Murmuring: Complaining or Venting?

2074
young child pouting
Feeling bad about murmuring?

What’s Wrong?

A grenade with a take a number sign and a number on the pin for anyone who feels like complaining.
Feel like complaining?

You ever have one of those days? I’m talking about those I-want-to-light-something-on-fire days. We all have. At the end of the day, when we say our prayers, the last thing we want to do is to thank God for anything. We only really feel like complaining.

We all remember those gratitude talks that praise the virtues of being thankful. All we want to do though is complain to God about how hard our day was. Is this wrong? Of course, we have so many scriptures that tell us not to murmur, but what does that even mean? Some psychologists out there say we need to vent to get out our emotional anguish but is that murmuring?

Luckily, we have Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi to help us figure it out.

Complaining

First, let’s talk about complaining. To complain can mean to express grief, or to accuse something or someone. This might be like when I complain about getting a small donut at the donut shop. This is like when that wonderful brother cuts us off in traffic and then flashes us the one-fingered salute, and all we want to do is shout at them and complain. We can all relate.

So what’s so bad about complaining?

Complaining, despite what people think, actually, effects the brain in a negative way. Some researchers claim that complaining shrinks the hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain that deals with problem-solving. That is a big deal! A smaller hippocampus means we struggle more to solve our problems. That, in turn, leads to more complaining, and the vicious cycle begins.

We’ve seen this in the lives of Laman and Lemuel. At the start of the Book of Mormon, we don’t know too much about Nephi, Laman or Lemuel. They are all given a job to do. They are to go back to Jerusalem and get the brass plates from Laban. Immediately, Laman and Lemuel consider it a “hard thing” (1 Nephi 3:5). They blame their dad for the task and they don’t want to do it.

Somehow, Nephi and Lehi get them to go back, and they try to get the plates. They fail in two of their attempts and Laman starts throwing blame around. He blames his father, Nephi, and the Lord (1 Nephi 3: 28).  This is a hallmark characteristic of complaining. The complainer rarely accepts responsibility. These tendencies eventually help Laman become more violent, even to the point of beating his younger brother and wanting to kill his father.

Venting

What about venting? We hear often in the world of mental health about the benefits and also the drawbacks of venting, but what is it? Venting can mean giving relief to emotional expression.  Is venting murmuring though? In my opinion, no.

Some of the researchers that claim that venting can be harmful to your health actually describe complaining. Researchers tell us that, unlike complaining,  venting is much more about release and re-calibration. It’s somewhat of a refocusing technique. Let me explain.

When things happen that set us off emotionally, we get stuck inside our problem. I say this to mean that our emotions keep us close to the problem and don’t let us look at it from an outside perspective. When we vent, we unload those emotional feelings and that lets us take three metaphorical steps away from the problem to be able to look at it from a better angle.

Venting also allows us to connect with other people and let them know that something’s bugging us. This is a coping mechanism developed to help one find solutions, release built-up emotions, and ask for help when needed.

We should all know, though, that there are drawbacks to venting, and it’s not that hard to turn venting into time-wasting complaining. The important thing to remember here is to always look for a solution. If you look for a solution, you will avoid complaining. That’s exactly how Nephi did it.

In Second Nephi 4, otherwise known as the Psalm of Nephi, there is a good portion of scripture that might have been a complaint if Nephi hadn’t turned it into problem-solving venting.

Nephi recognizes his sins and exclaims, “O wretched man that I am!” (2 Nephi 4:28), but he doesn’t stop there. He then reaffirms his belief in God and his belief that God can make things right. Nephi shifts the focus of his venting from his inadequacy to the Lord’s power and love.

So what can we do?

There may be some of us who consistently wonder if they are a murmurer. Learning this distinction between venting and complaining can really help. So what can we do to avoid murmuring? If we want to stop our hippocampus from shrinking, the solution is pretty simple. All we gotta do is follow Nephi’s lead. He focused on the Lord and looked for a solution. That shift helped him vent in a positive way.

Even in our prayers, we can shift our complaining to venting. God wants us to talk with Him. If we vent, looking for solutions and trusting in His power, we’ll connect better with Him, and feel more of His love and empathy. If we complain, all we can expect is a smaller hippocampus.

Check out more on Laman and Lemuel and their smaller brains.

Please share this article and let us know what you think about venting and complaining below.

Justin Lewis, a lifetime member of the Church, is a current BYU student studying marketing and Italian. He is also a part-time content writer at econfinancial.com, and works at Holdman Stained Glass Studios. He aspires to produce his own podcasts and invest in real estate.