Is Complaining More Helpful or Harmful to Your Mental Health?

By David Konow 02/06/18

A new report cites the potential benefits of complaining, though not everyone agrees.

Sometimes you just need to vent.

While too much negativity can certainly be bad for your mental health, a new article in Forbes has examined the potentially positive effects of complaining.

In writing for Forbes, Brianna Wiest cited a number of studies that looked at the pros and cons of complaining, and if it could actually have mental health benefits.

The obvious benefits of complaining is getting bad feelings out of your system, and making it clear you want help. Yet, digging a little deeper, Wiest cited a book by Tina Gilbertson LPC called Constructive Wallowing, where people can potentially overcome negative feelings by accepting them, and eventually releasing them.

As Gilbertson said, “Emotions, once felt, will change themselves over time,” and she cited case studies where people who accepted bad things that happened in their lives had a better potential for happiness than people trying to “remain positive” as much as they could.

Of course, complaining can have negative effects on your mental health, and it can also feel contagious, driving others to feel negative as well. As psychologist Jeffery Lohr told Inc., “People don’t break wind in elevators more than they have to. Venting anger is... similar to emotional farting in a closed area. It sounds like a good idea, but it’s dead wrong.”

Negative thoughts can perpetuate more negative thoughts, and the repetition can even chemically change your brain. Citing a report in the Huffington Post, Dr. Travis Bradberry writes, “Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information“—or as Inc. puts it, the “synapses that fire together wire together.”

Bradberry continues, “This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future... Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you.”

Still, Inspirational Science cited one study which claims that people who complain can live two years longer than people who don’t complain. Other benefits of complaining, as this report states, is that it helps you connect with people, and it can sometimes be “a more powerful bonding strategy than sharing something positive.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.