What complainers taught me about complaining

In Year of Inquiry we’re in Month 3 and guess what the topic is?


In some ways, this is really all The Work is ever about….you know what I mean? What I complain about, what I’m at odds with, what I dislike, what I find stressful.

Complaining is perhaps a lighter, more common way of saying “I am arguing with reality on this one! I object!”

It’s a bit hard to look at complaints honestly sometimes. We’re told we’re not supposed to complain, we’re not supposed to be negative or drone on about something we don’t like, we’re not supposed to bring other people down, we should be positive.

But, I’ve noticed…even if it’s in my own mind…complaining appears to happen. And what a relief, and even rather fascinating, to listen to these complaints and hear them, for once, instead of trying to get away from them or rejecting them in a flash.

The other day with the YOI group, as I was considering any voices I heard within that appeared to worry, object, complain….I remembered a place I’ve experienced a MAJOR COMPLAINT:

Those other people shouldn’t complain! He shouldn’t complain about traffic. She shouldn’t complain about the weather. They shouldn’t complain about the leadership. 

I discovered, when it came to my own complaints, I always had the same repetitive thought about some people in the world: They complain. They should stop!!

A great exercise to find your own objections to and complaints about the world, to life, to any situations you don’t find pleasant….is to take fifteen minutes, get a pen and paper or your writing device, and make a list of things you find complaint-worthy.

You don’t have to call them “complaints” if you don’t like that word, or it’s been drilled into you to never complain. You can call this a list of things that scare you, bother you, trouble you. Things you wish would change fairly frequently.

Then, once you have this list in front of you, you can ask another question (we all did this in Year of Inquiry): What if this behavior, style, manner, words, condition, situation, person….never, ever, ever stopped? What’s the worst that could happen? What would you hate about that?

So, for my complaint about other people who complain….I ask myself “what if they never stop complaining, ever?”

What would be bad about that?

  • I’d be stuck listening to them forever
  • I’d never ever want to be around them
  • I’d always have this one “problem” at work
  • I’d never relax when in their presence
  • I’d be angry every time that person came near me
  • there’d be nothing fun or good, ever, about hanging out with that person
You have your own list.


And how wonderful to have a list like this…because then you can begin to take your concepts through the self-inquiry process called The Work. You can make your concept what you’d say about the present moment, since you can’t really know what will happen in the future.


So for the person I thought of who complained constantly (in my opinion) I would see her in my mind’s eye, talking and talking about all the terrible things she’s encountered, and consider my thought:


I’m stuck listening to her forever.

Is this true?

Yes. I’ve been at this job 4 years and she’s never stopped complaining.

Can I absolutely know it’s true?

No. I’m not actually “stuck” listening to her. I can excuse myself and walk away. I’m treating myself like I’m a victim here, trapped. It’s a little weird. And not true.

How do I react when I believe I’m stuck listening to her?

I stay and nod politely. I smile. I think about when I can get out of here and go to my own cubicle to start working. I look at her and pretend I’m listening. I wish she’d be quiet. I’m not honest. I don’t know what to do. I recognize I have thoughts about what people are supposed to do to remain polite. I feel irritation towards this person.

Who would I be without this thought that I’m stuck listening to her?


How interesting this word “stuck”….like I’m actually unable to depart, move, make a suggestion, connect. Everything with the thought is about escaping. But without the thought?

Hmmm. I’d see someone over there who really wants to connect. She’s singing a song, and it has a minor tune. She’s worried, lonely, anxious. She doesn’t seem very happy. Without my thought that I’m stuck listening, I notice I’m free to come and go as feels right. I care about her. I feel compassion for her. I actually even like her. She has a very sweet face, and absolutely beautiful eyes.

Without my belief, I feel a deep breath. I feel a gentle touch, reaching out to put my hand on her arm. I don’t have to wait for her to take a breath between sentences, I just move away. I feel kind, and open, and silent.

Without the thought, when I arrive at work, I simply begin my tasks and allow the quiet of the office to settle around us all. I don’t feel the weird push-pull angst about stuck-ness, or the worry about being polite, or the concern about making sure she feels heard. I’m back in my own business, doing my own work, listening, or speaking up and saying “I’m going to work now”. I feel a deep sense of joy within.

Where did that idea come from about being “stuck” listening?

From me. Not her.

I have options to move in the direction that feels right, without my belief that I’m stuck listening, if she’s complaining or voicing concerns. I notice this isn’t a repeat of my childhood with my grandma (which I could also question THAT situation).

This is a different human being, with her own life and experience, and I am free. We both are.

Turning the thought around: I am NOT stuck listening to her forever.

Ha ha. Not by any stretch of the imagination. This was a job I held for five years, and I saw her Monday through Friday, and only for short chunks of time on those days. She was right next to me in a cubicle, but there were many minutes and hours when her chair was unoccupied, and so was mine, or when we were both working and not speaking. Far more minutes of quiet than of talking, honestly.

I was never, ever stuck.

My thinking was stuck. That’s another key turnaround. My thinking was like a broken record, repeating itself every time she approached “oh no here comes the complainer”. My thinking was constantly and forever complaining about HER.

The last turnaround: She is stuck speaking to me forever. 

Could she have been stuck NEVER getting a satisfying response, or an honest reaction, from me?

Um, yes. I didn’t connect with her truly. I didn’t speak up and ask her more questions, or say what didn’t sit well for me, or wonder about her opinions, or treat her like a whole, viable, important human being in my life who obviously had an important message for me personally. I didn’t say what didn’t work. I play acted. She was stuck speaking to the non-me forever.

I love that complaining person was in my life. She showed me how to share, connect, listen and speak up….as well as how to stop listening when it was time and move to the tasks I was supposed to be doing. I appreciate her immensely.

(This is really, really true).

“The basic realization that other people can’t possibly be your problem, that it’s your thoughts about them that are the problem–this realization is huge. This one insight will shake your whole world, from top to bottom. And then, when you question your specific thoughts about mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, boss, colleague, child, you watch your identity unravel. Losing the ‘you’ that you thought you were isn’t a scary thing. It’s thrilling. It’s fascinating. Who are you really, behind all the facades?” ~ Byron Katie in 1000 Names For Joy

If you want to look at an important relationship, like a co-worker who just can’t stop complaining….or mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, boss, colleague, child….we’ll be doing it at Breitenbush Hotsprings Conference Center in Oregon Dec. 7-10. Fabulous people are flying in to Portland. Come join us for this winter mental cleanse. Read more about it HERE.

Much love,


P.S. If you find yourself complaining about food, eating, your weight, your body shape or size, compulsive behavior….then Eating Peace Process is beginning on Tuesday and it will close for participation this year at noon on Nov. 14th. We go for five months and it’s a wonderful time to spend in The Work with a small group of people wanting to explore eating at the root level, and find clarity about ourselves and our behaviors with eating. To read more visit HERE.

6 Replies to “What complainers taught me about complaining”

  1. My mom was complaining to me the other day and I also felt stuck. Wonderful to notice that I am also just stuck in my thoughts, of me trying to be a ‘good’ daughter and listen to her. While I am just not being honest and interested. Very inspirational, thank you for this work Grace.

  2. Hello, I really appreciated reading your email about complainers. It’s been a while since I’ve done the work and it was great to read through your “work” on the complainer and realize how much we all contribute to our problems and state of mind.

  3. How lovely. At the end of my job that included the person I had found to be a complainer, during the last year, we had some direct confrontations where I shared more honestly with her and she with me–it was very powerful. The relationship was even further different after that–and I couldn’t have communicated with her in a different way without The Work! Love hearing about your experience. These co-workers show up for us! :)–Love, Grace

  4. I have a similar situation where I work, with a coworker. She is not so much a complainer, as she is a “know it all” and she repeats herself a lot. My work space was becoming unbearable, because I couldn’t stand how I felt around her. Over the past few years, I have done a few Judge Your Neighbor worksheets on her and it has helped me so much. Like you, it has helped me both connect and detach from this person. And I happen to like her very much, so it feels good to know I can do another worksheet whenever I start to get agitated again. The peace of mind I get after doing The Work is absolutely delicious.

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