Chronic complainers think they are expressing their feelings about their lives—but they do it repeatedly, incessantly and annoyingly, to anyone who will listen. Of course, none of it is their fault—they feel like helpless victims, that there is nothing to do to change their pitiful circumstances.
But some people are wired that way. Psychotherapist and certified mental health counselor Anne Katherine says we have simply become “addicted to our misery.”
In her book, When Misery is Company: End Self Sabotage and Become Content (Hazelden, 2004), Katherine writes, “When we try to change a behavior, what we’re really doing is trying to alter our body chemistry.” When we don’t fire the circuit that releases the chemical hit, we miss it and we don’t feel like ourselves, she says. We may think it’s the person, food, emotion or experience, but, in reality, it’s the chemical we’re longing for.
Some people choose “toxic relationships” that they describe as “electrical.” Child and adolescent psychotherapist Robin Balbernie explains it this way in “Circuits and Circumstances: the neurobiological consequences of early relationship experiences and how they shape later behavior,” in The Journal of Child Psychotherapy, in 2001: “The brain absorbs the early socialization experiences that lead to taken-for-granted responses.”
From birth, we are programmed with specific beliefs and experiences that control what we will seek out later in life. We will look for a partner that has compatible circuitry to deliver the familiar chemical cocktail.
So, how do we rewire ourselves not to do that? As with any electrical problem, you first have to track down the source. To do that, you simply:
1. Become willing. As simple as it may seem, the most important thing you can do is become willing for your life to be different—and be willing to suffer through the discomfort of not getting the old familiar chemical hits. It isn’t pleasant, but understanding what’s going on can help ward off “crazy mind,” which can concoct all manner of insane reasons why you should go back for another hit.
2. Follow the pain. Whatever it is that causes you the most pain is where you need to start. Uncover your limiting beliefs and reprogram them.
3. Cut off the power. Here is both the simplest and the hardest thing to do: Don’t do what you’ve been doing. Figure out the thoughts, words and actions that are associated with the pattern and become hypersensitive to when you activate them. Stop the automatic reactions. Don’t say the same or do the things that power that circuit. It takes conscious effort.
4. Rewire the circuits. This part is actually easy to do. Once you realize the limiting beliefs and patterns that were keeping you stuck in the unhealthy cycle, you can reframe them consciously and start rebuilding new, healthy ones. Additionally, you will want to create affirmations—yes, they really do help.
5. Embrace the withdrawal. There’s no way to avoid feeling the discomfort of taking away a drug your whole being has depended on to define you. You do, however, have some control over how long you drag it out. When you feel that gut-churning agony where you want to go back for another hit of what your body is saying you can’t live without, remind yourself that if you don’t, you’ll get to happiness a whole lot quicker.
The bottom line is that you don’t have to go through the rest of your life complaining—you can change if you want to. Whatever you find yourself continually complaining about holds the wiring diagram for your joy. Either use it to make the changes you need to, or admit you don’t want to and shut up about it. It’s the only way to get what you really want, which is to be happy.
Paula Renaye is a motivational speaker, certified professional coach and author of The Hardline Self Help Handbook—What Are You Willing to Do to Get What You Really Want? (Diaomo Books, 2011).