Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Complaining

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 4, 2013

Carrie’s comment of “I can’t complain” speaks to the pain of not feeling entitled to her feelings, or worse yet, guilty for having feelings, at all. The word “can’t,” if substituted for the word “want to” might speak to the meaning of her opening remarks. When I teach, I talk about how listening, by changing words into their opposites, sometimes clarify the person’s unconscious wishes. This luxury of complaining is a sweet event, which allows one to speak negatively, without fear of judgment,  or the feeling that the listener desperately needs to change the subject. Deep relationships allow for this interchange, where the exposure of ugliness, is accepted, knowing that in most social situations, this exposure is condemned. Permission to complain is so rarely granted, that some people, like Carrie, do not know how to expose their negativity, even in a loving environment. Consequently, Carrie lives a life in which she is estranged from herself, and hence from others. Her mental space is consumed with avoiding her “complaining” and so that does not leave anything left over to care for others. If she “can’t complain,” this also means that she cannot tolerate “complaining” in others, as she can only connect with negativity by saying to herself “well, I don’t have those problems.” This parental message, that somehow she is luckier than most, gives Carrie the burden of never feeling the connection, which comes with a shared sensitivity to the world. The struggle of parenting-giving children the message that they are both special, and one of a herd, is the dialectic, which makes the job challenging. Good mental health involves maintaining these opposing points of view: feeling  unique and feeling a member of a  community. Too much tilt in one direction leads to self-esteem issues in which the person either feels so special that he has no peers, or so ordinary that he does not matter very much. Once again, the issue is one of balancing, and titrating feelings, to navigate a world in which one must both take care of oneself and others, at the same time. Carrie is tilted too much towards feeling like she does not belong with the masses because she is privileged. She struggles to have this belonging feeling, but at the same time, she can’t “complain”.

2 Responses to “Complaining”

  1. Ashana M said

    I don’t think it’s about balance at all. Being ordinary means mattering profoundly. An ordinary life lived among ordinary people is an immense privilege.

  2. […] “Good mental health involves maintaining these opposing points of view: feeling unique and feeling a member of a community.  Too much tilt in one direction leads to self-esteem issues in which the person either feels so special that he has no peers, or so ordinary that he does not matter very much.” Dr. Shirah Vollmer (from Complaining). […]

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