How Complaining Keeps Us Stuck in Relationships That Don’t Work

Couple in Prison

“As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth.” ~Charlie Chaplin

When I was eight years old my father burst into my room in the middle of the night, high on drugs, and threw my dresser drawers all over the place.

“Stop your crying!” he screamed. “Stop your crying!”

There was a crazy man in my room and I was terrified.

“Now clean up this mess!”

I was shaking. What on earth could I have possibly done to deserve this? With a slam of the door he was gone.

For years my father annihilated me like this. He shamed me in public and raged at me behind closed doors. He was emotionally abusive and sometimes physical too.

He taught me to believe that everyone was out to get me and that everything was my fault. He taught me to believe that I was a worthless piece of you-know-what and that I didn’t deserve any better. Seriously, how else is an eight-year-old supposed to interpret this kind of adult behavior?

Raise of the hand, excuse me, Dad, but what you’re doing is messing me up for the long run. I was a kid. I assumed I was getting the parenting and love I deserved.

Growing up I took what my father taught me out into the world and perfected it. The first girlfriend I ever had cheated on me with another man, yet I stayed with her because I thought I didn’t deserve any better.

My best thinking (at the time) told me that nobody else would ever love me, so I stayed and allowed her to treat me badly.

I lived in a one-bedroom apartment for four years even though every time I needed something fixed the landlord would yell at me. She would yell at me as if I was the problem, yet I stayed and paid my rent each and every month on time. I had no self to esteem and allowed her to treat me poorly.

See my pattern? I stay in and return to painful, destructive relationships. In fact, I’m in one right now.

I have stayed in the same painful relationship for the past thirteen years. It’s a relationship that no longer works for me, yet I keep going back to it as if one day, magically, things will change. Shake of the head, things never change.

I have been yelled at, threatened, and taken advantage of. I’m undervalued, underappreciated, and constantly miserable. Take, take, take, that’s all the other side does.

Each day leaves me emotionally drained, mentally distraught, and in a fowl mood. It’s obviously an unhealthy relationship, yet I stay because my stinking thinking tells me I don’t deserve anything better. I’m talking about my job.

I hate my job. Okay, maybe hate is a little over the top. Let’s just say I don’t like my job.

Yet each day I get up, shower, put on my uniform, and return. Voluntarily, mind you. And that makes me sad.

Sad because by staying, I’m allowing myself to be that scared little eight-year-old all over again. By staying, I’m telling myself that I’m not good enough and that I don’t deserve anything better. I’m ‘parenting’ myself the same way I was parented by my father.

I should’ve left my first girlfriend when she cheated on me, but I didn’t know how to take care of myself then, so I stayed. A healthy person with healthy boundaries would’ve been out of there. I wasn’t healthy.

I should’ve told my landlord that it wasn’t okay to yell at me, but I didn’t and I stayed. I didn’t have the tools to stand up for myself and therefore allowed her to bully me.

We do this, don’t we? We stay in and or return to painful destructive relationships when we deserve so much more. We do this with family members, boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, and yes, we even do this with jobs.

But why? What’s the payoff for staying? (Trust me, there’s always a payoff.)

For me, it’s about sympathy, which fuels my low self-esteem. If I complain loudly enough someone will ultimately sympathize with me, which in return validates my pain. Look at me, I’m a victim! 

Trust me when I tell you, I complain a lot. I complain at the bank, while driving in my car, at work, at the movies, at home, on vacation, at the grocery store, and so on. All so I can validate my childhood belief that I don’t deserve any better.

In the process I’ve created a reality that coincides with my thoughts. A reality that looks a lot like my childhood. Argh.

Deep sigh. I’m tired of being a victim. It’s exhausting and it’s gotten me nowhere.

Folks, this isnt about my job or a past girlfriend or landlord, this is about me. It’s about me not being a victim anymore and learning to love myself in return. When my emotional suffering goes away, I’ll have the strength to walk away from things that aren’t serving me instead of complaining.

If I stop complaining, what am I left with? Me, just me.

And that right there is the gift! Getting a chance to be with just me. To love and affirm me.

Talk about an amazing opportunity for growth. If I’m working at being the best me I can possibly be, I’m doing myself a disservice by wasting time complaining. We all are.

Complaining doesn’t change anything. It just keeps us stuck, victimized, repeating old patterns and unable to change them. The alternative? Take responsibility for our part, forgive ourselves for the patterns we’ve perpetuated, treat ourselves with the love and respect we know we deserve, and begin to make positive changes in our lives.

So what’s my next right action? Well, just for today I’m going to see if I can go twenty-four hours without complaining and at the very least stop/catch myself if I start to. I’m also going to be grateful for what I have in my life, which is a lot.

Gratitude list here I come! I deserve the good stuff. We all do.

Couple in prison image via Shutterstock

About Zachary Goodson

Zachary is a writer, a coach, and a heart-centered entrepreneur who loves helping others. His writing focuses on his experiences around holistic health, inner child work, addiction, recovery, spirituality, and fatherhood. His coaching is devoted to helping people experience deep fulfillment in relationships, career, and life.  You can connect with him at zacharygoodson.com.

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