Saturday, September 3, 2011

Private Enemy

You may have heard the rule of thumb that if you say it more than twice, it's a complaint. Well, we all complain, some of us more than others. When someone is annoyed or has been treated unfairly, telling a sympathetic listener can take away some of the sting and offer some second hand justice. Up to a point. If the story is told too often, it can reinforce the hurt...or the enjoyment of exposing the bad guy. Think of the divorced person who five or ten years or forever is telling the tale of the "Horrible Spouse". Or the guy in the office who cannot resist demonizing the boss, over and over again. And then there is the friend whose company is enjoyable until the friend starts in on another friend or a relative, listing faults and flaws, betrayals, ingratitude and advantages taken.

Bad bosses and obnoxious people and flawed friends are plentiful so, of course, it's understandable that one needs to vent. But when venting is intensely focused on one person, when it's so repetitious that it is a staple in someone's conversation, there is something deeper going on. This is especially obvious if the person focused on, for one reason or another, disappears and a new person takes the place of target.

A lot of people can own some of this kind of behavior. But, more often than not, if they try to explain it to themselves, rather than gaining insight they start listing even more awful things about their target and conclude that no one could help but feel as they do.

To get out of this tangled mess, two questions are helpful. The first is: "What purpose does this behavior of mine serve in my life?" Asking this question places the problem with the complainer not the target.The second question is:"Do I need an enemy?"

That is, do I need a nail on which to hang my anger, frustrations and disappointments? Do I need someone to belittle in order to feel superior? Do I feel threatened by someone whose power I try to diminish with ridicule? Do I need an enemy who takes up so much of my emotional energy that I cannot (don't have to) get on with my life?


Aileen said...

Makes me think of six different conversations I had over the long weekend -- plenty of complaining going on (not all mine!)

The strange part to me is what happens inside someone when they ask the question, "What purpose does this serve?" and the answer still comes back a list of even more awful things about their target....

Not ready, I guess? (To be honest, I'm really thinking about when someone else (ie, me) asks another person what purpose their complaining serves... (ie, trying to change someone else... which is impossible.... sigh)

OK, I got my answer!

Bridget said...

Thanks for your comment Aileen. We love hearing from you.