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)
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?
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’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.
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.
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!