Disclaimer: the following information was deduced from my own self-exploration, and while I aim to be honest, there are things I just do not know, or have trouble expressing. This information is here to help you solve your internal difficulties, and if it does not help, please seek help elsewhere, or within yourself. It is my experience that it is in your own difficulties that you can gain the knowledge of how to overcome that difficulty. In the end, stay true to yourself. This is only my perspective.
Definition of Negativity
The state of being that can result when one gives up on a particular goal, or feels discouraged about their ability to achieve or move towards that goal. Involves feelings of defeat, feeling lost, and bitterness. Often manifests itself as little negative thoughts that can come up at any time and might be directed at things unrelated to the root problem that one is negative about.
Probable Symptoms of Negativity
- Feeling defeated, lost, or stuck in a rut
- A longing for certain things in life but feeling a great distance from them
- A pattern of quitting things for various reasons such as getting impatient or frustrated
- Lack of Enthusiasm for life
- Blaming others for both positives and negatives in life (ex: saying someone or something else “makes you happy” is still indicative of blame)
- Hatred towards others, situations, emotions, or self
- Feeling drained or depressed
- The presence of violent impulses towards other people
- Lashing out at others
- Trying to control things, or other people telling you that you are being overly controlling (you might not be aware of it yourself) – this one can be caused because a person who feels negative about things might try to control situations in his or her life so that he or she can avoid those negative things.
- Trying to eliminate or wipe out certain things from life, such as one’s own perceived faults, certain feelings, or emotions
- The feeling of trying to push past one’s own feelings, perhaps with an intense or angry determination, when taking action
What seems to cause Negativity
Negativity seems to be what happens when one is trying to seek a goal but has run into obstacles and hasn’t found a way to deal with that obstacle yet, and hasn’t committed to searching for a way to deal with it either, yet. In the metaphorical maze to get to one’s goals, negativity is what can come up when one finds a dead end, or when one has wandered for hours with no end in sight, and feels discouraged. When one’s actions fail to produce promising results that at least show, according to one’s own judgment, some kind of progress, one can become negative because of a loss of faith in the direction that one’s actions are being applied, but a persistent desire to get to the goal. Often feelings of impatience are involved, and can make it easier to fall into a state of negativity, because to keep trying when one is impatient can become an angering and painful experience. In other words, negativity is the state one gets in when they have given up on their goals, and that’s why feelings of defeat are associated with it, at least by my definition.
Ways of Working Through Negativity
Short answer: challenge your own negative thinking.
Negativity is often based in short-sighted thinking, in that a person can give up on their goals and what they really want too easily, without a greater context of possibilities being considered. Even when it seems like there is no way forward, there might be.
Why challenge negativity at all?
In navigating this issue of negativity, one question that might come up is why resolve negativity in the first place, and why try to return yourself to a positive state? One answer to that question would be that when you have faith in your actions then you enable yourself TO act, and those actions can lead you towards accomplishing your goals. Without action, many things just don’t get done, and you rely instead on factors outside of your control for positive outcomes. However, what one might call fate, or those factors beyond one’s control, can both create good and bad in one’s life, and not JUST the good. Fate brings sunshine AND the rain. But only YOU can bring the umbrella, so that rain or shine you don’t get soaked. This is just a metaphor though, and the point I’m trying to make is that action counts, and it’s worth going from a state of inaction and defeat to a state of action and moving towards your own moments of victory and achievement.
You might have your own personal reasons beyond this, though, for inaction in the face of your own negative feelings, and I feel like the first step to actually working through your negativity would be to work through those reasons, and to challenge those first. Because really negativity about changing your negativity is just more negativity to challenge, and perhaps the first and most significant hurdle.
Challenging Negative Thinking
When you challenge your own negative thinking, what I mean by this is to present your own negative thoughts to yourself, and to challenge them. One can do this in a methodical, one-at-a-time manner until all currently felt negativity has vanished. If you can become aware of a negative thought, you can challenge it.
Here is an example:
Say that it’s a rainy day, and a person sitting indoors looks outside and feels negatively about this fact. One negative thought might be:
Negative thought: “Wow what a crappy day outside.”
How might you challenge such a thought, if this person was you? Here is one possibility:
Challenge: “It’s not that bad – at least you have shelter to live in, so you don’t get wet.”
As you might guess, though, just challenging one random negative thought might not be enough to improve one’s mood or rekindle a positive spirit within you. But even just one stray negative thought can be a starting point to deeper issues, and things that one is maybe persistently negative about – maybe it has to do with problems in life that have lasted for a long time, or something to do with a seemingly unchangeable life situation. This is why I recommend challenging negative thoughts one at a time in quick succession, to start with the mundane and go to the deeper issues. These deeper negative ways of looking at things often fuel the surface-level negative thoughts, but this isn’t a problem since the means to get to the root of the problem are often right at the surface in the stray negative thoughts that one might experience quite often.
Given this process of being able to start at surface-level negative thoughts to get to the underlying issues, here is the exercise I recommend for challenging negative thoughts and resolving negative underlying negative attitudes in the process:
- Take a piece of paper or open a text document.
- On the first line, write down whatever stray negative thought you can think of. An easy place to start is by looking for something, anything, to complain about – since a complaint basically IS a negative thought. If you can’t find something to complain about, try to consider the things you might be seeking to eliminate or wipe out from your life. What do you want to get rid of, and why? This kind of negative sentiment can be a starting point.
- On the next line, write a challenge to that thought. I could be a clarifying question (such as “Why do you feel that way?”), or an observation about reality that counters the negative thought (like in the rainy day example above). You might also find “is it really so bad?” an effective approach, if you can sort of imagine a reason why it might not be so bad. “Hey, at least it’s not [something worse]” may also be a highly effective approach. Even when things are bad, we can usually admit to ourselves that there are even worse things.
- If you still feel any negativity at all, write down another negative thought on the next line. Perhaps the thought will be in response to your challenge or perhaps it will be about another subject entirely.
- From here on out, just continue in the same pattern of writing down a challenge to your negative thought, and coming up with another negative thought if you feel like there is any negativity still there. Once there isn’t and you really feel a sense of positivity and enthusiasm again, then you’re done with the exercise. Remember that one can always take a break, but try to make sure that you never end on a negative thought, but always either with a challenge or perhaps with writing at the end from a genuinely positive place. That being said, if you don’t get to a positive place in one exercise, that’s ok. Better to be honest with yourself about your negativity than to TRY and be positive when you’re really not feeling positive.
Note: When you’re doing this exercise, you can use either second or first person. That is, as in the example about the rainy day above, you can talk to your negative thinking as if it’s coming from a different person or character, or perhaps something you might call your “negative side”. OR you could just keep it in first person. To use the example from earlier with the first person: “It’s not that bad – at least I have shelter to live in, so I don’t get went.” Either way works fine – the essential part is to just challenge your negative thinking.
Warning about False Positivity:
One of the most tempting solutions to the presence of negativity can be to cover it over with false positivity. My definition of false positivity is basically where one tries to convince themselves that they don’t really feel bad about something that they actually do. This only confuses the issue and, more importantly, detaches yourself from your true feelings, causing you to become more of a stranger to yourself and become fake and more damaged than before. It’s like covering up a gaping hole in a concrete wall with a sheet of rice paper. Fake. Or, to use the metaphor of the maze, it’s like trying to say that you’ve reached the exit of the maze or that you know the way when you’re completely lost in the middle of the maze. It all adds up to ignoring the problem at hand with a solution that ultimately harms you.
How do you best avoid false positivity? One way is to always allow yourself an outlet to be as negative as you can possibly be. You don’t have to express this negativity outwardly to others – it can be in the privacy of your own room on a sheet of paper or in a text document (in fact, this may protect other people from the effects of negativity). If you think about the way the exercise above is structured, there’s a reason half of it is devoted to you having a place to put your negative thoughts. This helps you to become aware of the arguments that give your negativity power, and to challenge those arguments until you no longer have a reason to feel negative.
And remember, the goal with working through feelings isn’t necessarily to feel better, but to work through your reasons for feeling bad. Once you do that, you’ll feel better automatically.
Probable benefits of working through negativity:
- Greater enthusiasm for life
- Positive thinking
- Achieve more
- Less of a sense of regret
- Cultivate the ability to remain positive even in difficult circumstances
- Greater sense of happiness
- Less of a need to be fake with yourself or others
- Faith in your own ability to act
- Feelings of being comfortable and self-assured
- Feeling more like your life is in your own hands, rather than fate or other people – and as such, you blame others less
- Overcome obstacles with greater ease
- Knowing your own power
- Feeling like you can allow life, and other people around you, to be as they are, since you can act anyway
- Inner strength
- See things more clearly and with an open, examining mind
- A greater sense of being empowered
Articles Related to Negativity
- Impatience – Since impatience can make it more difficult to see a way to one’s goals, it makes it easier to give up and thus feel negative.
- Move Beyond Your Dissatisfaction with Life – Talks about some ways of dealing with a profoundly negative view towards life that may exist inside of you.
- Find your Curiosity and Move Past Failure – How curiosity helps to deal with frustration at failure without giving up on one’s goals.