This is Your Brain on Negativity


Part of my charm is that I’m an asshole, not a physical one sadly, but one of those ‘say what they mean’ kind of assholes. Back in my youth this would have been called being ‘blunt’ or ‘honest’, but we know the truth now; we’re just assholes.

Some people like this aspect of my personality, others have distanced themselves to memories because of it. One even made the difficult decision to actually tell me they were cutting ties because of it.

I’ve spent many, many years staring inward- having been far too self aware for far too long- focusing directly on this particular particularity (this doesn’t make me special, its just a fact) and found something that may surprise some people but when I think about it, doesn’t really surprise me. I like it. I like doing things the way I do. Not because I want to hurt anyone or their feelings, it’s never from a vindictive or mean place, but because there are certain things in life better dealt with in this manner.

The problem is- not everyone see’s it this way and although the news may be better delivered in a plain way, the person may not be able to take it. I thought everyone would just have to accept it if you put it plainly, what I didn’t realize is that some people will double down on their disbelief if it’s too stressful. Which actually makes it *drum roll* worse!

This was a hard lesson to learn because on the one hand I had people telling me “Never stop being honest! We need people like you, telling it like it is!” But those same people got so upset when I turned around and did exactly that in their direction. On the other hand I had people saying “It’s not necessary to be so negative all the time” and then when I tried to find some positivity asked what happened to me?

When I tell people negativity breeds negativity they nod, they’re not listening, but they give me all the telltale signs of listening. I was in a negativity spiral when I finally stopped nodding and started listening to myself and that’s right when I started this blog. I made a post about making myself unhappy and that I’d probably keep making the revelation that its my fault that I’m unhappy over and over again until I’m dead.

I haven’t proved myself wrong yet.

The term “negativity bias”  was created to explain that even when things are equal, the negative has a greater impact on a person than the positive. After a few days of reading the best way I can explain it, is that we are hardwired to be negative starting way back before we were standing on two feet.

We’ve of course evolved and turned it in to anxiety because that’s what humans do.

My biggest goal over the last few days was to see if there was a way to kind of rewire our thinking and there is buuuutttt-  it requires Buddhist like patience. In fact in the practice the doctor outlined actually talks about the first principle of Buddhism which is Life is Suffering. He uses it as an example under the Acceptance part of this practice, essentially saying: “There will be difficulties, there will be embarrassment, there will be suffering and it is up to you how you react and learn from it”.

Gregg Henriques (Ph.D.) is actually the creator of the C.A.L.M M.O. Technique (the thing I was just talking about a second ago) which stands for: Curious, Acceptance, Loving Compassion Meta-cognitive Observer (or Modus Operandi). Really just rolls off the tongue there Gregg with two g’s but you make a lot of good points. See the thing about the negativity bias is that it’s learned so early for most people it will be a constant daily struggle but you can work at it and that struggle will be worth it.

Because here’s the simple truth of it: constant negativity is lonely. Because even the friends that love your honesty distance themselves when they’re not ready to hear something. The hardest lesson for me was learning that it didn’t have to be my place; oh yea, I know “But Jess! Somebody has to tell them!” Sure but why does it always have to be me? They have other friends! Friends who they’re more likely to listen to who will say exactly what I have to say but with a glass of wine and a lot more tears.

My whole life has been characterized by mistakes I knew I was making and immediate negative responses. Very few times can I remember ever saying “Well maybe this could be good!” Unfortunately  my parents and early childhood bullying (as well as a sense of entitlement I learned somewhere) sort of shaped this Debbie in to a Downer. My parents also had very difficult childhoods that lead to very negative world views, which I imagine is par for the course right?

Now if you’re this far in you’re probably thinking “First off why are you making me read this with my own eyes and second off the way you’re putting it I should just bottle all of my negative feelings up inside and never feel again right?” That is, that is not what I’m trying to say at all.

Negativity is as natural to us as breathing and sleeping, it’s when it’s all you have that you’ve got problems; unrelenting pessimism isn’t the trait of a healthy person. It’s the trait of someone whose stepped in to a neurotic condition and without help will soon be consumed by that condition.

This is only the latest step on my road to mental health recovery. Coming to the conclusion that a personality trait that I’ve celebrated for so long has actually been hurting me is much harder than I’ve got words to describe. To find that something that’s  outwardly toxic is also inwardly toxic is not exactly new information, but for people like me that are hyper aware and yet still somehow fully ignorant it was kind of a kick in the gut.

I’m not a psychologist or a therapist so if you came here looking for advice on how to deal with this stuff I’m not can’t to tell you what to do. So instead I’m gonna link another Psychology Today post by my dude Dr. Gregg with two gg’s and I hope that you click on it and start a wikipedia click through and read everything you can about negativity and how it affect you and your decision making skills.

We are not slaves to our emotions and we have the ability to make ourselves stronger, wiser and kinder.

“It’s Chaos, be Kind” – Michelle McNamara