Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Perils of Complaining

Many people in today's culture have become convinced that it is healthy to vent about one's problems on a regular basis. Psychological research indicates, however, that too much complaining can have the opposite effect, causing a person to become anxious and depressed about a difficult situation instead of taking constructive actions to deal with it:

A recent study found that teenage girls who vented to each other about their problems, from boy trouble to social slights, were more likely to develop depression and anxiety — and the same is likely true for adult women, says Amanda Rose, the author of the study.

"There's a definite belief in our culture that talking about our problems makes you feel better," says Rose, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, whose research was published in the July issue of Developmental Psychology. "That's true in moderation. ... It only becomes risky when it becomes excessive."

The unfortunate consequences of too much complaining can be seen in some parents who spend large amounts of time on Internet forums and in other group settings where the members encourage one another to wallow in negativity about their autistic children. Kevin Leitch just wrote a post describing the sad state of parents who, because of their inability to accept the reality of their child's autism, spend much of their time obsessing about the magical cure at the end of the rainbow, instead of enjoying life with the child they actually have.

For those who have invested a great deal of time and mental energy in viewing their child's autism as an enemy and waging a war against their child's differences, it can indeed be difficult to consider other views and to recognize and deal with the complexity of the situation. However, those who make the effort to break out of the negative mindset are likely to find that their lives afterward are much more rewarding, as discussed by Anne C. in a comment on a post by Kristina about acceptance:

...while I’ve come across a fair number of parents who have moved from the deficit model to the complexity model of autism, I have *never* come across anyone who has gone in the opposite direction. I have never come across even one example of someone who comes to the mindset that their child can be whole, healthy, *and* autistic who has subsequently decided that they need to go back to the disease model.

That says it all.

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  • It's not clear in that teenage girl study whether the venting was the cause of the anxiety and depression, or a sign of its already impending onset and an attempt to "self-medicate" the anxiety and depression in the early stages, or somewhere in between. A lot of these studies are correlative, in which case the two correlated variables often have a common cause rather than causing one another. I think I heard about a study saying that percentage of bodily tattoo coverage was the number one predictor of accident rates among motorcyclists. Clearly the tatoos couldn't have caused the accidents.

    That said, I have heard before that venting anger can keep it alive. I think http://forums.delphiforums.com/asparthers/ is a case in point. (NOTE: after reading that board you will likely want to spam them. But they heavily screen newbies to make sure they won't be unsupportive, i.e. disagree with them.)

    Maybe people should do a study on the acceptance vs. fighting approaches to autism, to see which, if either, is healthier for the kids as well as the parents.

    By Blogger reform_normal, at 1:46 PM  

  • I must register my complaint about this post.

    Nah if complaining werent the thing to do whyever would I have become such an expert in it?

    The world is wrong and and that is all there is to it.

    By Blogger laurentius rex, at 6:26 PM  

  • One of the great things about my work is that I get to meet and talk to a wide variety of people.

    I see a lot of farmers, and as a group I'd have to say that they complain the least, despite having one of the highest rates of on the job injuries. They just seem to keep on truckin'.


    By Blogger Club 166, at 8:24 PM  

  • You have nailed the reason I want to make autism and parenting my personal ministry. The problem is, I find it hard to like those I want to help.

    People that wallow in despair and mistreat their children in the process are hard to love. The truth is, I don't really identify with many autism parents. I can't figure out how they think the way they do.

    But snapping people out of their despair driven agendas is the only way to salvage any relationship between them and their children.

    Sorry, I think I just complained about people complaining too much.

    By Blogger bigwhitehat, at 12:23 AM  

  • Yes, to Bigwhitehat. I'd like to complain about parents complaining too much too. :)

    There is also a sentance that I think is worth repeting from Reform normal.
    "Maybe people should do a study on the acceptance vs. fighting approaches to autism to see which, if either, is healthier for the kids as well as the parents."

    Many parents dont seem to understand why autistics and other parents object to hearing about kids described in this way but thats not really the point here.

    I don't understand why it's not obvious that speaking about kids this way isn't healthy. At least I wish they could understand this for the kids sake.

    By Blogger Ed, at 5:46 AM  

  • And one more thing. In your post ABFH, about the Anne C. quote.Thats a good point.
    I cant imagine that anyone who had experianced the benefits of acceptance and seen the effects it had on thier kids would ever have reason to go back to thier old ways of doing things.

    By Blogger Ed, at 6:04 AM  

  • reform_normal and Ed: There was a study done last year, or maybe it was two years ago, that showed acceptance was healthier for families. Kevin Leitch posted a link on his site, but I don't recall the title of the blog entry. You can probably find it if you poke around on his site for a bit.

    Larry and Big White Hat: Yes, complaining is just too easy...

    Joe: Truckers are indeed an amazing breed. I watched a bit of the Ice Road Truckers reality show on the History Channel recently. Those guys drive for days in almost total darkness, over frozen lakes in northern Canada where they're always at risk of falling through the ice, to bring equipment and supplies to mining camps. Wow.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:47 AM  

  • It's hard to understand how some parents can have so little empathy and "theory of mind" as to think that their attitudes will not have an effect on their autistic kids. Very sad. Thanks for the thoughtful post, abfh.

    By Blogger Bev, at 11:05 AM  

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