Being Around Chronic Complainers May Be Harmful to the Mental and Physical Health of People Listening

Being Around Chronic Complainers May Be Harmful to the Mental and Physical Health of People Listening

Being there for your loved ones in their time of need is great. However, being around them if they're constantly complaining can actually harm you.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 11, 2019. It has since been updated.

Everyone has complaints about something. But usually, most people like you just talk about it once or twice before moving on and trying to find a silver lining in a situation. But you have the other sort as well — the chronic complainers. Some may say that these people personify the phrase "misery loves company." No matter how small a situation might seem, they turn that molehill into a mountain and could just chew your ears off talking about it.


Whether it's a family member, a partner, a friend, a colleague or whoever else you are with on a regular basis, you know that they will most likely spread their negativity throughout the course of your interaction with them. And you might not have known this, but that kind of behavior and those kinds of people can seriously affect your health. A few pieces of research reveal how being around chronic complainers can put your health at risk.

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But in order to understand that effect, you need to know the kinds of complainers.

Who are they?

According to Psychology Today, a complaint is just a form of expression. However, it's the tone and frequency of it that matters. And there are three kinds of complainers:


1. The chronic complainers: You probably know one of these people. They are the kind who only see the negative side of any situation, no matter how small it might actually be. Their pessimism makes them complain constantly. The complaining affects them as well as others, mentally or physically. However, they can change if they choose to, though it will take some hard work to achieve that. 

2. The venters: These are the kind of people who focus on displaying emotional dissatisfaction. It's all about them and how they feel about a "negative situation." They are usually looking for attention from others around them for sympathy's sake, instead of finding an actual solution to the problem. And if you provide a resolution, they are quick to point out why it won't work.


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3. The instrumental complainers: This is possibly one of the lesser harmful kinds of complainers. Similar to constructive criticism, they look to find a solution to the issue that has given them dissatisfaction. Most likely, they will share the problem with individuals who can help solve the problem.

Why are complainers so negative all the time?

Writer Steven Parton came to realize that thinking negative thoughts were not only detrimental but could also prove to be fatal, according to Learning Mind. He explains, “Throughout your brain there is a collection of synapses separated by empty space called the synaptic cleft. Whenever you have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about.”


“Here’s the kicker,” he continues. “Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross… The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger.”

He goes on the mention the connection between these synapses and how they are impacted when someone thinks negative thoughts. “Through repetition of thought, you’ve brought the pair of synapses that represent your [negative] proclivities closer and closer together, and when the moment arises for you to form a thought... the thought that wins is the one that has less distance to travel, the one that will create a bridge between synapses fastest.” In essence, it's the negative thought that wins out.


How does it affect your own health?

1. Your sympathy soon turns into negativity

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We, as humans, have a great capacity for compassion and empathy. However, in that process of listening to a complainer, you tend to be vulnerable to experiencing the same anger, dissatisfaction, and frustration they exhibit. And the more you are around them, the more your synapses are connecting to the negativity. Soon enough, you too start to think in the same manner.

2. The stress can make your own brain shrink

According to writer Jessica Hullinger at Fast Company, "When we complain, our brains release stress hormones that harm neural connections in areas used for problem-solving and other cognitive functions. This also happens when we listen to someone else moan and groan." In a study published by Standford News Service on rats and their brains when faced with stress, it was found that chemicals called glucocorticoids release over time as a response to chronic stress, which caused the brain cells in rats to shrink. Hence, when faced with the stress of being with a complainer, it could actually cause your own brain to shrink.


3. You are more susceptible to stress-related health issues

Not only can the stress of being with someone who is cynical about everything affect your brain, but it can cause other health issues. When you are stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol (the stress hormone). Cortisol works in tandem with adrenaline as your brain responds to a perceived threat and tells your body to release the hormones. The adrenaline then creates a rise in heart rate and blood pressure as your body prepares to “fight.”

As a result, the blood flow to the muscles and brain to prepare you for action is increased following which, the hormone releases sugars to provide energy. While a small amount of stress is manageable for the body, the longer you experience this repeated pattern of this stress, you increase your chances of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, according to Mayo Clinic


Hence, it is essential, that you either distance yourself from those who complain too much or encourage them to change their behavior before they harm you and themselves with their habits.

Disclaimer: This article is based on facts collated from different sources. The views expressed here are those of the writer.