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How To Deal With People Who Are Constantly Complaining, From A Therapist

Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Image by AaronAmat / iStock
February 16, 2022

Once in a while, we all need to vent our grievances. But when it comes to chronic complainers—aka people who just always seem to have something negative to say—it can become exhausting to be around them.

In a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, licensed therapist and relationship expert Nedra Glover Tawwab, MSW, LCSW, explained exactly what to do if you have a chronic complainer in your life.

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What to know about chronic complainers.

To understand how to handle chronic complainers, it's first important to recognize that they may not even realize they're doing it. As Tawwab explains, "People who are chronic complainers are not aware that they're chronic complainers—they think that they're just talking." They may not realize they're going on their third, fourth, or fifth complaint in a row.

And while, sure, you could try to make them aware of the issue in a nice way, Tawwab says they may still have difficulty filtering out complaints. "Now we're trying to teach them a new skill. Now we have to teach them to figure out what a complaint looks like, what it sounds like—because they may have the assumption that they're just talking about a problem, but for me, I hear those problems as complaints."

What to do about it.

So, how does Tawwab recommend dealing with chronic complainers? For one thing, you have the opportunity to shift the conversation—or ideally, try to start the conversation on a positive note.

"One wonderful thing we can do with chronic complainers is start the conversation in a way that you want it to go," she tells mbg. Make a mental list of the topics they often complain about and avoid mentioning them, Tawwab advises. "There are topics not to ask these people about, you know...If you start talking about politics, and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, why did I bring that up?'" Well, next time, just don't!

Additionally, she says to be aware of how you think about setting boundaries. Oftentimes people think they're setting boundaries when they're actually just trying to change the other person. "You can determine how you listen. You can determine what you do when they complain. But you can't make them stop complaining," she notes.

So, if you find yourself trying to set a boundary by attempting to "make" them stop complaining, that may be a sign you should simply limit your interactions with them altogether.

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The bottom line.

It's definitely no fun to be around an energy vampire who incessantly complains, but it's important to understand what we can and can't change about the situation. We may not be able to change a chronic complainer's ways, but we can change how we respond to them and (more importantly) how much we choose to engage with them and their complaints.

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Sarah Regan
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.