Who doesn't like a good kvetch session every now and then? Commiserating has its place but when commiserating is a habit, you could be setting yourself up to remain in an negative emotional black hole.
A very long time ago I created and managed a online group called "The Estrogen Club." It was great fun at first. Women connecting with other women. Women sharing their stories and realizing they weren't the only ones struggling with disrespectful kids, wayward husbands, or crappy dead end jobs. It didn't take long for the group to devolve from support to a cesspool of negativity. We reveled in our righteous anger. We supported our collective misery. Every day it was the same rant, vent, or complaint. We stunted each others' emotional well being and personal growth. And we thought we were cheering each other on.
I'm not sure when I realized how stuck I was. Maybe it was the 1037th rendition of how sucky my ex-husband was for leaving me for another woman. Maybe it was the quiet anxiety eating its way through my belly every time I recounted my story. Or maybe it was hearing my own voice telling it to someone new because I had exhausted every one else. At some point I knew I had to stop commiserating, complaining, and reliving the same awful events over and over. Otherwise, I was going to stay stucker than stuck. And that's just not a healthy place to be.
"Commiserate is used in the context of sharing sadness or problems. It is closely related to the word misery and has its roots in the Latin miser, "miserable." When you add the Latin prefix co-, "with, together" with the Latin root miser, "miserable," you get commiserate, "to share someone's misery." People usually commiserate because they are in the same situation."
When I became a stepmom and was in dire need of help with my youngest stepson, I found an amazing support group led by a bright, helpful woman. I asked specific questions. I found other women going through the same thing. I reached out to many to offer my own support. The leader of this group encountered problems at home that required her to focus her energy on her family. I stepped in and it didn't take me long to figure out that the same phenomena that happened with the Estrogen Club was happening at this stepmom support group. Very few wanted help. They just wanted to unleash their pain. They told their stories over and over again to anyone who would listen, offer sympathy, and commiserate with them. As soon as the leader of the group returned, I quietly bid farewell and left.
I know first hand the perils of commiseration. I've been there. And it ain't pretty. Commiserating leads to the following five pitfalls in life:
Rallying the troops to your side because you need to feel right and justified - because you need to justify your behavior. And if you have to justify your behavior, you're looking for validation for not behaving all that well. Owning your behavior and taking responsibility for whatever you said or did will take your further than trying to justify yourself to strangers.
Complaining about the same thing over and over again - this just keeps us stuck in the past. Problem solving is next to impossible when you rehash the same story over and over again. You may feel a sense of relief when you vent your pain but the moment is fleeting. Until you actually deal with your complaint, you'll vent it every time the pressure builds up.
Loss of friends - We can wear our friends out with our complaints. They may commiserate with us for a time but after the 507th retelling of the same story, they will move on. I can only imagine that I must have sounded like a broken record over a decade ago.
Powerlessness - When you commiserate, your story grows in direct proportion to the time and energy you feed it. It's like a fish tale. Over time that five inch fish grows to 50 feet. It eats at you. It nibbles around the corners of your mind. It leaves you feeling powerless, which in turn leads you to victim-hood.
Victim Mentality - Whatever happened isn't your fault. It's your ex-husband's fault. It's the bio-mom's fault. It's your evil boss' fault. No, nothing is your fault. You are a victim, powerless in your own life. Commiserating can lead you down, down, down. Life isn't fun when you're trapped in a story from the past.
Your mission, if you suffer from a commiseration habit, is to go the rest of the day without dredging up a past grievance and finding a place to commiserate about it. Face it. Tell it you're moving on and breaking up with it.
Here's to your emotional well being and personal growth!