The Importance of Overcoming Negativity for Men



In trying to keep up with a whirlwind of inspiring events over the summer my last blog focused on the negative press that surrounded Gabby Douglas after an electrifying performance at the Olympics. Some of you asked me what Gaby Douglas has to do with self-improvement for men. The real question that blog post addressed was how negativity can have a detrimental impact on your life and a model for how to overcome negativity directed at you.

If you are a man looking to work toward self-actualization, pondering therapy to improve your self-esteem, hoping to improve your dating life, or even strengthen an existing relationship, coming to terms with negativity within yourself is the first step in your journey. A sense of personal happiness is a must before you can truly achieve any of the above, and negativity can easily derail this happiness if you’re not in the right state of mind.

As the saying goes, “Misery loves company,” and is typically used when referring to depression. This idiom does not mean that depressed people tend to get together and to commune about their misery. This would actually be a sign of health if they were to do this. But this does not happen. When a person is experiencing depression they tend to isolate. People with significant depression tend to alienate those around them because their negativity is so pervasive and chronic that their pessimism is impenetrable. It is so strong that the people around them will succumb to that negativity like it’s contagious. Like attracts like, so if you are stuck in depression or negativity you will be prone to attract negative, depressed people into your life. Similarly, someone stuck in anxiety and worried thoughts about impending bad things happening tend to paradoxically attract what they desperately want to avoid.

Wanting to feel better is great, but remember that progress out of negativity can be tenuous. People on the precipice of getting better are always at risk of falling back into old familiar patterns because familiar is easy. Like being on auto pilot it takes no effort. For example, someone coming out of a depression may want friends who are happier. But because they have only been around negative people up to that point they do not yet have a new network of happy friends and feel frustrated because all the people around them are stuck in negativity. The choice for the moment is to isolate or to continue with the same group of negative friends. This becomes yet another crappy thing for the person emerging from depression to complain about and can trigger a domino effect of negative thinking. This then pulls that person back into a depressive cycle, either alone or in the company of the miserable eager to share in something to complain about.

If feeding off of others negativity about people is something you’re prone to, one motive may be that it makes you feel good if you can find shared negativity. Be aware that reveling in or hoping for others' failures may also reflect a deprivation mindset in yourself. It turns out that pain and negative emotions (e.g. self-pity, anger, guilt) also activate the beta-endorphin and dopamine pathways, the same ones involved in addiction associated with what have been labelled the “pleasure centers” of the brain. People can become addicted to achieving pleasure through negativity. This type of addiction is not always as obvious as it is with cocaine or even intense fits of rage. It can be very subtle.

One example is a person who takes on the role of rescuer in relationships. They do what they think is noble, sacrifice their own happiness to make others happy, and call this love. It feels great for a while, but inevitably this turns into resent and anger at those around them for not giving enough back. This can become deeply entrenched into one’s relationship patterns, and it grows into a negative expectation of others that sabotages future relationships before they even begin. Or you may have a habit of setting goals involving outcomes you have no control over, creating an external locus of control, which leads to feeling helpless and worthless. This creates a pattern of taking action, giving up soon after because you did not meet up to unrealistic expectations of success, and feeling like a failure (read Reasonable Expectations for Success).

If such patterns have been chronic it will take an extraordinary effort to break through them. The good news is that once you do it becomes easier to keep it up or get break through again because now you know the way, you know it’s possible

A truly happy person feels happiness that is self contained, not threatened by others successes nor influenced by others attempts to cut them down. Whether you express support for or undercut others is a reflection of your internal self-talk. If you express negativity towards others you can bet that you are not supportive or forgiving of yourself, and ultimately you are only bogging yourself down and delaying your own progress forward.