I've been talking about trauma and loss for a long time, so I want to talk about complaining. We are experiencing a loss of freedom, lack of connection, and increased fear of economic fallout during this pandemic. We are not used to this kind of prevalent, lengthy, and collective grief in the air.
Grief has six stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and meaning. On any given day, we are all cycling through some or all of these emotions. It's hard to find the meaning when we don't know when this prolonged uncertainty will end.
We have to work through our emotions, we can't work around them.
What works against us is that many of us are fighting our feelings. We wake up and say to ourselves, "This will be over soon," "Things will get better," "Let me stay productive through it." This forced optimism compartmentalizes the problem, bypasses the pain, and focuses on a solution — it denies the complexity of our experience and encourages us to run away from our feelings.
In psychotherapy, there is a term called spiritual bypass. When we engage in spiritual bypassing, we use spiritual practices to compensate for low self-esteem, social isolation, or other emotional issues.
People who use spiritual bypassing are dexterous at covering up their actual feelings with either spiritual practices, discipline, productivity, or plain old (tragic) optimism. They run away from their feelings in the name of enlightenment, psychological strength or self-control. They may feel enlightened and in control for a short period of time, but soon enough they are triggered by the same issues that sent them to be more disciplined, productive, or spiritual to begin with. It's like holding a beach ball under the water; it will keep popping up. All that effort, work, and drama yet nothing gets accomplished.
When we don't take time to acknowledge and accept our emotions, we don't learn how to handle them. The most effective thing to do sit with your emotions and honor them without repressing it. We have to work through our emotions, we can't work around them.
Some Signs Of Spiritual Or Emotional Bypassing Include:
- Overemphasizing the positive and avoiding the negative
- Starting sentences with "at least."
- Being overly detached
- Being overly idealistic
- Having feelings of entitlement
- Exhibiting frequent anger
- Being overly compassionate
- Pretending everything is okay when it's not
- Engaging in cognitive dissonance (when your beliefs and actions don't align)
- Thinking that anger or sadness are "bad"
- Rarely or ever yelling or crying
- Need to be in control of things or people
- Feeling uncomfortable around overly emotional people
- Avoiding conflict or uncomfortable conversations
We think by avoiding, escaping, and even redirecting our emotions we don't give them power but the opposite happens. By engaging in spiritual and emotional bypassing we repress our emotions and give them more power.
Just like that beach ball that won't stay underwater, repressed feelings don't go away. Until acknowledged, felt, and worked through, they haunt us forever. Even worse, repressed feelings metastasize in our bodies and change our biochemistry, which can cause depression and chronic illnesses.
So what's complaining got to do with any of this?
Complaining gets a bad rep, unmindfully and rashly. We underestimate and minimize the healing aspect of complaining. Complaining is a valid way of acknowledging and processing our emotions.
So when you complain to your partner: "I'm tired of walking around with a disinfectant spray." Or "I want to go out and see my friends." Or "Stop telling me what I could or should be doing during lockdown."
And they respond, "We are lucky to have it as good as we do," you are both right. Gratitude is deeply important, and you're allowed to complain! We can't be grateful all the time. When we try to be grateful at the expense of not acknowledging our emotions, we spiritually and emotionally bypass. Gratitude is important for healing, but often we jump straight into gratitude without feeling our feelings. This is when gratitude becomes a coverup and an insidious way we repress our true feelings. This isn't gratitude at all, it's an emotional bypass at it's finest.
Complaining is a valve of release. It's a way to still feel that you have some control over your life even when you don't control squat. So, do what you can to get through this crisis and get back to your complaining. We can be grateful and complain. We can be responsible and lazy. We can be loving and supportive and vent and talk shit.
Complaining helps us get through this frightening time. Complaining is a survival tool. Complaining helps us feel our feelings. When we feel our feelings, we can change them. When we feel our feelings, no matter how scary, we ensure that the lessons we learn from this tragedy stay with us forever.
Complaining is a valid way of acknowledging and processing our emotions.
Week by week, we have been going through phases. First it was hoarding and stress, then planning and anxiety, and now stagnation and lethargy. It's okay, if not beneficial, to complain.
Here Is What I'm complaining About:
- I am tired of hunting for damn paper towels every week
- I'm over these home workouts, they don't work for me. Yes, I know it's not the home workouts, it's me not taking it seriously, but I need to go to a MF GYM
- I'm over wearing a hideous bandana over my face
- I'm sad watching people scatter away from each other in public places. I know we do it for the greater good, but watching people avoid each other still breaks my heart
- I am tired of watching stale faces on Zoom
- I'm pissed that my never-ending project list is still not complete
- I miss seeing my mother
I'm sure I'll have new complaints next week. As I advocate for complaining's cathartic effects of emotional release, there is actually a way to complain effectively and intelligently.
Know The purpose Of Your Complaint.
The purpose of complaining is to achieve an outcome.
Feeling angry is fine, but if you use put-downs or cursing to decorate your message, attention will go to the anger and not your message.
It can be to vent, work through your feelings, or to solve a problem. Know what the purpose is. If it's to solve a problem, you may need to call customer service instead of complaining to your partner.
I am pro-complaining but against misery that tries to invite company.
Choose The Right Words To Express Your Complaints.
I know that we are usually frustrated, irritated, or hurt when we complain, but our message can be misinterpreted or lost if we are not conscientious about how we deliver it.
If our voice gets too loud or our tone is too harsh the recipient of your complaint may not be able to move past your tone. Feeling angry is fine, but if you use put-downs or cursing to decorate your message, attention will go to the anger and not your message. As a result, you're more likely to get resistance or start an argument instead of getting the result you're after.
Choose The Right Person To Complain To.
Rarely do we voice our complaints to the people who can actually do something about them. We complain to our partners about our friends and to our friends about our partners. We complain to people who are in our close proximity, but are too selfish to listen and hold space for us.
When you need to vent or work through your feelings, choose the person who lets you do that freely and without judgment. This person will let you express your fears and longings without pointing out everything else that's going right in your life.
They won't urge you to be grateful. They won't try to minimize your complaints or redirect attention back to themselves by saying, "Oh that's not so bad, guess what happened to me."
They will let you get your words and feelings out fully. They will hold space for you. They will say things like, "That's really hard," "I can't believe you're going through this," "You have every right to feel that way," They won't say things like, "I told you so," "You should have known," or "What are you gonna do about it?"
They don't scold you. They don't cheer you up. They just hold space for you to express yourself and work through your own emotions of fear, sadness, anger, disappointment, or guilt. They stay in the uncomfortable and painful feelings with you.
After complaining to these people you'll feel lighter. You feel like you have some say-so about the situation. You feel heard, seen, and valued regardless of your complaint.
Finally. If we turn a complaint into action it becomes useful, otherwise, it remains just a self-absorption. I am bored with hearing myself complain, even though it's a healthy emotional process, so now, I am shifting to accountability.
They won't try to minimize your complaints or redirect attention back to themselves by saying, "Oh that's not so bad, guess what happened to me."
Sometimes this is the process of working through our feelings; we need to complain first, then we are ready to take responsibility. That's the cathartic power of complaining.
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.