Flipping Complaints to Commitments
We have noticed that some days both of us can complain a lot. The complaints might be about everyday things, such as not sleeping well, we’re out of our favorite coffee, or bigger complaints about the state of the world.
We have also noticed that every time we complain, there’s a little voice inside of us that sounds like a Victim. We don’t like to admit it because the word “victim” feels small and disempowering and we don’t want to confess feeling that way.
If we could choose which of the 3 roles of Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer that form the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT), neither of us would pick “victim.” We don’t even like the sound of that word. We both would much rather pick the Rescuer role. The Rescuer is someone who intervenes intending to be helpful often with the unintended consequence of keeping the Victim from taking responsibility for their own affairs.
But if we’re going to go reactive and live in the DDT, we’d rather be accused of being a Rescuer. At least we’re trying to be helpful!
When we came to understand that complaining is a symptom of the Victim role, we were bummed. We realized we can slip into the Victim role more often than we realized.
Harvard professors Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan have coined the phrase: “Behind every complaint lies a commitment.” When we first heard that phrase, we didn’t understand it. It sounded foreign and unclear to us both.
But, think about it. You don’t complain about things you don’t care about. You complain because there is something you are committed to. A complaint means you care enough to say something. When you care deeply about something—enough to complain—you are committed to that “something.” Hence, there is always a commitment behind every complaint.
On its surface, the habit of complaining can:
- Be a delay tactic to dodge your responsibility;
- Be a lazy way to assign blame;
- Help you avoid addressing your role in the situation;
- Create a martyr complex by manipulating others to join your pity party; and/or
- Become an unconscious and disempowering habit.
Asking yourself “what’s my commitment beyond my complaint?” can help you flip from focusing on your complaint to your commitment – what you care about. In doing so you can interrupt your old habits that have kept you in complaint mode. This is the powerful and all-important Victim to Creator shift!
We used this “commitment behind our complaint” mantra to look at our complaint about a poor night’s sleep. We asked ourselves:
- What is our commitment behind our complaint of a restless night?
- We quickly said: “We are committed to our health and being our best to start each day.”
- What is our responsibility? Our responsibility is to change our habits, such as turning off our cell phones, TV, establishing a regular bedtime and other well-known strategies.
- Finally, we asked: “Is our complaining an easy way to avoid our responsibility and simply be a victim to poor sleep patterns?” The answer was yes. So, we choose to take action toward our commitment.
Following this line of thinking, we committed ourselves to new patterns that support a more restful sleep pattern. By flipping our complaints to help us discover what we are committed to, it became easier to take responsibility to create what we want.
This is an everyday example. However, this concept can have great impact on your work and life in empowering ways.
Creating the life and relationships you want requires commitment and responsibility. We encourage you to notice your complaints and learn to flip them toward what you are committed to manifesting in your life and work.