Why do some people always grumble and complain? Why do some act as if they are entitled….to your kindness, your understanding, your generosity? What is wrong with people who are ungrateful and/or demanding? We’ve all met someone like this. Everyone has likely had the experience of knowing someone that they dread seeing, because the inevitable ungratefulness is draining. Or, the demands they make are unrealistic and just plain annoying.
What makes people ungrateful? Last week I was pondering just this subject, when I got a message from my spouse, around 9:00 at night. His car had broken down in about an hour drive from here. He needed me to come and pick him up. I was worried about him, and unhappy that I needed to drive so far at such a late hour. In my rush to head out the front door, I twisted my ankle and literally fell out of my front door, onto the concrete step. My keys flew out of my hands and the drink I’d had in my hand also went flying. I landed hard on my left hip and left wrist. With some help from family members, I got up, brushed myself off, and although I was shaking from the fall and the landing, I got into my car and headed toward the highway. On my drive, all I could think about was how much I was hurting. It was like a stuck record….my brain kept going back to my hip…my wrist…my shoulder…
When I finally got to my husband and heard the full story of how his car had stalled and quit running completely on a busy city street, in three lanes of traffic, I was flooded with relief and gratitude that he hadn’t been injured. Why had that gratitude alluded me during my drive? Because I was experiencing acute pain. The physical pain of my fall preoccupied my thoughts, as I adjusted to the reality that I’d caused myself pain. By the time I’d gotten to my destination, the pain had calmed down some, and I’d begun to count my blessings. I began to be grateful that I hadn’t gotten hurt any worse than I did, that my bones and skin were intact, just shaken and bruised. I began to be grateful for my husband’s safety in the midst of his auto failure. He described how no one stopped to help him while he literally pushed the car to the side of the road. Gratitude flooded over me.
And I realized this: when people are overwhelmed by either emotional or physical pain, they are not able to focus on gratitude. My mind traveled back in time to my Psychology 101 class, and I remembered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When our basic needs aren’t met (safety, food, shelter) we get fixated at the bottom of the need pyramid. Perhaps when people are ungrateful, they are struggling with unmet needs or unresolved pain. Emotional pain can interfere with gratitude as well as physical pain. And then I thought about people who are hungry, or struggling to pay their bills or keep a roof over their head. I thought to myself…if a person’s basic needs are not being met, regardless of the reason, they most likely would struggle with a lack of gratitude.
But what about the people who act as if they are entitled to your kindness, generosity, help? Where does that come from? I’m not sure I know the answer to this one. Perhaps from social conditioning. Maybe they’ve been taught that they are powerless and must depend on those with more power and more abundance. Perhaps they feel as if they have been victimized by their families, and have no reason to expect their own success. Perhaps this is learned behavior. But the reason they behave this way is not the real issue. The real issue is: “Why does it upset you?”People who struggle with setting and keeping healthy boundaries typically find it difficult to deal with someone who is entitled. Their demands create distress in the person who is uncomfortable saying a simple little word: no. If you feel like a bad person when you say no, this is about you and not about the person who is asking. So instead of blaming them for asking, look at your own emotional reaction. A request is only a request. What you do with it is up to you.
How do you deal with these people? First, you remind yourself that absolutely nothing is wrong with them. They are humans, and they are attempting to get their needs met, like all of us. So, if someone is complaining and ungrateful, what can you do? You can ignore the grumbling and be pleasant in response to their grumbling. That is one possibility, and it’s an adequate start. If that’s the best you have to offer, then it’s enough. If you are feeling clear within yourself, and compassionate toward them, you can try reflective listening. Reflective listening is when you set aside your thoughts and ideas, and you just reflect the words emotions of the other person. Someone has just grumbled to you about how awful their week is going. You make eye contact, and you say something like, “You’re having a horrible week. It’s stressing you out and you feel……”
When people feel heard and understood, they feel loved. When people feel loved, a big, important need is being met. You can help stabilize their hierarchy of needs just by listening to them. Wow! That’s a lot of power! And if you can give them some compassion, and some calm support, you are being generous in the most amazing way.
If you need help polishing up your listening skills, or learning healthy boundaries, call me: 831-214-8087.