It usually takes a lot to actually upset me. Most of the time, any negative actions or words from others roll off me with a shrug of the shoulder. Even so, I have two pet peeves. A wet sponge left in the sink, and someone who complains about the same thing over, and over again.
Hearing someone complain repeatedly about a situation they have the power to change is easily my biggest pet peeve. I’ve raised my voice more than once throughout my life during heated conversations, completely unable to understand why someone doesn’t take any action. Unsurprisingly, there are times the result became the end of a relationship with partners or friends.
I recently came upon my old journals. While flipping through the pages, I found several rants recorded by my younger self. Tangled thoughts imprinted on straight lines while I tried to make sense of someone else’s logic. It’s not until later my later journals that I could actually understand.
Their Apparent Problem
It always begins the same way. Something in their life is a mess. They have a singular focus they can’t, not talk about. They hate their job, their partner’s the worst, they can’t lose weight. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. They zero in on it until becomes the primary focus of their reality.
I listen to them. As an empath, I literally feel the angst in their voice. I attempt to help them in their search for a solution. For a while, I understand the injustice or frustration of their situation. I share in their sorrow and pain because they’re important to me. Then the days, weeks, or months go on. And still, they complain.
My Initial Solution
Having an outside perspective separates me from the intensity of their negative feelings and there’s often a solution in plain sight. The answer is simple, they need to make a change. Find a new job, learn some healthy recipes, dump the trash they’re dating.
Because here’s the thing, wherever you find unhappiness in your life, you’ll also find a choice.
I listen while they vent. Options grow in my mind as they provide me with more details of their struggle. When they ask for my input, I tell them they have two choices as far as I can see.
Either continue the way they’re going and feel the same or make a change. I’ve found this to be true for almost every situation. The best part is, change doesn’t have to be drastic; it can be small. Sometimes it’s the small changes that lead to the biggest transformation. This is when I play out the options that came to mind while they spoke.
They listen intently. Silence fills the other side of the phone line. Then it clicks. Recognition. Understanding. “Of course!”, they say. “How did I not see that before?”, they say.
There’s a certain kind of adrenaline that comes from new ideas and they’re feeling it. Excited by this turn events they may even start the process then and there. But as their excitement wears down, so does their ambition.
Days go by, then a week, and their anxiety takes ahold of them again. Worry and fear create excuses making any solution riddled with flaws. They can’t quit, they don’t have a resume. It’s too competitive. The economy sucks. They don’t have time. They’re too tired. Their life is too entwined with their partner’s to leave.
Sometimes excuses are valid. More often, they’re illogical or lazy. I can see through their flimsy rationalizations because once again, I’m not the one going through it. Frustration brews as I listen to them justify staying in the same miserable situation.
In my head, I want to scream “YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS.”
I spent years of my life going through this cycle. The first couple of rounds with someone I’m okay with. The more often we had the conversation, the more annoyed I became. That’s when anger bubbled and tempers were exchanged, often putting an end to the relationship.
The Actual Problem
It took some growing up before I realized that I am not exempt from falling into the same trap. I, too, have repeatedly complained about an unhealthy situation instead of doing the work to change it. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you have too.
But emotions are fleeting. They feel intense in the moment but turns into memory once you move past it. I read entries in my journals from my 20’s. Again and again, I complained about my own life. My jobs, my partners, my own body image issues. I read the same pain on these pages as I heard in my friend’s voice. I came to a realization after this moment of reflection.
When someone complains repeatedly, their problem isn’t the problem.
The problem is that their situation has become a part of them, the way mine became a part of me. Unhappiness takes over pieces of their mind and their identity. It follows them to sleep and infects their dreams. Their despondence is a result of them second-guessing themselves. Just like I’ve done.
The person they were before, now feels foggy and unrecognizable. After a time, they may even feel as though despair has become a part of their life. Disappointment becomes familiar. They can’t let it go, because they no longer know who they are without it. Despite their insistence that they don’t want it. Their problem becomes a depression that speaks for them.
Depression makes people wear their pain like a security blanket. Wrapping themselves up in their darkness and become threatened when anyone tries to take it. I remembered the frustration of logically knowing I needed to make a change, and my inability to actually do so. I felt like my problem was driving me crazy, but really, it was my inability to take action.
My Actual Solutions
I saw that my pet peeve is my problem. I’m the common denominator and I have a choice too. One option is choosing to stay in this person’s life. Walking away isn’t always a choice, or maybe, I just wasn’t ready to let go yet.
The times I choose to stay went something like this. I initiated a conversation and communicated the best I could how much I valued our relationship. I explain the pain it caused me to watch them suffer and that I can’t, in good conscience, support them in it. Then I asked to agree to make that topic off limits until they’re ready to do something about it. Or, we worked together to come to another understanding.
This option is good when the other person is aware of their single-mindedness. It encourages them to talk about other things and shifts their attention away from the negative cycle in their own mind.
Another option is choosing to let them go. It took decades before I learned that it’s okay if it becomes too much. Especially while watching someone spiral in misery, knowing it can be avoided. It’s emotionally draining to be around constant negativity.
I feel a responsibility to help those I care about. For too long I felt guilty for prioritizing my mental health. I’ve since learned that choosing your mental health is never something to feel guilty about.
Letting them go gives them the freedom to live their lives how they choose and releases you from being their Jiminy Cricket. Hopefully, somehow, someway, they reach a tipping point. Something will undoubtedly occur that forces them to take action.
Sometime’s I hear from them when they reach that point. Then, there's another choice: return to help them, or not. Because that’s the thing about life, it’s made up of choices.
Pain is personal. It’s excruciating. The anxiety and vulnerability that come with change can paralyze you. The longer it’s ignored, the worse it becomes.
You can tell someone the solutions to all their problems, but you can’t make someone change who isn’t ready. They have to want to and it’s not easy work. It’s not simple or light, but it’s the only way. They have to take the steps required to evict their self-doubt before they begin to rebuild their crumbled identity.
If they aren’t ready, then you can’t do anything to change their mind. You can’t show them the way. You can’t force change on them. They have to choose. They need to let it go. They need to have the courage to look at their problem in the eye and say, “you’re not worth keeping.” Change is required for growth. Not everyone sees it at the moment, though.
I worked to become better about creating boundaries to protect myself from other people’s negativity. I strive to respond with empathy and to remember that we all face challenges in our lives that require us to make hard decisions.