Toxic Negativity: Much Less Controversial

My post yesterday about toxic positivity led to a couple of really good discussions, both in person and in chat. I can’t tell you how great it feels to know that I can start conversations that lead to greater understanding and new insights. So, thanks to all of you who gave me input yesterday. One big point that came out is that choosing to see the good in your life is not the same as forcing yourself to be positive and ignoring everything else. I’m taking that to heart.

Negative Nellies (and Neds)

Nothing good will come of this.

As for the opposite of toxic positivity, I think we all have had experiences with people who seem resolutely focused on seeing the negative in everything that goes on. I doubt that there’s anyone out there trying to make the point that focusing on what’s wrong is a good strategy for a peaceful and fulfilling life (and obviously not for contentment!).

I know I’ve had people in my friend, church, and work circles that can take a neutral comment and find the bad in it, and who can stop a happy discussion dead in its tracks. You can see people leaving the break room when they come in, suddenly having to excuse themselves in conversations, and getting that deer in the headlights look during meetings. Trying to bring the conversation back around to something else always tends to be a challenge with these folks.

Of course, they have their good points. They can be intelligent, hard working, generous, and empathetic. They just can’t see the good in the world, for reasons only they know. That makes people avoid them and reinforces their negative viewpoint.

Can It Be Cured?

People are just who they are.

Not by us regular folks. We generally can’t fix people like this by pointing out how their behavior comes across; in fact, that reinforces negativity. Professional help can do wonders, and I’ve seen that, so there’s hope if people are willing to work on it.

What to do, then? I always try to make the negative ones feel heard and respected, which is important to me and how I’d want to be treated. After all, their feelings are theirs and they are legitimate, for them. I do try to gently suggest another perspective or move to another topic when possible.

It does make me want to flee.

It’s interesting, though, that toxically negative people also tend to be ones who doggedly hold on to their agenda and actively resist changing the subject or manage to turn any topic into their negative item of the day (a trait that really amazes me when I sit back and look at it dispassionately). I knew someone who could take a conversation about chocolate ice cream and turn it into the problems with their child. Amazing, really.

So yeah, negative people need support, friendship, and love. But, if you are someone who get affected by the moods of those around them or have empathic tendencies, you may just have to choose your own well being over the needs of the negative. I do that, when I can, and limit my interactions with negative-biased people I can’t avoid.

Realistic Thoughts

A great way to deal with the negative folks is a nice bath in rose milk, a fizzy facial, and red stuff in your hair. Okay, that’s what works for ME.

Like the extra-positive folks we talked about yesterday, people aren’t all on the extremes. There’s lots of middle ground. Many of us who have an automatic panic over-reaction to change or bad news just need a little time to process before looking at things more realistically. Guilty as charged. Talking things through works, once we calm down. And people who look a little too positively at things can benefit from being reminded to consider the possible consequences before jumping into things that look like a good idea on the surface.

I had to end on a bit of humor!

In the end, we can use our tendencies to help balance each other out if we’re patient and realize that folks just are wired differently or react to experiences in different ways. Perhaps the extremes won’t be able to modify their behavior, but most of us can listen and learn. Let’s be patient with each other and talk together about how our internal processes work differently, rather than putting down people who react differently. It might work!

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

9 thoughts on “Toxic Negativity: Much Less Controversial”

  1. My family used to call me a negative Nancy and I do know that because of my neurotype I can fixate on whatever gets into my head good or bad. I also ended up associating gratitude with shame because I was always told “you should be grateful for x, y,z.” I’m trying to rip those concepts apart but it’s hard. I also experienced my family dismissing and shutting down things I was excited about or grateful for often citing scripture and telling me it was a sin to be proud of something or that what I was grateful for wasn’t age appropriate and that actually I shouldn’t like it. I’d be interested to hear more about what you get out of communication as well, because I believe most people do it to exchange and amplify emotions they wish to experience wheras while I do enjoy exchanging wanted emotions I mostly want to exchange ideas so sometimes I bring up something negative because I want to solve it, without realizing that not all problems are solvable and that not chewing on it might be better. Also it might be worthy to note that human brains are wired for negativity our brains think it keeps us alive. I appreciated both posts about toxic possitivity and toxic negativity and I learned something about how other people see the negative nancies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the interesting point of view. The idea of what people get out of communication is fascinating, and as a linguist specializing in just that kind of thing (pragmatics) I could write a lot. But, I’ll think of a few things to share!


  2. Hi,

    great posy to reflect on. I am more on the toxic negative side (now compared to years ago) and had been forced through work for years to display toxic positivity in the form of emotional labour which is rampant in low-paid service industry.

    You are tested even by Mystery Shoppers (I call it “Misery” Shoppers) if you smile enough, give eye contact, chat…kiss butt all day.

    If you do, you get cash awards,bonus etc. If you fail you get fear managed as Mystery Shopper results/points count towards the biggest chunk of management bonus.

    Also, toxic negayivity has a beginning somewhere. It can be a personality issue where someone is a more melancholic personality.

    Or in my case I was traumatically bereaved AND bullied on top of it.

    Ok, here may be a trigger, but it’s important to put into perspective re: negativity:

    I didn’t know for 5 weeks that my brother died AND was cremated without our knowledge & consent. All the stuff surrounding it and then also being bullied at work doesn’t make it easy to take of the heavy cloak soaked with gloom, anxiety, pessimism …

    So, I alsways try to look behind the issue. WHY are people toxic positive or toxic negative, especially when one or the other seems a trend?

    Thanks for this post. Great things to ponder on.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s modernday slavery in the Western world. I write extensively about the brainwash, pressure and micromanagenent. The mental & emotional toll on people. I literally survived this, espeacially during bereavement.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi, I was pondering about the toxic positivity vs negativity since yesterday and a thought came to mind after what I have been through with the forced pocitivity emotional labour at work. Also, when I became bereaved early on many of my friends abandoned me early on as they didn’t know what to do. But they gave a lot of positive words while leaving me alone in a traumatic state.

        I thought this morning that both toxic extremes are bad, but if I had to choose between toxic positivity & toxic negativity, I’d choose the negative because it is more honest and authentic.

        Negativity pulls you down and is annoying, but it’s authentic and honest, while positivity is a mask and an acting that not only tajes a lot of energy to keep up, but leaves a grieving, hurting, despairing person hanging out in the rain.

        Liked by 1 person

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