Is It Okay to Complain If It’s Only in My Head?

Sit on a couch


“Whether you complain aloud or only in thought makes no difference.”
– Eckhart Tolle

I sometimes play mind tricks with myself. Such as, it’s okay to complain about somebody as long as it’s only to Jeff.

Or this one: it’s okay to complain, as long as I don’t say it out loud.

But is it? Really?

Complain in my head

When You Express It

We can’t help certain thoughts that pop into our head about someone else’s attitude or actions. And maybe it’s for a legitimate reason because they truly are irritating and egotistical.

But complaining is more than just having the thought. Complaining is expressing an attitude about it.

In this anxious time of coronavirus panic, complaining has come easier to me. I’m verbalizing my annoyance more frequently. 

In the best of times, I think I’m doing good if I keep these thoughts only to myself. And granted, that is better than saying every one of these thoughts out loud.

But should I even indulge them in my head? Are they doing me any good?

All Complaints Hurt Us

My inside-only complaints cause trouble, too.

(An exclusion is the “complaint” that states a wrong that needs to be addressed: “There’s a fly in my soup.” That’s okay. What’s not good is: “How dare you let a fly get in my soup!”)

The kind of complaining I’ve been doing is this: “What is wrong with these people buying up all the toilet paper at Publix? Don’t they know other people need some, too?”

It is labeling other people as greedy and selfish when I don’t know what their motivations are. Only God knows hearts. Maybe they actually are greedy and selfish (aren’t we all at times?).

But maybe they are just scared and panicked (again, aren’t we all at times?).

Either way, it doesn’t serve them OR me to judge them for it. Even if I’m quiet about it. 

I don’t have to take personal offense to their words or actions. I don’t have to set up an “I am right; they are wrong” mentality. I don’t have to defend my strong opinion on everything. 

As Tricia Goyer says in The Grumble-Free Year,

“It’s easy to see grumbling as a bad habit. It’s harder to see that it is an actual offense against God. Even if we don’t think so, it’s saying, God, you’ve failed me.”

I can remember that God’s favor is on me. He is for me. That is what I need. 

Accepting a situation (or a person) as is, without criticizing and complaining, is a strength, not a weakness. It doesn’t mean you approve. You still might need to act to make the situation better.

But stop the complaining.

Linger in Silence

My one word of the year is Linger. For the month of March, my Linger action step is Silence, i.e., Linger in the Silence. I’ve been choosing silence more instead of automatically turning on a podcast or even picking up a book as often (aghast!).

But I also need to choose lingering in the silence instead of complaining out loud.

And instead of complaining in my head.

Both are toxic. Both can lead to resentment and bitterness and grievances of “I can’t believe she did that to me!” outrage.

I still can’t control everything (anything?) that pops into my head, including negative people and annoying situations that cause me angst. But I can choose to be aware of these thoughts and stop feeding them.

By choosing to quiet them instead of encouraging them, I’ll create more peace in the world.

Not just peace on the outside, but peace inside my head, too.

Do you complain more when you’re tired and anxious, too? How do you stop it? Please share in the comments.

25 thoughts on “Is It Okay to Complain If It’s Only in My Head?

  1. Martha J Orlando

    Especially at this trying time, with the corona virus on our doorsteps, the propensity for me to complain is heightened, Lisa. When I feel a negative judgment coming on, I do my best to simply see it for what it is and let it go. Complaining, aloud or in our head, does no one any good. May we all maintain a positive attitude!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I am trying to do more of what you are, Martha: seeing negativity for what it is and letting it go. I have a general sense of anxiety when left unchecked. But when I look closer, I am more able to quiet down and let God show me that he is still good and is still for us, regardless of what is going on around us. It’s just taking more intention on my part in these crazy days to get quiet. Thank you!

  2. Beth Steffaniak

    Complaining truly is an insult to God, Lisa! Love that quote and all that you’ve shared here. I needed this reminder because I give myself permission to complain outwardly and inwardly far too often! And it truly is toxic. You’ve given me a good reminder, my friend! I hope you and your family stay safe and healthy during this crisis! Pinning that adorable graphic! Is it your granddaughter?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No, that’s not my granddaughter but it really favors her! I’ve seen her make that face on several occasions. 🙂

      Our schools are all cancelled now but Jeff is still going into work. Churches have gone online but grocery stores are still open. Praying you and family family stay well through this too, Beth! I will look forward to being on the other side of it sooner rather than later.

  3. Laurie

    This is such good advice, Lisa. Complaining, even if it’s only in our own heads, diminishes us.

    A friend re-posted a meme on Facebook that I found offensive. Rather than firing off a response, I did count to ten (about a humdred times), then just let it go. I may be slow sometimes, but I do learn. And I am sure Bill will be so happy if I cut down on the complaining! 🙂

  4. Barbara Harper

    This is a hard one for me–I knew someone who, if I said, “It’s sure hot,” would immediately say, “Complaining is a sin!” And I would think, “I’m just stating a fact!” It’s hard to know when that crosses over into complaining. Your example of a judgement call re the fly in the soup is helpful. And anything that perpetuates negative feelings and attitudes is probably wrong as well.

  5. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Lisa, I’d honestly never thought about internal complaining, and that is a very good point. Whether external or internal, it affects our attitude towards others and shows lack of trust in God. The Lord had to correct me years ago about grumbling like an “Israelite.” (Was it Numbers that I had read? I forget the exact psg). At any rate, my antidote to sinful grumbling was godly thanksgiving. I started keeping a joy journal, and expounded to the Lord on my blessings. It really changed my attitude. Admittedly, I’ve noticed myself sinking into grumbling again–and mostly, verbally. The difference between internal and external is that those who hear it (my poor family), really don’t want to! I bring down their good moods. And in the midst of the COVID 19 fright, I’m thinking we could be thanking God for all the good things w/ which He still blesses us. It could help mitigate the fear. Tx so much for sharing!

  6. BettieG

    Oh yes, you have reminded me of a conviction that the Lord brought to me several years ago. I did not think that I was a complainer, until He showed me the “worry-prayers” that would roll through my head in the night-time, when no one else heard. Rehearsing again & again things that bothered me, and caused me to worry prayers to God about why things weren’t changing. I was actually complaining internally about God’s ways not lining up with my own. Ouch. I can so easily slip back into those late-night sessions. Thank you for this timely reminder today. May I allow HIS will and ways to fill my mind. Blessings to you, dear Lisa!

  7. Lauren

    Hi Lisa,

    Wow, this post was very convicting! So many of the things you mentioned are ways I complain on a regular basis (I love the one about convincing yourself that it doesn’t really count if it’s only shared with your husband … I do that all the time). Given our current national circumstances as well as the fact that my empty nest has partially refilled due to them, I’m thinking this is a really fine time to practice changing some of my less-than-lovely character habits, with complaining and impatience right at the top of the list!

  8. Joanne Viola

    Something to truly think about. I try to control complaining and fearful thoughts even in my head as eventually they do come out of my mouth 🙂 I want my thoughts to be at peace so that words of peace will come out in the unsettling days we are living. May His peace be upon you today!

  9. Maree Dee

    “But complaining is more than just having the thought. Complaining is expressing an attitude about it.” I loved this statement.

    I find complaining can also be addicting. It is better to stop the thought in its tracks.

    Great post!


  10. Trudy

    Such great advice, Lisa. It reminds me of some things my husband’s mom would often repeat when they were growing up. One is “Look at yourself and you see enough.” (It was in Dutch, but that’s what it means.) Another was to remember that when we point a finger at someone, the rest of our fingers are pointing to us. I still think of these wise lessons. Thank you for being honest and sharing such wise advice! Love and blessings to you!

  11. Jennifer Smith

    I agree – what happens in our head is just as toxic. I tend to be extra snarky/sarcastic “in my head.” But those thoughts affect my heart. Good advice this afternoon (and another reminder for me!)

  12. Patsy

    Oh, Lisa! I needed this so badly today! Some days my head is full of complaints and this has been one of those days! Thank you for these reminders.


    Thank you for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

  13. Lesley

    This is a good challenge to think about. It is easy to fall into complaining at times like this. Sometimes I think I’m doing well if I manage not to complain out loud, but you’re right – it is important to deal with our complaining thoughts too.

  14. floyd

    Good one. The thing I notice about complaining is that it becomes a habit. A lot of people have the habit of complaining and don’t even know it.

    It takes someone to point it out and for us to be honest with ourselves… Thanks for that. Jesus didn’t complain…

  15. Lois Flowers

    This is a great post, Lisa. I often tell my daughter, “Not every thought in your head needs to come out of your mouth.” Now I will tell her (and myself) that complaining thoughts shouldn’t even stay in our heads!

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