Understanding the Root Cause of Persistent Complaints

In life, have you ever had this experience?

You keep bringing up a certain unpleasant experience from the past, repeatedly.

  • It might be an experience of “being dumped.”
  • It might be a situation at work where someone played tricks on you.
  • It might be a time when you were deceived by someone.

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Even though you’ve talked about this many times, the content of each retelling remains largely the same.

Yet, you still can’t seem to stop talking about it.

Not only does it make you feel uncomfortable when you talk about it, but it also irritates the people around you.

In terms of time, these events are in the past, but psychologically, you can’t seem to move on.

After a while, we tend to develop deep self-doubt:

Why do I always tend to complain?
Am I a person full of negativity?

But in reality, it may not be so.

01 – An Endless Trash Can

One day, I was having dinner with a close friend.

Out of the blue, she started talking about how she used to be frequently targeted by a supervisor at work, which made her very unhappy.

She listed some of the bizarre things the supervisor had done and then asked me for my opinion, saying, “Do you think this person is completely unreasonable?”

After hearing her out, I agreed, “Yes, that’s definitely out of line.”

But halfway through her rant, she abruptly changed the subject, saying, “Oh well, it’s in the past now. Talking about it only makes me angry. Let’s not dwell on it.”

However, not long after, she started complaining again, saying, “Why are there such bizarre people in the world?”

Once again, she interrupted herself, saying, “You know what, forget it. I shouldn’t talk about this person; it’s bad luck.”

This pattern continued, and she spoke intermittently for nearly half an hour.

Indeed, I began to feel irritated.

She sensed my displeasure and quickly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry; I do tend to have a lot of negative emotions and complain a lot. I really need to change!”

It was clear that she wanted to continue venting, but she was afraid I would find her constant complaining off-putting.

However, my irritation wasn’t because she liked to complain; it was because she kept revisiting the same issue, complaining without resolution.

Usually, we compare getting rid of negative emotions to “taking out the trash.”

In theory, once you’ve thrown out the trash, your mind should feel lighter and at ease.

Yet, she always felt like she could never completely get rid of it.

Even though she had “vented” so many times, and a considerable amount of time had passed, why couldn’t she let it go?

She had tried to force herself to forget about it, but the more she tried, the more she couldn’t forget.

She began to worry: Could it be that she was just naturally inclined to complain?

02 – Behind the Constant Complaints: Unseen “Core Emotions”

If you pay a bit more attention to those around you, you’ll realize that situations like my friend’s are not uncommon.

In life, we’ve all had similar experiences—holding onto a seemingly insignificant issue for a long time.

Usually, people tend to blame themselves for being too petty or narrow-minded.

But that’s not the case.

I told her that her problem wasn’t having “too many negative emotions” but rather “not properly staying with her emotions.”

She appeared to be venting her emotions, but she wasn’t “ventilating” them effectively.

Although her words were filled with angry emotions, she didn’t fully experience her anger, nor did she completely release her emotions.

The recent process was like this:

She started to throw some of her emotional “trash” away, but suddenly, she found it unpleasant and even embarrassing. Her emotional “trash” seemed hard to look at and emitted a foul odor.

So, she picked up her emotional “trash,” put it back in the can, and said, “Never mind, I won’t throw it away.”

In this way, she dumped a bit, then picked it up and put it back, dumped a bit more, and put it back again… She went on like this for a long time, and her emotional “trash” was still there, leaving her exhausted.

In reality, behind every issue that we “can’t get over” hides a core emotion.

If we fail to acknowledge it properly, we’ll keep repeating our complaints and grievances endlessly.

When people ignore the core emotion, no amount of venting will help; it will only serve as a temporary relief, like scratching the surface of an itch.

Sometimes, Core Emotions Hide Deeper

In some cases, core emotions can be hidden even deeper than my friend’s situation.

I had a visitor named Elizabeth who came to seek advice after a breakup with her ex-boyfriend.

Right from the start, she started venting and complaining about her ex, firing off a barrage of criticisms and expressing her anger fully.

It seemed like she was completely expressing her anger.

However, after several counseling sessions, I noticed that her anger wasn’t subsiding. She kept repeating phrases like:

“You know, he must be crazy!”
“How can someone be so irresponsible!”

I realized that Elizabeth’s core emotion might not actually be anger.

I tried to capture a deeper layer of emotion within her: “Indeed, what he did can hurt people and make them very sad.”

Upon hearing the word “sad,” Elizabeth’s pace suddenly slowed down.

“Yeah, it’s quite sad,” her tone became much quieter.

In this situation, anger was just the surface emotion for Elizabeth. The core emotion was the sadness and heartbreak she felt after being hurt.

So, I invited her to genuinely feel and talk about her sadness, allowing herself to cry.

At that moment, Elizabeth’s emotions were truly relieved, and she didn’t feel as angry anymore.

So, what hinders us from seeing our “core emotions”?

The answer is: judgment of emotions.

Just like my friend thought anger was bad, and Elizabeth felt that admitting she was hurt was embarrassing, such thoughts can lead people to avoid their true emotions, and that’s the root of the problem.

03-Reduce Judgment to Let Emotions Pass Quicker

The phenomenon of “core emotions not being seen” is actually quite common.

This happens because judgments of emotions are everywhere in our lives, preventing our genuine emotions from being acknowledged and faced.

For instance, we often hear statements like:

  • “Being angry is punishing yourself for someone else’s mistakes.”
  • “Being sad over someone like this isn’t worth it!”
  • “Getting upset over such a small thing is foolish!”

Many people use such statements for “emotional management,” which may seem reasonable on the surface. However, this is fundamentally about judging, denying, and attacking one’s true emotions.

After saying these things, the emotions don’t magically disappear; they are merely suppressed.

As a result, we encounter situations in our daily lives where, for example, something unpleasant happens during the day, like being offended by someone’s words, having to work overtime unexpectedly, or having your words ignored by someone. Natural emotions like feeling wronged or frustrated arise.

At this point, we judge our emotions, saying, “It’s not worth getting upset over something so trivial.”

Then, at night, when it’s quiet, or after having a drink, or while listening to a certain melancholic piece of music…

The emotions you’ve suppressed during the day will ferment and manifest in a more intense form.

People often ignore their emotions during the day, and at night, these emotions can explode when listening to sad music, leading to thoughts like, “I’m sorry for being human.”

The more you judge, the more emotions entangle you.

04-“Being with Emotions” is the Path to Growth

Upon reading this, you might have concerns:

Will this lead to indulging myself?
Will others think I’m weird?

First of all, I understand these concerns.

In our culture, people often mistakenly believe that being emotional equates to irresponsibility. When encountering even a slight unpleasant emotion, they worry that it will continuously grow and become uncontrollable, so they try to suppress it from the start.

However, such an approach only leads to emotional suppression until it eventually gets out of control or explodes.

The correct approach, inspired by Morita Therapy’s attitude, is as follows:

Emotionally: Allow it to be as it is.
Behaviorally: Do what needs to be done.

Emotionally, no matter what feelings arise, allow them to be, acknowledge them, and accept them.

At the same time, in terms of action, do what you need to do and take responsibility for your actions.

On the contrary, many people fail to accept their emotions, resulting in emotional buildup, which, in turn, affects their ability to perform their responsibilities effectively.

In such a state, personal growth is difficult to achieve.

I have a friend who is an executive, and she gradually became stronger by embracing the principles of Morita Therapy.

Initially, she had a lot of resentment towards her work. She created a venting group with a few close friends, specifically for complaining about various people and things. For example, when her boss assigned a difficult task, she encountered a difficult partner, or had to work overtime unexpectedly, she would immediately vent her frustrations in the group.

However, even though she vented, it didn’t delay any of her tasks. As her skills improved, her resentment gradually decreased.

In reality, anyone’s personal growth involves transitioning from “doing things with emotions” to “doing things willingly.” By accepting your emotions and allowing yourself to be in their presence, you can better navigate this process.

As for the second question, “What if others find it strange?”

I recall moments during live broadcasts where I often saw comments from viewers asking:

“I accept that I have emotions, but how can I make my emotions appear more ‘appropriate’ when they arise?”

I would like to say that this isn’t genuine acceptance. When we think about being “appropriate,” we are still concerned about others’ opinions.

However, if you are already feeling unhappy due to life’s challenges, but you are still trying to figure out how to be unhappy in a socially acceptable manner, it’s quite a sad situation.

What you need to do is, like my executive friend, become close friends with those who accept your “inappropriate” moments and allow you to vent.

In the eyes of psychologists like Winnicott, someone who consistently maintains emotional stability can actually be quite “sad.”

Life needs emotions to add flavor, and our lives require diverse experiences to become rich. In this way, the real you can grow and flourish.

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