To Gripe or Not To Gripe


The other day, my son and I were walking through our neighborhood and came upon a challenging stretch of sidewalk. This section had an encroaching row of hedges on one side and a thriving, tall flower bed on the other. My son is in a wheelchair and some of the flowers were sagging over just at the height of his face. Unfortunately, I was behind him pushing, and he isn't good at raising his arms. Add to this the fact that the bees were clearly in love with these blossoms and were everywhere. It was narrow and bumpy and hot and I found myself getting annoyed and felt a gripe coming on.

I am a recovering IGS sufferer. IGS stands for Irritable Gripe Syndrome, a chronic condition that makes you focus on situations, traits or people that annoy you. It is usually noticeable in self-talk, conversations with others, and written and electronic transmissions (like impulsive e-mails or snarky public comments on-line).

The main symptoms of IGS are irritability and blame. Additional symptoms include exaggeration of problems and an inability to shift to a larger perspective.

During an episode, gripyness can be blamed on neighbors; people (like drivers) who seem inconsiderate or thoughtless; illogical rules or the people who enforce them; pushy or mean people; people who are too nice; people of the opposite sex or the opposite political party. It can be blamed on inconvenient or unfair situations; bad parenting, telemarketers or incompetent co-workers. Terminal IGS sufferers gripe about things that haven't changed, things that are changing, and things that have already changed (obviously for the worse). They can also gripe about themselves but only as victims - like when griping about how much weight they've gained. I focus most of my blame on my husband who is imperfect and my kids who really can be slugs.

IGS can be difficult to live with for both the sufferer and those around them. But in sympathy for IGS sufferers the world isn't always on your side. Griping often comes out when you feel helpless in a situation. Especially if you have chronic inconveniences, incompetencies or challenges in your life, you may have to work that much harder to keep from having an episode.

Interestingly, while unhappiness, depression, social quarantine, and retaliation are some of the costs of IGS, there may be some advantages to having this disease. You can blame others for your problems instead of trying to deal with them. You can get out of work or chores because no one wants to deal with you. And if you are really good, you can go pro and become a media personality.


Signs that you may have Irritable Gripe Syndrome:

  • Someone left this article on your pillow, your desk or your in-box. Worth a gripe!
  • You can't stop after one gripe.
  • You look forward to griping - especially after a long day.
  • You foster situations that give you excuses to gripe.
  • You can gripe about anyone for just about anything.
  • The intro story in this article caused a gripe reaction from your own life. NOTE: If that story triggered anger at your neighbors, neighbors with hedges, summer, seasons that are not summer, flowers, bees, spelling bees, Richard Gere, a person you work with whose name starts with a B, your partner, gay marriage, evangelicals, and people in wheelchairs, etc. You may actually have TRS (Toxic Resentment Syndrome). Seek help immediately.

How to Live/Work with an IGS sufferer:

  • Appreciate that some griping is developmental. In fact, teens almost can't help it.
  • Accept some griping as part of life and nod appropriately.
  • Recognize when griping is a legitimate complaint and empathize. Life can be a bitch sometimes.
  • Model non-griping behaviors. Don't fake IGS to fit in. Fake IGS has been known to lead to the real deal.
  • If the gripe is about you, own up if you really are doing something gripe-worthy.
  • Consider a planned intervention for chronic griping
  • Notice any improvement - less griping and/or ending a gripe session better
  • If intervention really does not work - limit time with IGS sufferer or move on. Life is too short.

Treatment for IGS:

Even though, for some reason, it does seem easier to think and share crappy rather than happy stuff - the first step in treating IGS is admitting that you have a problem - and a choice. Turns out you don't actually HAVE to get annoyed. If you are ready to change, here are treatments that may work for you:

  • Watch your diet. Do you really need that gripe?
  • Address both your internal griping and your 'out-loud' griping.
  • Notice when you are falling over the edge and say, 'I don't want to go there.'
  • Watch the company you keep. Fellow/Sister Gripers?
  • Substitute gratitude or empathy for griping. Studies have shown that focusing on gratitude really does cut down on the urge to gripe.
  • Ask yourself - what's really going on? How is your stress level? How's your sleep been? Are you hungry? In relationships - are you feeling unappreciated or unnoticed?
  • Learn stress/anger management skills. Seriously - they help!
  • If you REALLY need to gripe - gripe effectively:
    1. Use moderation. Trying to go cold-turkey may lead to poorly-timed explosive episodes. Set a limit to your gripes and cut back one each day. Work up to gripe-free days.
    2. If you write a griping e-mail or note, either don't send it or send it only to yourself.
    3. Put a time and topic limit on the gripe (1-5 minute limit/No tangenting) - and end with either a positive action statement (I can take a different route or nicely point out the situation to my neighbor),
      empathy (she really does love her flowers) or a balancing statement (Seriously, it's only 50' here).
    4. If you need to gripe to someone else - Gripe to the right person and only if they are ok going there (Be wary of other IGS sufferers - that's why talking to yourself if you suffer from IGS isn't a good idea.)
    5. Spread out your griping so that no one person has to hear it all.
    6. Instead of griping, be part of the solution. Constructively discuss a frustrating situation with your family or at a team meeting. (But not every meeting!) Brainstorm solutions and participate in, rather than sabotage, them.

    Because of my son, I was able to qualify for a free, natural, Anti-Gripe Patch® which has been shown to alter memory and perspective as in - 'Oh yeah I remember - this isn't a big deal.' You do have to put it on, and it isn't 100% effective but it can help.

    No question about it - you can always find something to gripe about but there is a cost. It could be a nice walk with your son or an appreciation of a bed of well-loved flowers. And frankly, especially in this economy, not many of us can afford the price.

    Annie Zirkel is a relationship and optimism consultant in Ann Arbor and can be found at Contact her at IGS and TRS are not technically recognized by any professional organizations as true psychological disorders. The Anti-Gripe Patch® is not a real product though certain prescribed medications have been known to have a similar effect.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: aturkus