Negativity: A Toxic Thought Process

Have you ever wondered how children, teens and adults become so negative about everything? Have you ever thought of yourself as being a negative person? Have you ever thought why some children and adults seem to enjoy being negative?

Many of these questions have crossed my mind because mainly I consider myself to be a positive person. However, I also wonder how others may see me. Perception, in many cases, is the biggest determining factor. The way each of us perceives something makes it right in our eyes whether or not our laws, scientific research, spiritual studies or society agrees.

Young children want and need to be loved, as do adults. However, the programming of our brain and our environment makes it more difficult than it may seem. In the brain, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The left hemisphere, which is known for articulate language, is specialized for positive experiences; whereas, the right hemisphere focuses on negative experiences. Psychological studies by Cliff Nass, professor of communication at Stanford University, tells us it takes five to 20 seconds for positive experiences to register in the brain, whereas negative experiences register more quickly and have a greater impact in the brain. Therefore, recall of the negative is quicker and remembered easier. Research also shows that people pay more attention to negative issues, features and actions.

Another study by Hamlin conducted with 3-month-old babies found they process negativity just as adults do. He concluded that negativity bias is instinctual in humans and is not necessarily a conscious decision. However, much of our negativity comes from people and events around us.

Some of the reasons for negativity in people have roots in three major deep-seated fears: the fear of being disrespected by others; the fear of not being loved by others; and the fear that bad things are going to happen. Together, these fears fuel the belief that “the world is a dangerous place and people are generally mean.” This brings distrust to these people and, in turn, they become more negative and critical. They begin to interpret all statements as personal or find negativity even in positive comments or actions. Negative people also tend to want to control others and are of a demanding nature. This, of course, leads to the tendency to blame others, the environment or luck rather than taking responsibility for themselves or their attitude.

It might seem odd that negative people feel entitled to others’ love and respect without returning it. By not feeling love or respect, they try to control others. This sometimes means negativity is a cry for help. All negativity or constructive criticism is not necessarily bad, but constant unfounded disagreement, negative and demeaning comments and actions, tantrums and other displayed ways to get attention that forces others to do their will, is not acceptable.

Often negative adults and children learn their behaviors from others around them. They copy others’ actions because they feel it works and it is protection for not doing what is expected of them. They also use putting themselves down, agreeing with others that “Yes, I’m stupid” or “No one likes me” or “Nothing is fun.” Negativity also may come from stress and failure. Although all these things can and do happen to all of us, the way we handle them varies because of our age, past experiences and support teams. Remember, the negative sticks with us longer than the positive.

To eliminate negative feelings, it takes more positive actions and events. Just talking does not change it or make it better for very long. The positive must be regularly displayed and practiced.

Children who have been lied to, abused, given false hope, and live in environments with these negative reinforcers have a long journey to a positive life style. Many negative people easily become depressed, which sometimes increases their problems. We used to think depressed people were loners, quiet and antisocial; however, depression can also be an outward display of negative behavior and defiance.

Most of us probably have found it very hard to stay positive when dealing with negative or depressed people. We must realize that young or old, if they really had a choice, they would rather be loved, respected and trusted. Happiness is really determined by how friends, family and others treat you. In your daily walk, you would do well to help your children, your friends, your family and yourself by being positive.

– Roger Warren is a retired teacher, counselor and principal from Ohio County Schools and is retired from St. Clairsville-Richland City School District, where he was an administrator.