Embracing the negative

Like me, I imagine you know one or two people who speak only in the negative. They pepper each conversation with a barrage of ‘no, never, impossible, can’t, couldn’t, won’t.’ Every idea is put down without a moment’s consideration. Life from this perspective seems so bad, restrictive, foreboding; one wonders why or indeed how we can go on.

Leaving aside such people without judging them, I’m curious about those troubling feelings the rest of us may encounter occasionally. Those negative thoughts about past events or worries about upcoming tasks. By playing these snippets over and over in our minds we pump them with energy, making them bigger to the point they impede our present. So, how can we handle them?

Resist reality
We can do nothing and let them block us from getting on with our lives. A mistake in the past can be enough to make us believe we are ‘useless’ at everything. Denying the negative feelings and worries only causes them to grow, or as Carl Gustav Jung said: “what we resist persists.”

Get moving
We can distract the negative thoughts by throwing ourselves into something we enjoy; movement of some sort usually helps for a while. It’s ‘working around the fears’ so to speak.

Embrace them, then gently move on
We can’t change the past but we can take learning from it. An upcoming activity might be testing for us, yet development comes by expanding the limits of our comfort zone. If we choose, we can acknowledge the worries as a healthy part of the growth process. After all, were we born with the ability to read, write, cook, drive, swim, paint, and sing, or did we develop such skills over time?

Preparation, belief in the possibility of success, and trust in ourselves to give our best. These elements help us let go of the negative and optimize the opportunities life provides us.

Many perspectives on such issues are possible. To open up the learning, I’d love to hear how you deal with negative thinking and worries.



7 Responses to Reflections

  1. Hi Brian,
    I notice that when I’m in the company of ‘chronically negative’ people I tend to withdraw rather than confront. I used to try to ‘fix’ them, but now I accept them and allow them their martyrdom.
    What I find difficult, is being around them for long periods, I tend to surround myself with very positive people. People who support and nurture me as I do the same for them.
    But it’s not always been like this. It is a habit I have brought into my life over time. This simple habit though has probably been the biggest catalyst in my personal growth. I now choose what to focus on and what to accept or let go. I have learnt over the years to re-frame situations and find the learning or gift in everything. And it has made my life have so much more meaning. Simpler and purer.
    I often get accused of being too positive or too happy and I wonder how we got to this sad place.
    I’m working with some vulnerable young people at present and I find the work very fulfilling. My line manger however tells me that I’m “too bloody enthusiastic” and just shakes his head. He has a very different view of the young people than me. We have an interesting relationship. He respects my abilities and I, his and I’m trying not to ‘fix’ him, but it’s hard LOL, much love Heather x

    • bgdtcoaching says:

      Hi Heather,
      Thanks for your input; I see it as a testimony of choosing one’s outlook on life. I believe the accusations of being too positive or too happy speak more about the fear and pain of those making the judgments than anything else. Why a healthy person chooses to deliberately wallow in negativity is beyond my comprehension. I don’t buy into the idea of it being more realistic than the alternative. So often people want to express their hopes, goals and plans but daily life seems uninterested in such things. Providing a space for them to do so can be uplifting, as I’m sure the young people you work with are experiencing.
      Good luck with everything.

  2. Dawn says:

    Liberating post Brian.

    If we try to “fix” others, how can we see them as whole?

  3. Dawn says:

    Not all of my feelings are positive but they are mine and I embrace them and share them with others who care. I write, I paint, I allow my feelings to rise to the surface and give them a voice. Naming a feeling, expressing a sorrow is essential for well being.

    Addressing negative experiences, like rape, domestic violence, child abuse … these are negative experiences that are common to many in the world. Very much a part of the work I do that I love most in the human environment. Negative experiences and feelings are meant to be expressed with those who have ears that can hear and hearts that do care. The art of listening, in itself, does not need to call us to action, to do anything on anothers behalf.

    It was Thich Nhat Hanh that said, “Embrace anger like a baby.” Feeling anger serves to elevate us to higher places. No one feels comfortable with anger. Displaced anger is really anger denied from expression.

    Acknowledging anger from situations that have past, it is akin to peeling back a layer that reveals pain. A wound to the spirit can appear as a negative feeling on the surface to those who have not experienced these places in life that shock or stun emotions. Feelings and experiences can be negative and hijack us if we are in the midst of those who shun the very experiences of life that brought suffering to us to contend with on our own. I think of the Jews writing this now.

    No human created is isolated from experiencing feelings that are negative.

    We our selves, are the power untapped. Negative emotions are a catalyst once we become compassionate and patient with ourselves no matter where we are on the journey. When negative thoughts arise, I sit with myself. I ask my heart how I would respond to a friend or a client with the same grief.

    Negative or positive, feelings are meant to be embraced and contended with at the heart level.

    • bgdtcoaching says:

      Hi Dawn,
      Offering compassion to ourselves and all those we encounter recognizes the holistic nature of life with its positive and negative experiences. Denying pain in the present might lead to it coming back at a future time in a more intense form. Giving expression to feelings and thoughts can be helpful, particularly in a setting in which one feels truly listened to. Perhaps we will find the negative, clinging aspect of our thoughts dissipates, ‘like mist in the sunshine’ as Jack Kornfield says, as it is aired or embraced at heart level to use your words.
      I appreciate your input on this issue Dawn, many thanks.

  4. Cyndi says:

    Nice post Brian! You had me at the Jung quote. 🙂

    One way I try to catch and release negative feelings is by writing about them on my blog. I think talking (or writing and commenting) about them helps to take away their power and hearing others’ perspectives helps tremendously.

    As someone who is prone to worrying and anxiety my challenge is often even identifying the thought or event that is causing negative feelings. Talking/writing helps with that too.

    Once recognized I “talk myself down” with some good old CBT. I replace the negative thought, as in, “I made a mistake. I’m a horrible manager. I’m going to get fired.” with something like, “I made a mistake. No one is perfect. I am competent and experienced and have learned something new today.”. That works well for me.

    Ignoring negative thoughts, just as you and Jung said, keeps them alive. They spread like cancer and suddenly our entire lives become toxic.

    • bgdtcoaching says:

      Hi Cyndi,
      Curious about you being prone to worrying and anxiety. I’d love to explore these things with you from a different perspective, for example as two colours of a rainbow crossing your day, but this isn’t the place for me to slip into coaching mode. Anyway, interesting input you’ve provided and I love the reframing idea you offer.
      Many thanks.

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