Complaining is universal, perhaps, like gossiping, one of the first uses to which developed language was put. Overall, a complaint can refer to a perceived legal injustice, medical symptom, or other personally painful matter. The chronic complainer feels a lack of agency, and implicitly pleads for emotional support and/or effective action from another. A complaint may therefore range from a request for empathic engagement to an effort to assign responsibility to others. Listeners have a felt sense of a complaint’s legitimacy; we resonate to injustice and its reparation in the tale of The Goose Girl. We feel exasperation with the heroine’s petulant entitlement in the tale of The Princess and the Pea, and take satisfaction in the punishment of greed in The Fisherman and His Wife. A chronic complaint is a call to identify and understand an underlying problem rather than externalizing it.
“There was a man (though he seemed not simply a man but some combination creature or child like or otherworldly — maybe something that can turn into something else) and he was lying down and sort of whimpering. He was wearing a long light-colored robe. Then I realized that on his side he had a large gaping wound and rotting flesh and there were birds, many families of birds feeding on his flesh. He was in great pain but also kind of trance-like and internal. I had to help him. It was a grave situation. He couldn’t help himself. He was helpless. He seemed pathetic. It would be a really long painful death. I didn’t know what could help but thought maybe if I took a hose I could force the birds off with water. I did that and maybe someone was helping me, because as I hosed it seemed there was another set of hands “cleaning” or holding the birds that came off. It was arduous. I thought it was a great infection and how could I get him or it to a hospital. Then I woke up.”
Video: It’s Not About the Nail (YouTube). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg
Sieff, Daniela. Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma (Amazon).