There’s a running theme that seems to be pervasive – particularly within spiritual or new age movements – that has to do with this idea of constant positivity. We get so caught up in this idea that negative feelings are somehow “bad”, and so we should deny ourselves the experience and instead seek to meditate our way into a more positive state of mind.
But in doing so, we’re really just denying ourselves the full experience of ourselves. So in other words, not only are we closing our eyes to how we are…we’re also missing out on who we are, because negative emotions and thoughts and even experiences are completely normal and healthy…within reason, of course.
Negative Feelings Have a Real Purpose
Here’s what I mean… our ability to focus in on the negative is actually hardwired into our brains as a means to keep us safe – to stay attuned to external threats to our survival and protect us from making the same mistakes again and again.
Think about it: from a hunter-gatherer perspective…thirty thousand years ago… you don’t want to make the same mistakes each time you go digging into a bee’s nest for honey or hunting a bear for food and fur…or touching a certain plant or eating a certain berry. Staying attuned to the negative aspects of our environment kept us safe and alive.
However, as far removed from our hunter-gatherer instincts as modern humans are, this “negativity bias”, as it’s called, still remains. Only now we use it to guide us in surviving socially – which is why we tend to view it as “bad”…because nobody likes to be around a “negative Nancy”.
And in some ways, it can be bad when we let it affect our relationships with others – including ourselves – and the constant stressing out over making social slip-ups becomes detrimental to our physical health. But in some ways, even that’s hardwired into our brains.
Again, as hunter-gatherers we roamed in smaller tribes or clans, working together to ensure the safety and survival of each other. If you made a mistake that threatened the safety of the group, you could be kicked out or killed, and so it behooved us to be able to pick up on things like facial cues – looks of disapproval or consternation – to prevent us from being beaten to death with a sack of rocks while we slept or used as bait on the next bear hunt. So again, negativity bias served a purpose.
Psychology and Science of Negative Emotions
Now just in case you were wondering, the part of the brain where this takes place is the amygdala – the alarm bell of the brain – which uses something like two-thirds of its neurons to scan for bad news. Once the alarm bell starts ringing, those negative experiences imprint and get stored in memory more rapidly than positive ones – because again…survival – and they linger longer than positive ones, too…to let the lesson sink in so we don’t repeat it.
This is what’s called “positive-negative asymmetry” or “negativity bias”. This is why we can spend hours having a wonderful visit with a friend, and then they say something that upsets us, and then we go home and completely forget about all the laughs and wonderful conversation we shared, and instead we focus in on those thirty seconds of negativity – and it sours our otherwise entirely positive experience.
And in fact, psychologists have figured out that there’s something like a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences – so it takes something like five positive experiences to override one negative experience.
So having a negative external reaction to a negative external event is normal and healthy and okay…because that can inform you that you’ve done something wrong, which can lead us to make healthy changes. But what’s not okay is when we start to internalize negative external experiences…which, instead of informing us that we’ve done something wrong…it has us believing that we are something wrong, which would lead us to believe we’re not capable of change…and that deposits us right onto the doormat of shame…which is never okay.
Those emotions we tend to label as negative can actually be appropriate and healthy, which is why we have to be careful with how we label things. In fact, as with most things we tend to label “good” or “bad” or “positive” or “negative”…I prefer to keep things in context before attaching a label to it. It’s all relative.
If somebody steals from you or perhaps attacks you – then anger would be an appropriate response – even though it’s considered “negative”. If somebody cuts you off in traffic because they’re doing something stupid like texting while driving – causing you to almost wreck, then fear would be an appropriate “negative” response…and perhaps anger as well. Same goes for sadness or grief if a loved one dies or a relationship ends…each of these so-called “negative” emotions are appropriate and healthy and necessary to bring about change and foster healing…so don’t shame yourself into thinking you’re doing something wrong.
However, keep in mind that our body hears everything our mind thinks.
Our thoughts aren’t just some benign abstract concept. Our thoughts are energy. Negative thoughts = negative energy. Positive thoughts = positive energy. While no doubt everyone has heard of the placebo effect – whereby a healing event takes place due to a person thinking themselves into that healing event – few people acknowledge the correlation between their dis-ease and their negative thinking.
Your Personal Experience with Feeling Negativity
Just for a moment, take stock of your health. How do you feel on a daily basis? Are you struggling with a lot of pain or fatigue or mental/emotional issues? Are you always sick or feel rundown?
Now take stock of your thoughts. Are they mostly negative or positive? Do you complain a lot? Are you highly critical and judgmental of yourself or others? Are you always the victim? Do you have a hair-trigger temper? What’s the story that you tell yourself on a daily basis?
Now think about how you speak to yourself throughout the day.
Are you kind and loving or harsh and abusive? How much negative self-talk do you experience daily? Do you call yourself names or think yourself worthless and unloveable? Are you constantly criticizing yourself for one thing or another? Does it start the minute you open your eyes and continue all day until you go back to bed and fall asleep? Whose voice is it that you hear…yours? A former lover or partner? A parent or caretaker? A teacher? An employer?
What’s the story you tell yourself about yourself every day, and where, when, and how did it originate? From who did it originate? Are your emotions and feelings truly yours, or were they put there by someone else’s negative experiences, limiting beliefs, or displaced fears? If you can be honest with yourself and examine your negative feelings and emotions without judgment, you should be able to distill them down to their roots and discover the source from where they originated.
So when you find yourself scraping up against someone else’s negative behaviors, rather than take them on as your own, try to see them for what they are and from where they originate. Most of the negative traits we carry around with us have been displaced upon us at some point in our life by other people.
However, you’re under no obligation to take ownership of them. If you hold on to them, that’s a choice…no one is forcing you to carry them around.
Yet, while you may not be to blame for them, if you find these things exist in you, then it is absolutely your responsibility to put them down so as not to continue the cycle. The bullshitters and the naysayers and the troublemakers are always going to be there…pointing their long, bony fingers, screeching, and blaming you for their smallness and inability to show up in their own life, and you’re wasting your time if you think you’re going to change them.
There’s nothing more terrifying to the small-minded person than the thought of change because crumbling paradigms mean facing their darkest fears and their reasons for playing it small in the first place – like rejection or criticism or loneliness. The thing is, these are all learned programs instilled in us at a very young age, and so while in many ways it’s hard to blame someone for faulty programming – at some point we all bear responsibility for making a change when it’s called for.
Some do, some don’t. Some say they can’t, but what they really mean is they won’t. So all they’re left with is the ability to blame everyone else for all the wrongs in their life.
Letting Go of the Negatively Charged Feelings
In his book Letting Go, David Hawkins expounds on this by saying,
“…there are a lot of payoffs to blame. We get to be innocent; we get to enjoy self-pity; we get to be the martyr and the victim, and we get to be the recipients of sympathy…It enables us to remain limited and small without feeling guilty. But there is a cost – the loss of our freedom. Also, the role of the victim brings with it a self-perception of weakness, vulnerability, and helplessness, which are major components of apathy and depression.”
Listen, every single one of us was born to be fucking amazing…innately programmed with love and courage and kindness and strength and compassion, and somewhere along the way we allow – or are taught to allow – our fears to hijack and override this system to the point where we contract and shrink into playing it small.
No matter how hard you try or desire, you can never control anyone else. All any of us can ever really hope to control is how we react. Sometimes that means ending relationships. Other times – if possible – I find it helpful to try and reframe the situation in a more positive light that not only keeps you accountable to yourself but also empowers you to continue to keep moving forward. That will be different things for different people, obviously…but the point is you need to not let yourself get mired down in negative energy if you want to heal. For both the blamer and the blamed, every action and reaction is ultimately a choice.
(Hawkins:) “It is helpful in overcoming resistance and taking responsibility for our negative feelings and programs to see that they come from the small aspect of ourselves. It is the very nature of the smallest part of ourselves to think negatively, so there’s an unconscious tendency to agree readily to its limited viewpoint. But that is not the whole of our being-ness; for outside and beyond the smaller self is our greatest Self. We may not be conscious of our inner greatness. We may not be experiencing it, but it is there. If we let go of our resistance to it, we can begin to experience it.”
The best way to disempower a gaslighting narcissist is with indifference. You’re never going to live your best life if you’re too busy managing people who are in a passionate love affair with living their worst. You’re never going to get someone to hear you if they’re intent on misunderstanding everything you say. So stop trying. For your own sake.
Stop resisting the blooming of your greatest self, because that person already exists within you – patiently waiting for the petals to unfold, exposing your inner beauty and allowing your brilliance to radiate out and join the millions of other light-bearers in illuminating the darkness in our world.
But first, you have to let the negativity go.
This is important because if your story or your thoughts are primarily negative, then you’re initiating a stress response in the body. When that happens, your body goes into survival mode (fight or flight) and your body will shut down all other aspects of your physiology that aren’t deemed necessary to survival until that event has passed because the body favors survival over everything else at all times. But if you constantly have negative thoughts, you never escape the bear that’s chasing you and you stay in survival mode around the clock.
Empowering Your Life with the Energy of Emotion
The cells in your body are either in growth mode or survival mode – never both at the same time. Growth and survival both require energy, and that energy comes from the same place in you. So when you allocate your precious energy towards survival, you do so at the expense of growth – and ultimately, your health, because stress hormones do things like shut off the immune system and increase the body’s levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) increasing your susceptibility to dis-ease.
So in other words, you can literally manifest disease or healing simply by the thoughts that you give rise to. It doesn’t even matter if your thoughts are right or wrong or true or false…what matters is what you believe them to be.
We’re energetic beings living in an energetic universe. Everything we do and know is affected, influenced, guided by, and created with energy. And our emotions are more than just feelings; they’re the movement of energy that can express a physical reality.
When we think something, we set that energy in motion and it responds to us. How we perceive that thought determines how we respond to that energy.
So start thinking and perceiving from a position that helps you manifest your best life in good health…fully connected to your body, mind, and spirit with your highest energy and your best intentions.
By practicing mindfulness and self-compassion and self-love and even gratitude, we’re able to keep our reactions external, and thus, create positive, sustainable change. So be aware whenever you hear the voices of negativity start to chatter in your head. Don’t let that shit in. Acknowledge it, but make the experience and the emotion productive and valuable and then set it free, instead of just outright denying it exists or internalizing it and carrying it around with you everywhere you go.
One of the most powerful positions you can operate from is one in which you’re beholden to no one other than yourself for your own feelings.
It’s common to say “That person made me angry/sad/hurt/happy/etc.” But the truth is, no one can make you feel anything because that’s not really a thing that can happen. It’s really just an excuse to blame someone else for the sake of some ego-stroking or to explain away a certain behavior on your behalf as a response to the emotion.
So when you say, “That person made me feel angry”, you’re really just giving them power over you to continue controlling how you feel.
Instead, try saying, “That person did this thing…and I’m CHOOSING to feel this way about it.”
See how that feels? It’s much more empowering to the self while at the same time it eliminates the idea that someone else has power over you. It also reaffirms that how you feel at any given moment is a choice…one that you alone are choosing at every given moment.
So by all means, choose to feel angry or sad or happy whenever it’s appropriate. That’s normal and healthy.
What isn’t isn’t normal or healthy is giving your power away to abusive, manipulative people who are neither conscious of your value and worth, nor respectful or your love, nor committed to sharing in your best life.
If their existence doesn’t enhance your existence, then why are you keeping them around?