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Are you a chronic complainer?

Snowy night on Brixton High Street in London, England Credit: A bloke called Jerm/Flickr/Creative Commons

Snowy night on Brixton High Street in London, England Credit: A bloke called Jerm/Flickr/Creative Commons

Español: ¿Eres un quejambroso/a crónico/a?

We have all heard the phrases “chronic complainer” or “Debbie Downer” used for people who always complain. If it’s sunny, it is too hot outside. If it’s snowing, it’s too cold. If their favorite team wins, it could have played better.

They always see the negative and can find something to complain about in everything they do. And these people almost get a sense of fulfillment when their complaints have some legitimacy to them.

Well, according to one neuro-scientist, there is a reason “chronic complainers” act the way they do.

Canadian Psychologist Norman Dodge says the brain has a unique pliability to it that he compares to Play-Doh. Its official psychological term is “neuroplasticity.”

This means if we practice a certain way of thinking long enough, it creates a loop in our brain that entrenches this pattern into our mind. It becomes a rut in the road that we easily fall into as we drive down the highway of life.

It becomes a pattern or way of thinking that taints all aspects of our life. It is especially true for a person who is a chronic complainer as they become trapped in negativity.

Now this change doesn’t happen over night. It takes repeated complaints over an extended period before our brain starts to rewire. Then instead of celebrating a win, we complain the opposition was too easy or the team should have scored more points.

We all have moments when we complain, but those who persist in that behavior eventually become trapped in a spirit of negativity.

Complainers tend to blame someone else for their failure and inability to succeed. Because they always see the negative side of life, they are unwilling to take risks because it will just fail anyway.

People who are negative love venting. They want to share their complaints with others. They want to infect others with their negativity. They sometimes cover up their negativity by claiming they are just realists.

The Israelis in the wilderness were caught up in a complaining spirit. I like how the Bible says they were murmuring, just whispering it between themselves, about how bad things were in the wilderness and how much better it was when they were slaves in Egypt.

And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? (Exodus 15:24 KJV)

They complained about the manna as they compared it to the leeks and garlic in Egypt. They complained about the water. They complained about how only Moses heard from God  (Numbers 12:22). Their grumbling and list of complaints seemed endless: (Numbers 11:1, 5-6, 10, 18-19; Numbers 12:2;  Numbers 21:5-6; Numbers 14:1-2; Numbers 14:29; 1 Corinthians 10:9):

Life was one big complaint and when it came time for Israel to claim the promised land, their negativity quickly transformed into unbelief and they backed away.

Though ultimately it was their unbelief that caused them to fail, God quickly zeroed in on the root of the problem, their grumbling and complaining. God stated that Israel would wander around in the wilderness until the last of the complainers was dead:

28 Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; 29 your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. (Numbers 14:28-29 NASV)

But there is some good news in all this. We can change the way we think. But it won’t be easy because we need to smooth out those ruts grooved into our brain.

The Apostle Paul says that we are transformed by “renewing our minds,” literally by changing the way we think (Romans 12:3).

The antidote to complaining and negativity is thankfulness:

18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASV)

In order to rewire our brain, we need to develop a grateful heart. Instead of immediately focusing on the negative about a situation, look for a grain of positive. If it is cold outside thank God it isn’t as cold as the arctic.

Sometimes it can be challenging. I remember one day a few years back, on one wintry day the city where I lived was labelled the coldest place on the planet. It can be tough to find a grain of good news in weather like that but we can do, if we want to.

The Apostle James writes:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various [a]trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces [b]endurance. (James 1:2-3 NASV)

If James could thank God for the fiery trials during the reign of Nero, surely we can find something to be thankful for during our tough times.

You can beat back a spirit of negativity, by cultivating a grateful heart.


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