We’ve all heard it before, “I don’t mean to complain, but…..”
I hear it more than most, being a hospice social worker, married to a psychiatric nurse, and just generally having a face that says “Hi. Can you please tell me all of your problems? Right here, right now.”
After receiving quite the sample selection, I started to notice the subtext behind the statement “I don’t mean to complain, but….”
Shame. Shame for a completely normal reaction.
We, as human beings and caregivers, feel that we don’t have a right to have negative feelings. Society as a whole has pushed the “fake it till you make it, just read the right self-help book, smile and everything will be fine” mentality.
And, quite frankly, that’s just not how real people work!
Two recent interactions, in particular, have caused me to pause when I think of the idea of “complaining.”
A precious elderly man was caring for his wife on hospice and it was getting rough. He was beginning to have to do all the hands-on care for her with little to no sleep. He began to cry with his head in his hands. Looking up with such shame he said: “I know I shouldn’t complain, but….”
A sweet friend had experienced multiple miscarriages that broke her kind heart in ways I couldn’t imagine. She was able to get pregnant again but was experiencing the worst morning sickness I had ever seen for the entirety of her 1st trimester. She also had the same shame in her eyes when she said: “I know I shouldn’t complain, but…..”
Why shouldn’t they complain? Why don’t they have a right to their feelings?
There are tons of graphics and minimizing jargon for these times in our lives. These statements and images say that we MUST be grateful for every single thing that crosses our path, good or challenging.
“Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.”
“You can’t taste the sweet without the sour.”
or “God never gives you more than you can handle.”
But sometimes you just need to complain.
Maybe, we need to change our verbiage.
All my fellow social workers and those married to social workers will laugh because this next trick is our favorite in all of social workdom.
In your mind and out loud, every time you feel the need to say “complain,” change it to “process.”
Would you ever say “I hate to process, but….?”
No! Of course not!
Computers PROCESS – that’s how it computes mass amounts of data in milliseconds. When you are making a yummy salsa, you stick it in the food PROCESSOR – it wouldn’t be salsa without that, it would just be a salad! Businesses and healthcare organizations have PROCESS improvement committees to take areas for improvement to a whole new level. The recycling PROCESS takes one object and changes it to another useful item with a new life!
And so it is that hard things and life in general that we need to process.
If I apply this idea to both the person hearing the “complaint” and the “complainer” (from now on known as the “listener” and the “processor”), a much more supportive environment is created. This environment allows people not to apologize for their feelings but own them, work with them and hopefully find more adaptive ways of listening.
And, bonus – it also allows the listener to be more compassionate!
Think about all the ways that changing this one simple phrase from “complaining” to “processing” can change the way that we engage with our partners, children and each other as fellow caretakers!
Think about the way that this can change you when going through a hard time that causes you to feel shame about owning the feelings of disappointment and frustration that comes with those hard times.
We no longer need to shame ourselves because of natural human emotions. We can “process” it in the light of day.
There’s a saying in Alcoholic’s Anonymous – “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” That which we keep in the dark will eat us alive.
So, take it out to the light and process it.
That’s how we get through hard times. And, that’s how we help others get through hard times.
That is a move to a more supportive and emphatic environment and certainly, one that I want to do this momming thing in! So, come on now and “process” to me!
Check out my favorite cover of “Cry to Me” by Solomon Burke done by Marc Broussard below