When negativity suffocates well-being.

We all know a Negative Nancy or Danny Downer. Whether the source is a spouse, a parent, or even one’s own self-talk, it is emotionally exhausting and joy-sucking to be around constant criticism, doubt, and pessimism.

Imagine a parent sighing and grimacing, “Med school? Really? Don’t you want to pick something a little more realistic?”  Imagine a spouse’s repertoire of conversation topics being limited to your errors in the dishwasher fork-formation and the toothpaste residue left on the tube. Imagine a friend turning up her nose and insisting that your new leather sofa will surely be scratched by the cat’s claws. Imagine what it would be like to have proclamations of failure, cynicism, danger, and doubt coloring the majority of your life. It is not a stretch to conclude that constant negativity in one’s environment or own mind can quickly become the backbone of depression.

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Defeatist Doc says, “Ummm… You’re not wearing open toed shoes to the office, are you? And by the way, that dish of M&M’s is a cesspool of rare hand diseases just so you know.”

So what makes Nancy and Danny so dang negative? Each of these behaviors- criticism, doubt, and pessimism- have roots in fear (read: anxiety.)

The “controller,” the “criticizer,” the “doubter,” and the “alarmist,”all have a commonality: They all fear actual imagined danger or consequence, and/or they fear the injury to their identity (read: inadequacy and powerlessness in a sometimes uncontrollable world) if they don’t maintain superiority or control.

Your parent may sincerely worry about your disappointment and potential money wasted if you applied to medical school; Your spouse may sincerely worry that the forks won’t get clean of you continue to load the dishwasher haphazardly; Your friend may sincerely fear the cat destroying your new furniture. OR your parent’s identity as a competent caretaker is too-closely tied to telling you what to do; OR your spouse unconsciously derives relationship safety by etching away your sense of adequacy; OR your friend’s sense of “good enough” is secretly threatened by your better furniture and she feels better when your shining moment is knocked down a couple notches.

I’d imagine that maintaining one’s identity as “adequate and somewhat powerful” is the main reason the gorilla-mom-lady was lambasted for letting her eyes off her child for two seconds at the zoo. If I lay a whole lot of negativity and criticism on this lady, it establishes me as superior. And empowerment feels a lot better than powerlessness over a tragedy I couldn’t avoid. Righteous anger is often that way.

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Condescending-Counselor says, “I would NEVER let my eyes off MY child for two seconds at the zoo like SOME wretched people. So that settles it; I am a superior human being. Also, this superior feeling helps cover up the crappy powerlessness I have over tragedy. “

The reason I just explained the fear-basis for negativity in painful detail is because awareness is the only way to nip overly negative self-talk in the bud (for those of you who recognize yourselves in this post). The practice of mindfulness will help you to notice your criticisms, pessimism, doubt, and overall negativity in the moment. And awareness that negativity is a misguided and useless way to establish safety, adequacy, and power is a good way to challenge your negative urges.

Also, if it’s other people who are bringing you down, it’s important to understand that there are deaper issues to another’s negativity that have nothing to do with your grad school choice, the way you load the dishes, or your choice in sofa. Knowing this helps you with the only thing you reasonable CAN do when confronted by another’s negativity: Put a metaphorical boundary around yourself, shrug your shoulders, and go to your happy place where another person’s negativity has nothing to do with your identity or  well-being. (Note: the thing that will make things worse is to be defensive and criticize Danny Downer about the err of his negative ways)

Just something to think about as usual. From the therapist who apologizes if your name is Nancy, Debbie, or Danny, and also adds that the basis of a lot of the gripping, paralyzing depression that I see has a basis in fear and anxiety.

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