Arthritis Ashley / invisible illness / Personal Stories / Uncategorized / Wellness

The Problem with Negativity: And Why Being Positive Doesn’t Hurt

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The image above  says it all.

Let’s be honest: no one can be positive all the time. To do so simply wouldn’t be human. I highly doubt that there is one person on this earth who has never been unhappy or felt pessimistic, who is always happy and positive at all times, and without fail.

If so, I would like to meet that person, and learn from them, and hug them, and maybe have some of their magical-glittery-unicorn-energy rub off on to me.

But, while it isn’t necessarily possible to be positive ALL of the time, it’s certainly very easy to constantly be pessimistic. We all know them: the Debbie Downers, the Negative Nancys. The “sky-is-falling” types, the party poopers, the “rain-on-your-parade-ers.” The bitter folks with a chip on their shoulder. The people who get a common cold and automatically think they are dying. The person who would be bragging on Facebook about their beautiful tropical vacation, while laying on the island complaining to everyone that it’s too hot, it’s too sunny,  they are sweating, their drink tastes bad, and they look fat in their bikini.

Simply put: some people will never be happy. Some folks are simply hard-wired this way. It’s in their core being to harbor and even cultivate this unhappiness, this air of pessimism. Some people will always find something to complain about, or something to worry about.

Here’s the problem with all of that: if you want to live your life being negative, that is within bounds. That is fine. That is your right. You are allowed to do so. The problem is that it can at times be harmful or detrimental to those around you. It isn’t healthy for you; it isn’t healthy for those people around you to whom the toxicity spreads.

It is hard to be around constant negativity and not let it tarnish you.

Now imagine that you are like me and countless others who live with ongoing health problems.

Could you imagine how hard that it would be to deal with these issues day-to-day? And then to add being around toxicity or negativity all the time on top of it, when you are just trying to get by, and are trying everything in your power to stay positive and not get caught up in a downward spiral of apathy or stress or depression?

Can you imagine how petty it would seem to someone who is sick — possibly sick for life — to be complaining because your luxury car needs to be repaired, or your flight to Maui got delayed, or your food came out cold at the restaurant?

Could you imagine how it would feel to the person who is sick or disabled, if you are whining that you didn’t make your goal Marathon time, or that you had to sit out of a Pilates class, when they can’t even run a mile?

This can apply to so many situations and we’ve all likely been guilty of it: complaining because your pizza delivery guy was late when there are people who are starving or living off of bread crumbs each day or are so food-insecure that they have no clue when their next meal will be. Being upset that you were selected to go onto a game show and went home with $2,500 instead of $25,000 when there are people who would have given anything to win even a fraction of that $2,500… or even just people whose biggest dream in life was to be on TV at all in the first place. There are people who do nothing but whine about their job or about their marriage, doing nothing to better their situation, when there are others who look at them and wish they had a job or a spouse.

No matter how bad our lives seem, someone has it worse. It doesn’t mean that the problems I mentioned aren’t annoying or upsetting to said party at the time. Any of those things could be a bummer, but it doesn’t mean that we have to give voice to those instances or make them larger or more serious/more upsetting than they actually are.

We have to learn to check ourselves with the negativity, because it can hinder our personal spiritual and emotional growth. It can detour us from our healing journey. It can actually physically make us sicker to be negative or stressed all the time. (Yes, this is a medical fact. Google it.)

… And then, it can also have an effect on others. If you’re anything like me, you never want to have a negative effect on those around you!

When you are in the midst of complaining or worrying about trivial things, think about what an outsider may think or how your words or actions may make them feel. If you were on a reality TV show, what would you think of yourself if you saw the things you fretted over or complained about? Would you view yourself as ungrateful or shallow? Whiny or self-indulgent? Petty or catty or annoyingly bitter and morose?

Hey, don’t get me wrong: many of us have cause to whine. I did my fair share of whining today when I woke up nauseated and with my whole body in pain, later to add a migraine and an earache into the mix. I did. I whined and complained a bit. And then I got over it and just went on with my day, accepting that it isn’t a good one, but that not everyone has to hear about it.

Let’s not make a habit of the whining. It’s easy to become complacent in the complaining.positive We shouldn’t compare, but…

It could be worse. I know so many of us who are ill HATE that phrase, but it’s true: it could be worse.

Take a second to think about what it is that you are actually upset over.

How important is it in the grand scheme of things? Are you taking anything for granted in the process of your complaining? Will this issue (whatever it may be) matter a day from now? A week from now? A year from now?  When you are approaching the end of your life, will it be something of any value or importance?

And …

Are there people who would give anything to be in your shoes at this moment, even if those shoes aren’t too comfortable for you, at present?

It’s human nature to be self-absorbed and caught up in our own lives and our own problems … but does that mean that it is innately right? Let’s try not judging one another. Let’s try being considerate of each others’ feelings. Let’s try to be respectful and thoughtful and mindful and present. Live in the moment, live for the now. Don’t worry too much about the future or dwell too much on the past. Try to be positive. It isn’t always easy; it’s an active choice, but a worthwhile one. There is always something to be grateful for.

Your life may seem hard — and it may be hard, at times. Life can be tough. No one is negating that. It’s even tougher so for those of us who are ill or disabled. Many of us face  battles that people don’t realize or understand.

But there are still people who would love to have your life.  Some examples: The woman who watched the father of her children get shot dead by police because of the color of his skin. The mother who had to bury her son because he had the audacity to be out dancing at a nightclub. The young man whose life was derailed by a terminal illness. The father who found out his son was a terrorist. The young girl who lost her legs in a freak accident. The child born with a rare form of cancer. The soldier who watched his best friend die on the battlefield. I bet they’d take your cold meal, or your broken air conditioning, or your waiting-in-line-at-the-grocery-store complaints. I bet they’d even take a day with a migraine, the discomfort of a foot brace, or a day stuck at the doctor’s office: things that I myself have been guilty of complaining about.

Realizing these things doesn’t mean that our battle  is easy. My goodness — it isn’t.

It just means that we maybe should strive to have perspective and choose our complaints and our pessimism wisely. We all have negative emotions and it is good to recognize them. Negative emotions are a part of our humanity. They serve a purpose just like all aspects of our mind, body, spirit, and soul. We can vent when we need to and we can allow ourselves to have  bad days or less-than-stellar moments. We are human. That is life. But if the negativity outweighs the positivity in our lives, maybe we should reevaluate our situation.

Is this negativity coming from a medical problem: a mental or emotional illness, a chemical imbalance? Do we need to be medicated? Are we just uncertain how to cope with negative emotions? If so, should we talk to a therapist or a counselor? Is our negativity coming from a place of self-centeredness? Are we being so self-absorbed that we are making minor problems into something all-consuming? Turning proverbial molehills into mountains? Are we failing to see the bigger picture? Are we being overly ethnocentric? Are we falling victim to the phenomenon called schadenfreude, where we take pleasure in seeing others’ pain? Or are we just hard-wired to be, well … sad, and are maybe unaware on the toll that this aspect of our personalities may take on our loved ones?

If our negative emotions are not due to a mental/emotional illness, but rather, are from an inability to find perspective,  then we can adjust.

If we choose to live from a place of love, mindfulness, empathy, and gratitude, we should be able to reject that fear, hatred, anxiety, and judgment that so often causes people to be bitter, toxic, negative, stressed, or pessimistic.

If we choose to seek out joy and positivity, and if we aim to find good even in the dark moments, we can slowly realign that meter that tilts to the negative … and skew it back to the positive… NO MATTER WHAT OUR LIFE CIRCUMSTANCES MAY BE! (And I will stand by this. There are people from all walks of life with all illnesses and all abilities and all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds who are able to find positivity or gratitude, contentment, or just a small smile in even the most dire of situations.)

There are people who are far more happy with far less. Don’t let comparison be a thief of joy for you.

But, again: no one is perfect.

We all are Negative Nancy sometimes.

But with some self-reflection and self-awareness, we can all try to find the Polly Positive who lives within — something that will bring an abundance of blessings to not just our lives, but also to the lives of others.

People have been quick to point out to me that I’m lucky and privileged to have a good support system. This is true. But one thing I’ve learned is that I feed off of their energy — so thank goodness that most people in my “circle of trust” are positive, most of the time.

Because the negative energy? I don’t do so well with that.

I embody it. I internalize it. I don’t want to: but I do. I’m an empath and that toxicity gets me on a near-cellular level. It’s almost tangible, almost physical. I feel it. It may even at times make me feel physically sick on top of what I’m already dealing with medically. And so I sometimes need to distance myself. I just need to step away, to reset, to cleanse, and to reframe my mind. It’s a way that I cope. We all have our “things” and one of my things is that I am very sensitive to what others are feeling around me. At times, I wish I could “turn off” this feature. But is there a toggle switch? No. So all that negativity that I see on social media or from certain individuals in real life? I have to take a break from it, from time to time.

I can’t let it affect me when I have my own, often very difficult, battle to fight, in regards to my physical health.

You see, it’s a choice we make: we can’t change our illnesses but we can change our attitudes.

It’s an active choice, and it’s hard work.

We cannot always control symptoms, but we can control how we think and talk about our diseases. We can control who we let into our lives, and who we choose to be a part of our support system. If someone is negative or bringing you down: cut them off! Or at least take a deep breath and walk away. You can’t always choose who is in your life but you can control how you react to them and how much you let them, their words, or their energy affect you. So choose the good ones, and if you don’t have a support system, start cultivating one now. I promise it will help you tenfold as you deal with your medical problems. Just make sure you let the right people and the right energy in to your inner circle.

We autoimmune illness warriors have enough stuff to worry about: dealing with toxic people or negative energy should NOT be one of these worries. Negative thinking can be rational and realistic, it can be logical and it can serve a purpose: but like anything, is best done in moderation.

So choose your friends and your thoughts wisely. Cultivate gratitude. Live graciously and compassionately. Put out the energy that you wish to attract back to you. And it will help and guide you as you navigate a life with chronic illness.

Listen: no one is saying that a positive attitude is going to heal us, or make our health problems (or other problems in life) go away. That is unrealistic and pretty nonsensical, if you ask me. BUT: being more positive will help us to cope with our problems better — and that, to me, is a very good thing!

Bottom line: being positive — or trying to be positive, most of the time — certainly can’t hurt. I don’t think you can overdose on positivity!

But being too negative too often? … Well, it can cause more physical and emotional ails than we already have — and to be honest, who wants to deal with even more than we already have to? 

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

 

*Check out my book, Chronically Positive!  (available in paperback and e-book.)

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