Note: the information in this article was gathered from personal experience, reflection, and work with my own feelings. Take it as you will.
Definition of Negativity
The state of being that can result when one gives up on the process of working through something, or feels discouraged about their move forward. 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 feeling of enduring certain realities in life, or willfully suffering through them (martyrdom)
- Trying to feel positive, yet constantly dogged by negative feelings trying to “drag you down”
- 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
- Feeling like you’re not living in the moment, but rather living for or looking to things outside this moment in order to feel good. That or, when you’re in some moments you enjoy them, but in other moments you get negative and wish for the moments you think you’d enjoy
- Clinginess and attachment towards people, situations, activities, or things about yourself
What seems to cause Negativity
When we talk about negativity, mostly, we’re talking about feeling bad, or stuck in a rut of feeling bad. It’s a state, but one we don’t necessarily like or enjoy. We can lie to ourselves, saying we like it, but the pressure of the negative emotion and feeling can get to us nevertheless, when we relax our barriers to that emotion.
Why does it happen?
For one, there’s the part that is beyond our individual control, such as a change in our emotional state – feeling bad, negative, sad, etc. This can just happen – various things may cause it, but this initial thing can happen – perhaps as the result of a way you’re seeing a situation, or maybe because you just don’t understand the situation that you’ve now found yourself in, and you’re not sure what you want to do, or what part of it you want to look into.
When we find ourselves in these sorts of situations, one way to handle these states is to work through it, that is, to go through the process by which we come upon ways of understanding and action that make sense to us, that work for the situation in front of us, that ring true for us, etc – things that we really feel pave a way forward. This can take time, however, and really, it can be an indeterminate amount of time. The length of the process is what it is – you don’t know when you’ll come upon the answers that really make sense. You can try to shortcut the process, by saying a new answer you’ve thought of must be right, but this just feeds into the problem, since it’s not recognizing certain feelings you may have of things not being totally completed yet, or not making total sense, or not feeling right. This is essentially impatience with the process, and an escape from it, perhaps because of discomfort, or maybe because of fear or panic. Addressing these feelings can be part of the process too, but, they may be, in some ways, a detour from the actual issue. Again, things like this can take an indeterminate amount of time to work through.
Negativity is, in some sense, a product of a decision not to go through this process, or a rejection of your personal experience of this moment. To not do something is instantaneous, and it “relieves” you of that journey (though it may really “deprive” you). In this state, there can be multiple outcomes:
- Martyrdom – You end up “suffering through it” – enduring the feelings and negative emotions, while trying to just get by as best you can, without actually working through those feelings. One way this manifests is to compromise on what you’d actually like, and to assert that certain things “are fine”, when really, to you, they’re not.
- False Positivity – Like #1, you can end up just denying the problem, and becoming falsely positive, pretending everything’s alright when, really, you don’t feel like it is. Here, you feel bad, but you get out of what you may perceive as “work”, and this may be because you’re negative about the process, of working through your feelings, itself.
- “Trying to Make Due” – Here, you may be recognizing the problem, and that you don’t like something, but at the same time this sort of thinking can still be a sign of further conflict to work through, since it expresses the sense of burden you may be carrying in the present circumstance. It can be easy at this point to leave your feeling work to the side, but there is still something to work through, personally, because things still don’t feel right by you, even if you think they should, or if you want to believe they’re “good enough”. Changes in your circumstance, nor time, nor chance can be relied on to “heal wounds” – instead, there are other ways of approaching negative feelings like burden, ones that can bring you to a positive, more balanced or lightened place. Instead of “trying to make due”, one can entertain the mindset “more to work through” when they feel affected or burdened, as it may help to keep the area active until positive thinking and feeling reemerges.
- Procrastination – You can keep putting off working through it. You can always work through your emotions “later”, putting it off again and again. Yet, in the mean time, you still have to deal with the consequences, and you don’t get to find a better way, or ways that feel right to you. You may end up complaining about your circumstances, but there’s still a “way out”, just one that isn’t instantaneous.
- Complaining – Like was said in #3, you may end up complaining a lot about circumstances, which may not do anything to change them, and really are out of your control. In some ways, one could consider that this is one’s consciousness complaining about one’s decision to do nothing, or about the feeling of being stuck. This is normally what I think of when I talk about negativity.
- Self-Appeasement, Addiction – In your mix of emotions, certain behaviors may come to mind out of various fears, cravings, or desires going on in you, and you might end up going with these just to postpone working through your conflicts. In essence, you can end up acting in ways that, in total, you don’t really agree with, but you end up “giving in” to them, in order to just keep your cravings quiet. You may feel guilt, confusion, indecision, panic, etc, yet still do these things.
- Clinginess and Attachment – Sometimes, one can find certain wonderful emotions in certain situations, like in a relationship with another person. One thing that can halt working through difficult emotions and inner turmoil can be an attachment to those situations, people, events, relationships, activities, etc. You turn to those instead of to yourself. Furthermore, this can be exacerbated by a sense of loyalty to those things. Feeling good outside of those circumstances or relationships may feel like you’re abandoning those things, and you might feel ashamed, or like you’ve “cheated” somehow. It may not always be a relationship – it could also be a career, a hobby, a skill you’re seeking to hone. It may also manifest, in this sense, as “trying to prove yourself”, since by sticking with the hobby, for example, you might be trying to avoid the shame that might come with the realization that the good feelings don’t come from the hobby itself. The freeing part though, is that the bad feelings don’t come from those things, either – rather, the feelings are a personal phenomenon, and something you can feel your way through, on your own, without any special extra requirements. And while people might help and support you, that help isn’t a requirement for feeling better. For example – if you’d never found what you’re attached to now, then you’d still have found your way through your feelings. It might even have been easier without the added turmoil of seeing and remembering good feelings through the lens of the circumstances in which those feelings took place, and trying to cling to those circumstances, rather than letting go and feeling whatever’s in the moment for you, right now.
Working Through Negativity
So, if not working through negative states and emotion can perpetuate negativity and create issues, what can solve it? I’d propose a few principles:
- Keep an open mind – As tempting as it can be to try and force a solution on yourself when you’re feeling bad, it may be that the true answer is entirely in the realm of the unknown, and must be searched for, reasoned out, or found. If you already have the answer, then why don’t you feel better? Allowing yourself to feel exactly what you feel can better help you see the problem.
- Let yourself be negative – all of the problematic answers to negativity that were listed in the last section, can be traced back to trying to escape negativity. If you let yourself feel what you feel, even if it is only in part, then you probably have a better shot at really working through it, because you’re accepting the emotional and felt environment you’re in as it is.
- Allow Impatience, But Avoid Following it – Impatience brings with it the promise of escape and relief. And, sometimes, maybe our impatient feelings do have wisdom for us – maybe they can point out to us how we’re taking the long way around on an issue when there’s a shorter one to explore. Doesn’t mean you should – you can still reason with impatient feelings, without reacting to them (by immediately changing direction) or shutting down the one that you’re getting impatient about.
- Try to keep an observational, meditative stance with your feelings – It can get all too easy to get caught up in our emotion, to feel frenzy, despair, destitution, longing, fear. It might get really intense, and we might want to get away from it. Instead, we can do what we can to just relax and observe our emotion from outside of it. Even a storm can be viewed through a window. This one may take the practice of noticing when we’re wrapped up in something, and consciously calming down so that we can observe instead, but it is a skill that can be improved upon.
- Connect yourself with what it’s like feeling positive – Whether it’s feeling hopeful, at peace, relaxed, at one, delighted, enthusiastic, or blissful, you can consider in the moment what that’s like. Whatever emotional mayhem you’re in, you can still connect with your sense of what you’re aiming for, and what would feel good to you. But try not to remember it as a concept that you’re separate from, which can be like torture, but rather connect with the actual feeling. After all, even if you can’t feel at peace with the situation in front of you, you can still feel peace. If what you’re in is creating tension, you can still relax, consciously. Feeling the difference may even serve to help you examine the difference between your current mode and that more positive feeling, and it may help you see perspectives that could help point out to yourself where your thinking is mistaken. For instance, thoughts about everything you can’t do might not make as much sense if you connect with a feeling of empowerment, and can see the falsehood in thinking that you can’t, or else, it may help you to redirect focus onto what you can do.
- Be in, return to, connect with, and accept the moment – part of being in the moment is that you will be with your negative energy – with the emotion, with the upset, with the impatience, with the sorrow, with the boredom. By rejecting this experience, you might buy yourself sometime, as you resort to coping strategies that “keep you above water”, so to speak. These are the kinds of things that were listed above, like addiction. But it’s below the water that the feelings actually begin to be processed, worked through, and most importantly, felt. For to feel something like impatience or annoyance is to accept it without trying to rush through or past it, even as you feel the wanting of that. The wanting that, itself, may really stink as a feeling. But it’s there, and we can admit it, feel it – even observe it. Connected with the moment in which our feelings exist, we can actually gain ground on them. When we put that off, when we bury feelings, when we spurn, shame, deny, or reject our feelings, or label them as “bad”, we treat them as too toxic to be around. Our inner environment, too, becomes toxic. We begin living in a toxic heap. A state of rejection, a state of lacking, a state of, well, negativity. There’s no solution there, and with no solutions, no change. So yes, connecting with the moment, accepting, experiencing, and trying to understand those feelings can help in becoming more stable and feeling more positive.
Negativity and Problems
Working through negativity can be more than just “working through problems” – this puts the emotional burden on external circumstances or situations, so that the so-called “problem” itself is an indicator of negativity, rather than a correctly-identified solution.
There can be all sort of “witch-hunts”, wherein, operating out of fear of our negative state continuing, we pursue all kinds of problems, and things in life that feel “bad” to us, and try to fix them obsessively.
Of course, the opposite of this is to try and ignore problems, think they’ll go away, and just taking a lackadaisical, “no worries” attitude with regard to them. This still defines problems as problems, but denies that the problem’s been identified, possibly because it looks too big, too nasty, or too incomprehensible to solve.
Thus it’s not the solving or not solving of problems that’s really at issue here, but rather the identification of problems. And it isn’t as though we want to not identify problems. But rather, it’s how we go about solving them, that matters.
Our reasoning, for why we identify a problem as such, is part of our subjective experience. If we’re in a bad mood and feeling crumby, we’re more likely to view more things as problems. Everything might seem to have some problem with it – and it just further aggravates us. But even if all those things were fixed, would there be happiness? Probably not – the new problem might be how overworked one feels, or how no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to be getting better. You may even feel hopeless, such as if you just feel worse and worse, despite all this effort.
The things we identify as problems may not be inherently “bad” – and we’re allowed to feel good even while those “problems” persist. It’s wholly possible! But, what might happen? We might’ve been taught, or come to think somehow, that leaving some condition in our reality as it is is shameful or “bad”, in some way. We may end up feeling guilty – not because the external thing automatically leads to guilt, but because of our idea that it does.
However, what’s the flip-side? We might end up taking an approach like “well, if I can feel good all the time no matter what happens, then I just won’t do anything that’s traditionally thought of as good, and opt out”. Except, even here, one would be identifying “feeling bad” as the problem, and trying to seal it off through rebellion to the traditional way you may’ve been taught to feel bad. You’re not owning it, you’re not weighing for yourself your own ideas and consequences, and proceeding based on those assessments.
Is what you’re looking at truly bad? Why do we feel the response we do to it? What actions are we indecisive about here? What do we feel, right now, truly, and why? What’s eating away at us? What’s true here?
The truth of how we feel, the truth of what we experience, and the truth of our own personal reality, all play a part in how we approach and choose within reality. We’re always making choices. And feeling bad about something, rather than it being a problem, can be an indication of a new situation, a real situation, one we’re living in, and one we are choosing from.
You can think of it a bit like a gift we never asked for. We may receive a situation that doesn’t sit well with us, or brings deep sorrow, or, we may get a situation we deeply appreciate. Yet, trying to cling onto the situations we appreciate and reject the sorrowful ones is in some ways is blind to the dignity, self-respect, wisdom, and personal experience of the emotional aspect of the self. We appreciate for reasons just like we lack appreciation for reasons, and carrying our self through that flow – up, down, sideways, or twisted around is in some ways an attitude of self-love, self-respect, and self-patience. You can let yourself be, and experience, and move, and flow, and feel. Situations that used to be problems can just now be situations, ones in which you are present. And what’ll you do in that present? That’s something you can individually discern and work through. And all the emotional responses are part of that situation, even when you’d rather not recognize them.
So while problems may appear on the surface of your mind as potential paths towards feeling better, how we approach and process our feelings on the situation initially identified as “a problem”, can lead us to new perspectives and new choices, ones we can feel good about.
Indeed, rather than the focus or goal being on the fixing of problems, we can instead look toward choices we can feel good about. Why? For one, choices are our domain – we have ultimate control over our choices, and through them we can be the agent of much change in any sphere of our lives. If all we want is the fixing of problems, we’re putting our power to feel better into external objects and scenarios. We’re put into a fighting relationship with them, a relationship where we want to “negate” their existence – a relationship of negativity.
If we look to make choices we feel good about, it’s no longer about a relationship with an external problem – we don’t have to be “positive” or “negative” towards them, or try to manage to see the good in them, or ignore or deny them. Rather, acknowledging the situation as best as we can become aware, we can move towards choices that to us, seem good, navigating all the times that we feel our choices could improve, or we’re unsettled, or indeed have a problem with something. It’s no shame to take issue or have a problem with something, but it can be a starting point, rather than the identification of an end goal to be eliminated.
Negativity, Fate, and Powerlessness
Sometimes we can feel pressured to “accept our fate”, as though a destiny is unchanging and we shouldn’t try to fight it. We may also feel like it’s our fate to have to live with paradigms that are present in our current reality. Accepting these notions can leave us feeling powerless, because there then will appear there’s nothing we can do about what’s unavoidable in life, especially if it’s something we feel negatively about.
The truth is, the only thing that is “fated” to be is what is currently here in our reality, and even with that we may not see the whole or clear picture of what is. There may be something more, that if we considered or knew it, we’d feel better about what was in the present.
But the future is always unknown, since the moment is not static, and is influenced and impacted by the power of our own choices.
This is significant to negativity because whatever is in the moment and negative to us may change. Not only that, but our perception of what we feel negatively about may change. Later on, we may look back on what we lived through and see it as part of our life journey, and a positive. Or, in the present we may find an action that would bring us peace with a certain situation. We may be subject to this moment, but we’re also ones who can evolve our understanding and approach to life as the moments pass.
Process for working through Negativity:
- If you aren’t relaxed, do so. Try to not only relax your body, but to relax emotionally, even mentally. Let your emotions, thoughts, and body, be. If you feel a violent rejection to this, let the violent rejection come into your awareness – don’t reject that too, but let it be, and let yourself, even if only for right now, relax, while aware of your rejection to relaxing, feeling, or to any part of your current experience of reality.
- See your rejection, your violence, your struggle as an entity. Let it be, and observe it for a while. See it struggle with reality, see it despair, see it panic or get desperate. Now, if you can, allow it to calm down. Try to let it become calm. To give it some rest, even if it may not last. You can think of this as the “you” who is fighting reality – a reality that you, nevertheless, have to face, deal with, and be a part of. Watch it for a while – let it rest, let it be alright.
- Note – if you’re having trouble with getting this side of you to relax, you can try to convey that it is your intention, in doing all this, to make things better – knowing this, it might be more able to rest.
- Now, turn to your life. Not necessarily mental ideas about your life situation – though that might be a part of it. But rather, to the experience of life you’re having right now. Besides rejection, what’s here right now? Remain open, but don’t rush off to identify anything in particular just yet. Take the time to just be with this experience of what’s here, as it’s relaxed, open, and real to you.
- In particularly, let the feelings you’re experiencing come to you. Notice them, as they exist as part of your experience. Is there sorrow? Loneliness? Rejection? Maybe insecurity, or uncertainty. Annoyance? What’s there? What might you call it, or whatever multiple things you feel? Sense it, feel it – the raw emotional experience, the feelings, the subtle flow.
- Let yourself see it in more ways, now. Let one feeling in particular, something strong, or something that draws you, emerge. What would it look like, or sound like? Do you hear crying? Anguish? If it has a face, what expression does it have? Is there a smell here, that you’d associate with this feeling?
- Observe, and be present to this feeling. Feel what it’s feeling, and allow yourself that empathetic experience.
- Open to it now, does it have anything to share with you? If it could speak, what might it say to you, or in general? Does it have anything to show you? Let yourself see, feel, experience, or hear anything it might have for you to share. Let it communicate, if it wants to.
- After you’re finished receiving what it had to share, you can continue communicating with this feeling until you’re ready to go, back to the surface, where you started from. Let them know your intention, and when you’re ready, let go of this understanding of the situation you’re in, and return to your surface-level awareness. You can always return any time, and indeed, you can even now notice the feelings you’ve just left, where they are as just feelings inside you.
- If you need to reflect on the experience or do any journal writing about it, or if you want to communicate with that feeling or another one more extensively, you can. But, this part, and where you go from here is really up to you.
This exercise contains several parts, and I’ll go over them now in summary:
- Recognition of objection or rejection to reality – there’s an element to negativity that involves fighting reality or struggling to obtain, fix, rectify or change. In some ways, it may be understood that this part of our being is fighting to get away from the underlying feelings that exist there if nothing were to change. Getting this to relax is part of moving from the consciousness of action and change, down to the roots of the emotions and feelings being rejected, or that you’re strongly objecting to.
- Getting in touch with in-the-moment reality, in particular the feelings. Again, this is digging down to the root of things – gaining awareness of it, becoming present to it.
- Communicating with a feeling that stands out – a highly troubled feeling will likely stand out, or something volatile, or that has unresolved issues it wants addressed. Communicating with it, and allowing that feeling to communicate can be an important way to bridge the gap between choice and feeling, so that choices, and the conscious domain, can better informed about what’s actually wrong, and what it can really do to help and be there for this troubled part. (Note: I say “feeling” in the exercise, though these feelings can be understood as coming from “parts of ourselves”). Part of what can make things so frustrating, consciously, in the way we deal with our emotional selves is that we don’t understand where the feeling’s coming from, or why it won’t abate, so we may adopt mis-matched solutions, or things that seem to work or avoid temporarily.
- Reflection – this is just an additional part, but experiences of coming into touch with emotion can spur one to want to take time to reflect on that experience. Maybe the experience during the exercise was enough, but, that’s why I put it in there.
All these things combine to help better address the situation that a part of you struggles with or rejects. It helps get around problem-solving, by looking for what’s really wrong, and connecting with emotional trouble detached from situational and external control. You can be present to a part who’s yearning or wanting or grieving, without trying to give them what they yearn for, perhaps in the strangled cries that you might grasp from amidst the emotional tangle you might feel. Knowing how you feel, you may be more able to resolve the emotional dilemma and address the things that matter to you – and then the part of you that is in distress at such dilemmas might be able to more easily rest, and not get negative or reject.
- Let the thing inside you that feels negative, speak.
- Allow it to keep speaking, and work through things on its own, unless it specifically turns to you for help. Engage with it lightly, being sincere and honest. Don’t try to fix things for them, or to supply your own solution. Let them move from one feeling and expression to the next on their own.
- Once they feel better, they should feel no need to keep speaking, allowing you to move forward independently. They’ll have a sense of what is good, and on their own terms.
This method relies largely on your capacity for listening. The same sort of listening that you’d give in empathy to someone else, you can give to this part of you. It’s going through something, and by letting it express itself (literally lending your self-expression abilities to it), it gives them the chance to work through the content of their emotions and feelings, until they’re back on track. You can always have your own ideas about what is good or bad, but these can just confuse or shame the side of you who isn’t sure yet what, to them, would be good right now. At moments like this, they mostly can only see the bad in things. Whether it’s something positive or negative, letting them express exactly what they see can help them find an answer to their issues, through their own exploration. It’s similar to how one might encourage a child to journal about their issues in order to work through them, instead of, as an adult, telling them precisely what they should do. You don’t want to try and impede their progress towards what would be good according to them. Your “fixing” is more along the lines of an expression of your own impatience, rather than something helpful. To listen openly, carefully, and in an allowing fashion – this seems most effective for negativity. You can do this in tandem with allowing the negative side to express themselves fully, moving through all emotions, feelings, and thoughts, until they feel better.
Probable benefits of working through negativity:
- Greater enthusiasm for life
- Feeling better in general
- Positive thinking
- Less of a sense of regret
- More Self-honesty
- 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, greater self-belief
- 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
- Greater empathy
- Knowing your own feelings
- Greater emotional stability
- Emotional wellness
- Ability to listen with empathy to both others and yourself
Articles Related to Negativity
- Impatience – Impatience with the process of working through feelings can lead one to avoid the process, in an effort to escape the feelings involved, which can delay the process and keep you feeling bad, distracted, or frightened
- Shame – Feeling ashamed of our feelings, or that we’re in a certain place emotionally, can go a long way in blocking our ability to work through negativity and to actually help ourselves achieve a more positive emotional environment.
- Powerlessness – ultimately, we need our inner power, and to be centered in our choices, in order to help ourselves work through situations we feel negatively about, since that power of choice is one thing we have control over.
- Self-mistrust – Trusting ourselves to be able to work through our feelings, to discern, to wrestle with things, and to find and come to truthful conclusions can be an essential and powerful part to being able to live in the moment and feel our way through experiences, even when we might want to abandon it and get 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.