I have this theory that complaining about something once is venting but complaining about something multiple times is avoidance. Here’s why:
Letting off steam has to be done from time to time. Something terrible happens or you get frustrated about an obstacle or you just have a bad day where everything seems to go wrong, and you need to pour it all out to someone. You’re probably not even looking for solutions to the problems. You just need someone to listen to your complaint, maybe commiserate with you a bit. The very act of verbally spilling frustration can be cathartic and revelatory. I encourage it.
But staying upset about something takes energy. It saps your mental energy because it consumes your thoughts. It saps your emotional energy because it causes you to feel all manner of negativity and emotional lag. It saps your physical energy because it causes physiological stress responses like higher blood pressure, shallower breathing, and a weaker immune system. It saps your time because dealing with the situation feels like slogging through mud and you aren’t being as efficient nor as effective.
The energy required to continue to be upset and continue to complain could be better spent in resolving the issue altogether. If it’s worth the negative energy you are dumping into it by complaining, then it’s worth the positive energy required to bring about a solution. If you don’t know how to solve the problem, direct your energy into finding someone who does and asking them for help.
Repeatedly complaining about the same issue without taking steps to resolve it is a way of hiding from the hard work often required for resolution. If this were a game, in your initial complaint, you’d get points for being aware of the problem, for being a savvy observer, an accurate assessor. But you wouldn’t continue to amass points by complaining, because in your subsequent complaints, you’d lose points for not actively pursuing solutions. If your game plan, your life strategy, says the solutions aren’t worth pursuing, then the problem isn’t worth complaining about more than once.
Repeatedly complaining about the same issue without taking steps to resolve it is also a way of hiding from the unknown. What caused this problem? Why is the problem manifesting itself in this way? What needs to be done to solve it? Who can solve it? Will they be willing to solve it? If you ask for help solving the problem, will anyone respond? What if seeking a solution only makes the problem worse? What if there are repercussions in other areas? What if trying to solve this problem opens up a can of worms? What if the problem can’t be solved? You don’t have to think about any of the unknowns if you choose to complain instead of taking action.
Instead of making repeated complaints, you could let go of the issue altogether. You vented. You feel better now. Move on. Or maybe you vented and you don’t feel much better, but you aren’t willing to go down the road of resolving the problem. Maybe the problem really isn’t worth resolving. Maybe you don’t have the time or resources to resolve it right now. Maybe it’s not even your responsibility to resolve that problem. Let it go. Move forward.
Or instead of making repeated complaints, you could pursue a solution. Figure out the root of the problem and solve it. Stop complaining about always being out of breath and go to the doctor to have your lungs examined. Stop complaining about the view out your back door and find a way to move or change the view. Stop complaining about a problem employee and coach them or fire them. Stop complaining about being disrespected and behave in a more respectable manner or find associates who treat you more respectfully.
It might not be easy no matter which path you choose. It might require a lot of work to let go of your complaints and move forward. It might require a lot of work to find the root cause and do what’s necessary to solve the problem. Either way, it might take a lot of energy. But you’re already expending a lot of energy on being upset and complaining. So why not direct that energy towards some kind of positive outcome whether that be peaceful acceptance of the situation or resolution of the problem?