping to guilt
others into giving them the attention, caring and compassion they seek.
Complaining is a “pull” on other people. Energetically, complainers are pulling
on others for caring and understanding because they have emotionally abandoned themselves.
They are like demanding little children. The problem is that most people dislike
being pulled on and demanded of. Most people don’t want emotional responsibility
for another person and will withdraw in the face of another’s complaints.
This is what my father did. He withdrew, shut down, was emotionally unavailable
to my mother as a way to protect himself from being controlled by her complaints.
Of course, he didn’t just do this in response to my mother. He had learned to withdraw
as a child in response to his own mother’s complaints and criticism. He entered
the marriage ready to withdraw in the face of my mother’s pull, while she entered
the marriage ready to make my father emotionally responsible for her. A perfect
My father’s withdrawal, of course, only served to exacerbate my mother’s complaining,
and she constantly complained about my father’s lack of caring about her. Likewise,
my mother’s complaining served to exacerbate my father’s already withdrawn way of
being. This vicious circle started early and continued unabated for the 60 years
of their marriage, until my mother died.
While my parents loved each other, their ability to express their love got buried
beneath the dysfunctional system they created. Unfortunately, this is all too common
in relationships. One person pulling – with complaints, anger, judgment, and other
forms of control - and the other withdrawing, is the most common relationship system
I work with.
A person addicted to complaining will not be able to stop complaining until he
or she does the inner work of developing an adult part of themselves capable of
giving themselves the love, caring, understanding and compassion they need. As long
as they believe that it is another’s responsibility to be the adult for them and
fill them with love, they will not take on this responsibility for themselves.
Our inner child – the feeling part of us – needs attention, approval, caring.
If we don’t learn to give this to ourselves, then this wounded child part of ourselves
will either seek to get it from others, or learn to numb out with substance and
process addictions – food, alcohol, drugs, TV, work, gambling, and so on. If, as
a child, a person saw others get attention through complaining – as my mother did
with my grandmother – and if complaining worked for the child to get what he or
she wanted, then it can become an addiction. Like all addictions, it may work for
the moment, but it will never fill the deep inner need for love. Only we can fill
this need for ourselves, by opening our hearts to the Source of love. Only we can
do the inner work of developing a loving adult capable of opening to the love of
Spirit and bringing that love to the child within. People stop complaining when
they learn to fill themselves with love.