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As promised in last week’s article, I’m discussing overly negative/pessimistic people this week.
Again, as I sat down to write, I realised this is a broad topic. So, in this article, I’ll write about why some people are more negative than others, and next week, I’ll share some of my proven methods for minimising their impact on others.
Negativity is a Common Trait
Negativity (or pessimism) is a common trait. However, it is more pronounced and noticeable in some people than others. These people focus on the negative aspects of life, situations, and people rather than seeking the positives.
Unfortunately, their constant pessimism can be draining to those around them. If you’ve had the misfortune to spend time around someone like this for a prolonged period, it can also affect your mental health.
For many years I’ve been delivering training that covers well-being, mental health and resilience. I talk at great length about negativity and its destructive effects on lives. After every single session, someone will come to me and admit that they are overly pessimistic and that:
- They didn’t realise how much of a negative impact they were having on others. That can be quite a wake-up call, not to mention upsetting for some.
- It had never occurred to them that there was another way to be and that they had the power to change.
What Makes People Negative
1. Learned behaviour
In my experience, more often than not, a negative/pessimistic mindset is a learnt behaviour from childhood.
I know that’s what happened to me. My parents are, without a doubt, THE most negative people I have ever met in my entire life. As a result, I was incredibly negative, too, until I realised that you don’t have to be that way and that it is possible to change.
As children, we learn how/what to think, our values, beliefs and behaviours by copying our parents and primary caregivers. Whatever we know up to seven often becomes our default for the rest of our lives.
When we’re kids, we don’t have any other references, so we absorb what is most often demonstrated, without question, believing it is the only way to be. This is often referred to as childhood programming or conditioning.
Learned behaviour can also be reinforced by social media, news, and other media that often focus on adverse events. Remember, ‘only bad news sells’!
Incidentally, just because we were demonstrated negativity in childhood does not mean we can’t change. I’m a testament to that. However, you have to take responsibility for yourself (your mindset and your behaviours) and actively choose to think and behave differently.
When you decide to do things differently, don’t expect change overnight. It’s called doing ‘The Work’ for a reason. However, you don’t go to the gym once and are fit for the rest of your life, either! Cultivating good mental health is no different than taking care of your body.
2. Secondary Gain
I’ve spoken about this in a recent article. Secondary gain is the subconscious gain we get from specific thoughts and behaviours. As this goes on in the subconscious, we may be unaware of it.
So, what would the secondary gain (unconscious benefits) likely be if your default emotions and behaviours are grounded in negativity/pessimism?
- You get attention and validation from others (they feel sorry for you, they listen to you, and YOU are the centre of attention).
- People will often sort out your problems for you or, at the very least, help you find solutions.
- You don’t have to take responsibility. Likely, you’ll blame someone/something else for your circumstances, believing it’s out of your control to solve. Therefore, you don’t have to waste or find the time, energy or resources to do anything about it.
With all these perceived benefits, you can see why for some, there’s little advantage in being positive.
3. Perceived Lack of control
People who feel they have little control over their lives may be more prone to negativity. They may feel at the mercy of external forces and have no say in what happens to them.
This lack of control can be frustrating and often leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair. To cope with these feelings, they may focus on the negative aspects of life, which paradoxically can give them a sense of control.
4. Past experiences
Past experiences, especially negative ones, can significantly impact an individual’s outlook on life.
People who have been through traumatic experiences such as abuse, neglect, or losing a loved one may struggle to see the positive side of things.
They may be more prone to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that can influence their outlook on life.
5. Fear of Disappointment
Some people are overly negative because they fear disappointment. For example, they may have experienced disappointment in the past and don’t want to get their hopes up, only to be let down again.
They may prefer to focus on the negative aspects of a situation so that they are not caught off guard if things don’t go as planned.
This fear of disappointment can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as their negativity may prevent them from taking risks and trying new things.
6. Lack of Self-care
Negativity can also be a symptom of burnout or other mental health issues. In addition, people not taking care of themselves may be more prone to negativity.
They may be exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed, heightening a negative outlook on life.
Taking care of oneself through exercise, healthy eating, and other self-care practices can help reduce negativity and improve overall well-being.
7. Lack of Gratitude
Gratitude is clinically proven to support good mental health, so much so that the SAS incorporate gratitude practices into their operatives’ basic training.
In my experience, overly negative people typically do not practise gratitude. They fail to see the good things they have in their lives (and there are ALWAYS things to be grateful for no matter what you’re going through).
As I’ve written about previously, when we continually look at the negatives, our brain seeks more of the same. In fact, as humans, it’s in our DNA to actively look for threats. It’s another survival tool that has kept us alive as a species for so long.
By the way, I must point out (before some bright spark does) that I am NOT advocating toxic positivity here. In other words, I’m not saying, ‘Just think positive thoughts’. That, quite frankly, is ridiculous, and our brains do not work that way.
However, this is a topic I can speak with authority on. I have gone from being an unbelievably negative person to a positive one. Does that mean that crappy things don’t happen to me anymore? Heck no! They happen ALL THE TIME – on a worryingly consistent basis.
However, I choose to think about them differently. I do what I call an ‘Ultimate Reframe’.
The Ultimate Reframe
Through experience, I know with almost 100% certainty that when something upsetting, hurtful, negative or downright unbelievable happens to me, a client will experience almost exactly the same thing within two weeks.
Therefore, I know that if I can solve my problem, I’ll also be able to help at least one other. Adopting this mindset helps me get out of learnt helplessness/pity party mode, keeping the critical thinking part of my brain (pre-frontal cortex) online and allowing me to find solutions.
Next week, I’ll discuss ways of managing overly negative people – ranging from someone having the occasional whinge to full-blown narcissism. I’ll share some valuable tools proven to work in various scenarios.
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(Disclaimer – The information in this article is meant for entertainment purposes only and is in no way meant as a replacement for professional medical or psychological support. Please seek the appropriate advice from a healthcare professional should you feel it necessary.)