The Pull of Negativity

Do you ever have one of those days where life is cruising along on positive speed and then for some reason, you feel the pull of negativity and just like that, your day has gone from milestone to millstone?

I have a theory about that.   Maybe you will agree or maybe you won’t, but my theory is that we are supposed to have days like that, at least until we learn to think differently.  

The reason has to do with how we are wired as human beings.  We have a hard time unconditionally accepting positive anything without some caveat being attached to it.  For us to truly develop an understanding and appreciation of the joy that positivity can bring into our lives, our imperfect human selves need balance and as such we invite good ol’ negativity to the table time and time again.  

In other words, we need some negative sprinkled into our positive lives in order to continue our positive journey forward. 

That seems rather confusing I know and it’s taken me forever to figure it out, but here is an example that happened to me recently that illustrates what I mean.  

A couple weeks ago, I had a very good day.

I sat down to write about 730am and continued for the next six hours pretty much non-stop.  My hands were literally flying over the keyboard, the flow of the ideas in my head perfectly translating into the words I wanted on the page.  For those of you who write, you know that sometimes the vision of what’s in our head isn’t exactly what translates to paper.   So, when it happens, it is a very good day. 

My back started to ache from being glued to my desk chair for so many hours and although I probably could have continued to write, my positive self knew it was time to get some exercise and keep the positive momentum going. My office window looks directly down onto our garden below and I spied a few weeds sprouting, a couple rouge snails encroaching on my newly planted veggies.   A positive opportunity to check off a couple chores, while making my Fitbit happy.  All good things.  

Two hours and a chipped manicure later, I had won the battle of the weeds and snails and had added another three thousand steps to my Fitbit and decided to reward my positive achievements with a generous glass of wine (emphasis on the generous), a little dish of wasabi trail mix and some quality time with my book club read before my hubby came home from work.

Parking myself on the couch, I dived into Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War, mindlessly reaching for my wine glass and a few Wasabi nibbles every now and then.

“Psssst!” 

Absently I looked up from my book. 

“Pssst!”

It was only me and the cats in the house, but still, I distinctly heard what sounded like someone trying to get my attention.   

I looked across the room at the sixty-inch box of doom and gloom affixed to the wall.  

“Hey girl, heard you had a positive day.  That’s good, really, really good, you’ve got your wine, your wasabi trail mix, your book, but it’s all so positive….”

Is my television set talking to me?   Eyes wide, I grabbed my wine glass and took a big gulp.

“Girl, you worked hard all day.  Productive.  Positive all the way around.  But   deep down you are worried things have been just a little too positive today.  Too smooth, no bumps in the road.  That makes you uncomfortable, right? 

“I’m not worried things have gone too positive today,” I say out loud to the television, “I AM NOT!”

Still my hand started to reach for the remote control, hovering. 

“Turn me on.  You know you want to!  Aren’t you the least bit curious if the Hallmark channel will bring back “When Calls the Heart?”  I mean who would have thought a goodie-goodie like Aunt Becky (aka Lori Loughlin from Full House days) would be capable of buying her daughers way into USC?   C’mon, you know there are probably four or five channels green screened with Ex-Justice Department officials discussing all the days political dirt.   Oooh, how about one of those home improvement channels where you can listen to people whine about not having an open floor plan?  I think one of those commercials for the Humane Society is on…you know the ones that show abused pets as Sarah McLaughlin sings “Arms of the Angel?”  

All that juicy negativity!

I took another huge gulp of wine and choked.

“Pick up the remote…pick up the remote…c’mon you know you want to!”

“I’m reading my book!  I’ve got my wine and my wasabi nuts, why do I need to turn on the television set?”

I didn’t need to.  I had a good day.  A completely positive day!  However, despite the positive vibes still reverberating through my body the pull of negativity was calling me and I pressed the remote button.

Like some mindless idiot, I began flipping, flipping, flipping, between multiple cable news channels looking for some nasty gossip of Aunt Becky and Hallmark; waded through five stations of unemployed justice department officials talking about how everyone hates everyone and was sobbing my eyes out watching a commercial featuring a dog with mange, eyes pleading at me to save it, when my husband walked in the front door.

Has this type of thing ever happened to you?

There you are, ready to immerse yourself in a little “me” time to celebrate the fact that you’ve had a perfectly good day.   Maybe it’s not in your top ten of good days, but on the positivity scale, you have no complaints. You are all set to keep the positivity party going when for some reason you feel the pull to seek the dark side calling.

Sometimes it’s completely understandable.  Your life is cruising along great and then like a trip wire, you get news you have cancer or heart disease, your favorite aunt is dying or your job is being eliminated and just like that, you find yourself stumbling and tumbling into negative territory.     

We’ve all been there and if you haven’t, you might want to think about an Ancestry test to determine if you are a Vulcan, emotionless and related to Spock. 

But fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), most of us feel and that means we are vulnerable to the negative in these types of situations.

That being said, what about the times when there is no trip wire, no obvious stumbling block for you to overcome in your positive day? Just like the pretty great day I was having before my remote-control trigger finger went in search of everything Darth Vader!!!

Why do we constantly do this to our positive selves?  Why did I do it to myself? 

One possible reason is that our human selves seek out negativity in response to positivity as a result of guilt.  

“Maybe I don’t deserve all of this positivity!”

I know in my own life, I can recall many times I have talked myself into thinking my positive experiences were not all that positive by intentionally picking them apart, looking for the loopholes.  

I also know I’ve gone through phases where I thought that embracing my positive self would somehow makes me less relatable to my family and friends.  That somehow, someway, if I gave all the power to positive thinking, positive behavior and positive living, I’d lose sight of the negative and become self-absorbed and unable to feel empathy towards those going through rough times.

“Oh, there SHE goes again, everything’s perfect in her world all the time!”  

As an introvert, the idea of people thinking this about me literally tore me apart inside.  Even though no one has ever said this to me or implied it of me.

What I’ve basically done is unconsciously instituted a sort of cover for both of these issues by reinforcing my daily positives with negative reinforcements.  In other words, I go searching for something negative to remind me how truly blessed I really am.  That’s why I picked up the remote the other day to seek out something negative.

A negative capstone to my day.

How messed up is that? It’s pretty messed up. BUT I guess it just proves I’m human and not Vulcan.

But you know something, the more I delve into this positivity thing, the more I feel like maybe it’s o.k. if the teeter totter of life isn’t quite balanced.  Maybe I don’t have to go in search of something negative to balance out the good. Maybe life can just be good, period!

Why do Positivity and Negativity have to share the ride?   Up and Down they go.  Up and Down.   Up and Down.

Sometimes I’d like to just go up, up, up and stay there.  How about you?  

It’s something I’m planning on really working on this summer by developing my level of trust and acceptance that if life is going great, then it’s o.k. to be positive and leave it at that.   Total acceptance of the positive. Well at least half acceptance of the positive is a good start. I’ll try!

But until that time, I’ll placate my negative side with a few moments of cable nastiness about Aunt Becky and her demise and then I’ll get back to appreciating my very positive life by drinking my wine, reading my book and …

Oh crap, I think the cat just hacked up a wasabi nut on my carpet.   UGGGH!!!!

Positively Anne

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Steps to avoiding the rabbit hole of negativity

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I am convinced that quickest way to slide down the rabbit hole of negativity is to allow yourself to become a complacent participant in life by cutting off your connectivity with others.

Look, I get it, maybe you are going through cancer treatment or other health issues, or you are dealing with an unexpected financial burden, or maybe a break-up, death of a loved one, loss of a job.  All of that sucks!  It does.  It’s not fun, it’s not happy, it’s not joyful, so it’s understandable if you have some days where getting out of bed and facing the world isn’t exactly something you want to do.

So, give yourself permission to take a day or two to pay homage to the stress of your situation.   

The reality of negative situations is that they rarely resolve in a half hour like a television sitcom.    Anyone ever waited weeks for their cancer test results to come back?  I know I have.  What about watching your bank account dwindle and the bills pile up, or sitting in your staff meeting at work and being told that the company is being sold and your job is well, hmmm, sort of secure for now.  I can imagine a sea of hands are being raised right now.

Stress from negative situations is real, you feel it, so it’s important that you acknowledge it. 

Wallow in bed all day, watch some rom coms, eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s and let yourself cry.   Whatever stress reliever works for you, as long as it’s safe and not causing you or anyone else harm, you are doing yourself a big positivity favor.

You are giving your mind and body the gift of time by acknowledging the truth that your situation is real, painful, uncomfortable and not at all what you had planned for your life. You are acknowledging that the road ahead may be challenging and uncertain and that you are scared.        

You are giving yourself a few valuable days to come to terms with the fact that you are human and the way forward out of the negative abyss is to make peace with your vulnerability, by acknowledging it and then allowing positivity to propel you forward.

But don’t let yourself wallow too long.  Say to yourself,

“ENOUGH! IT’S NOW TIME TO GET MYSELF UP,

PUT MYSELF BACK OUT THERE

AND LIVE MY LIFE!”

And my friends, that is a hard, hard thing.   Why?  Because we humans seem to be hardwired to handle stressful situations not by walking head first into the storm, but by sitting around and analyzing the “what if’s” and the “why me” until the negative of our situation becomes our security blanket.

The funny thing is negativity isn’t a warm and fuzzy thing.   Negativity is sterile and cold and lonely.

Kind of like concrete.  That’s why we feel so weighted down by negative thinking. The tighter we pull the negativity blanket around ourselves, the more we find ourselves feeling isolated, angry, frozen.  Heavy!

So, what can you do to stop being complacent, to feel confident that you can drop the negativity blanket and let positivity do its thing?

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First, it’s important to find good listeners.

You’ve allowed yourself to wallow in your misery for a day or so and now it’s time to get back out there.  But you have a lot on your mind.  A lot that needs sorted out.  A lot you have to say.  A lot you need help working through.   So, it’s time to find a good listener.

That person might be your spouse or partner or another loved one, a teacher, a counselor, a Pastor, a neighbor, a work colleague.  Approach them first with the fact that you are scared and feeling stressed and just need someone to listen.   Be honest, that you aren’t looking for them to solve your situation, only that you need to connect with another human being and share your thoughts.

If your negative journey is more than a quick fix, be prepared to be spend time cultivating multiple listeners.

Look, it’s natural that you may automatically think nothing of purging your soul to your husband, roommate, best friend.   They know you the best, have been with you through thick and thin and always seem a willing ear.  But, it’s important not to let your negative situation blind you to the fact that what you are about to share with your trusted companion, may impact them in an emotionally negative way.  Compassionate people tend to blame themselves for things they can’t control.  Gee, if I had only seen the signs, maybe I could have helped prevent my child’s divorce.  Maybe if I had cooked healthier meals my spouse wouldn’t have gotten cancer.  If I hadn’t insisted on renting that beach house this summer, we would have had a little extra cash to cover my husband’s job loss.

So, as you are purging your soul to your trusted listener, look for the signs that maybe, just maybe, it’s more than they can handle.   Ask them if it’s too much and do not be offended if they tell you it is.   Just thank them for listening and work on cultivating other listeners.   

Around the time I got cancer, my husband, my “go to listener” had to deal with not only my situation, but with the rapidly declining health of his father, who lived 90 miles away.  One of the best decisions I made was to ask others: my older children, my church family and some wonderful women in my friendship circle to help me through my cancer journey so that my husband didn’t have to be the “ears” all the time.   I found these people to be gracious listeners and in fact once that door was open, it was their warmth, support and kindness that not only energized me, but seemed to bring us all closer together, empowering us to listen to each other.  The wonderful thing is the lasting impact of that experience has made me a better listener as well.

I am convinced that there is tremendous holistic healing power in being a good listener, so seek them out and make it a point to be one yourself.          

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Second, it’s important to share your vulnerability.

When negativity strikes, it is so easy to pull the blinds closed and hide.  Don’t tell me you haven’t done it, because I won’t believe you.  We all have.

No one wants to see me like this, I’m imperfect!”

But if we are honest, curling up with that negativity blanket and squirreling ourselves away from human interaction doesn’t make us feel any better.  In fact, I know when I have done this, I find myself feeling really lonely and more depressed than ever.

The truth is, that old devil negativity would like nothing more than to have us all to themselves, alone, and miserable.  To be able to toy with our vulnerable self, day in and day out so that our problems take center stage and push positivity to the back burner.  So, it’s critical that you must cast aside those tendencies and put yourselves out there in all your vulnerable glory.   

Now before you go and argue that you are an introvert and that sharing your negative side with others is impossible, let me share a secret with you. I’m an introvert too!  I am so much more at ease with the written word than the spoken one, so opening myself up to people, especially when I’m going through something negative, isn’t something that comes naturally to me.   I have to tamp down the jitters and just go for it.   But it pays off.

One day I was killing a bit of time browsing the aisles at Marshall’s before a doctor’s appointment that I was dreading.  I was standing there absently looking at a display of hand lotions and thinking,

“God, I am so tired of all of this health business.    Why does my life have to be so hard?”  

Suddenly this woman materialized by my side.  She looked wide eyed and she had two small children’s books in her hands that she held out to me.    She said in a rather frazzled voice, “I have never, ever approached a stranger like this before, but can you please help me?”

I have to admit my first thought wasn’t about helping her, but that maybe she was up to something no good.  But there was something about the anxiety in her eyes that resonated with me and I said, “I see you have two children’s books?”

The woman sighed heavily and said, “Yes, I do and I do not know what to do. We have a new grandchild, our first and I want to send her a book, but I don’t know what to send her.  I am so worried I will make a mistake and disappoint my daughter.  You looked like someone who might be able to help me, so I took a chance on asking you.”

What?  I certainly wasn’t wearing a label that identified me as a mom of three, a former preschool teacher, former preschool director, former Sunday school program coordinator, former youth director.   Although I am all of those things.

So how did she know I could help her?  Truth be told, she didn’t.

What she did do was take a chance on being vulnerable with a stranger.   And in doing so, I had my answer to my question of God.

Life is hard because it’s hard.  But when we share our vulnerability with others, our burden lightens and positivity takes hold.

In the scheme of things, the vulnerability this woman was feeling about picking out the perfect children’s book for her first grandchild, was equal to the vulnerability I was feeling about my doctor’s appointment.

I remember looking at both books and one was clearly for a child much older than a newborn.  I said, “Choose this one…it’s perfect.”  That’s literally all I said.  I didn’t tell her my back story as an educator, I didn’t share anything about me.   I said, “Your grandchild is so lucky to have you” and her face lit up and she said “Thank you, I can breathe again!” and she gave me the biggest hug.

Then without another word, she walked away.

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On the way to my doctor’s appointment, that hug kept playing over and over in my mind. I felt happy, light, joyful.  I could breathe again too.

Whatever your negative burdens right now, make sure to take a little time to acknowledge them.  Find yourself some good listeners who can provide support and comfort and open yourself up to letting others help you through your vulnerable moments.   

PositivelyAnne