My punching bag has been getting a good workout lately, getting more of my repressed anger out of my system. One of the recent triggers has been whiny, complaining people.
For example, last week I was in an acting class where everyone seemed to want to complain about something. One woman turned up late and complained that she had trouble parking the car, and seemed to want the teacher to solve the problem for her. I'd managed to get a parking space with no trouble, and there's a train station right across the road so it really didn't seem like a huge deal to me. A bit of forward planning and she'd be able to park the car and get to class on time.
Then another guy turned up late and started protesting when the teacher requested that he turn up on time in future. Thing is, he always turns up late. It's like his thing to be late, and he always makes a big deal of it when he walks into the room. We even used it to mock him in a performance one time; but really he's the only one who finds it funny. The rest of us just grin and bear it. But then he started protesting to the new teacher:
“But I always turn up late.”
“Well in future I'd let's all turn up on time”
“... But I always turn up late. You just don't know that because you're new”
“Well let's everyone turn up on time next week, OK?”
No, clearly not OK with Mister Late. This is the same guy who routinely blocks offers during improvisation, breaks character all the time, and just seems to love getting attention by complaining. He thinks it's funny, but I just find it irritating.
Then another guy, who had at least arrived on time, started picking a fight with the teacher. She was outlining the ground rules for the class, like creating a safe space to be creative by not laughing at or humiliating each other. He objected on the basis that we might create something genuinely funny, and even tried to draw me into the argument in my role as a humorist. This guy has a history of finding fault with everything, which just bores me stupid and reminds me of my critical mother.
It seemed like everyone had some beef to take up with the teacher; none of which was actually related to the acting that we were there to learn. I attempted to grin and bear it at the time, although it was more a case of grimace and bear it... because deep down I was angry at all the time and energy people were wasting by complaining about every distraction under the sun.
I also found myself thinking “How do these people function in the real world?”
Oh that's right... they don't.
The problem with whining and complaining is that it's completely unproductive. It's an old childhood strategy for getting attention from mummy and daddy back when we were powerless to get our own needs met. If we use this strategy a lot, it becomes subconscious so that as adults we still walk around complaining about our circumstances and expecting other people to solve our problems for us even though we now have the power as adults to change things ourselves.
Continuing to rely on authority figures to play surrogate mummy and daddy for us while we complain about things is completely disempowering. It also repels people who could potentially teach us how to stop complaining by taking responsibility and action to change what isn't working for us.
There is a big difference between expressing how you feel about the circumstances that you find yourself in, and simply complaining about them. The difference in the former case is that there will be some direct expression of emotion, such as sadness, anger, grief, fear or hurt. Expressing the emotion directly allows us to move on to solve whatever problem has arisen so that we don't have to recreate that scenario (along with the unpleasant emotions involved) again next time. Otherwise we'll just keep upsetting ourself and other people, like the guy who turns up to class late every week... and then wonder why people don't seem to want to freely give him the love and attention he craves.
Also beware of expressing anger about a situation when you're actually feeling hurt or frightened; you may find the anger just keeps regenerating until you get to the true emotion underneath it. You could become like an angry mob, just making yourself even more angry.
It's not really true to say that any of these people “made me angry”; it's more accurate to say that I felt angry in response to their behaviour, and that the anger I felt probably relates to some threat I experienced in the past which I'm still hanging onto. That's where the punching bag comes in: getting the physical energy out of my system so I can be free to let the emotion go on a deeper level. With that done, I'm able to turn the unpleasant experience into a constructive one by sharing it here.
Deal with how you really feel, and you empower yourself and others to make constructive change in your life. For more on dealing with emotions such as anger constructively so you don't end up becoming a whiny complainer, check out Part 2 of The Confident Man Program.