Somebody recently asked me what the hardest thing about learning to live complaint-free has been.
I can tell you: Three challenges pose the most difficulty for me.
1. Learning not to complain about myself.
I have been conditioned for my entire life to believe I am defective. From my Child Psychology professor who announced that all “crippled women” should be sterilized, to my father who levied the abuse of an unrestrained alcoholic thus stamping us with the feeling we were not worth gentleness, to partners who have called my political choices “moronic” or my parenting efforts poor, to female acquaintances who have turned their noses in my face — everywhere I have gone over the last sixty years, I have encountered a host of validation for some instinctive mistrust of my self-worth. For whatever reason — be it DNA, early trauma, failure to get professional help, poor choices reinforcing my lousy self-image — I have never accepted myself. As my dear friend Pat Reynolds told me once along the way, I complain about myself a lot. Learning to let go of that, and really value myself, still eludes me.
2. Accepting limitations on “complaint-free living” in an imperfect world.
Recently my son ordered a book on Amazon which never arrived. “You should complain,” I e-mailed to him. Since he used my Amazon Prime account, I offered to initiate the process. “But Mom, you’re not complaining,” he countered.
Okay then: Report the failure of the book to arrive and request an explanation or a refund.
Joyce Kramer, my dear La Puma and favorite New York transplant, tells me that some complaining merits my voice. Kati the Cousin agrees. I don’t want to be a whiner; I don’t want to “sweat the small stuff”. But some failures do indeed require redress. I’m still trying to reconcile the desire not to complain with the immutable fact that when an outside force injures me, I need to protest.
3. Releasing anger.
Sometimes we vent our grievances to people not involved in them. Yes, that technically falls within the category of “complaining”, but I do understand that some “venting” serves the purpose of keeping our innards from shriveling. It facilitates the harmless release of anger when the listener has no connection to what upset us.
In the past week or so, I have confronted my feelings about someone who did not honor a commitment made to me. Everyone, including the person in question, expected me to be angry, but I have not been so far. Now I realize that the anger dwells somewhere in my soul, beneath the pain, behind the desire to show empathy and compassion, within shadowy veils of self-protection, amid the filmy cobwebs of denial.
I pledge my allegiance, often and loudly, to letting go of anger. But I acknowledge that doing so has not been easy.
It’s the twenty-fifth day of the twenty-fifth month of My Year Without Complaining. I have not abandoned the voyage that I launched at the end of December, 2013, following the death of my dear mother-in-law, Joanna MacLaughlin, my original uncomplaining inspiration. Despite some setbacks, life continues.