Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Grace isn’t much fun to be around tonight. She knows that. And so does her husband, Carter.
When he started to suggest something they could do together this weekend, Grace quickly cut him off. “I don’t think that sounds like a great idea at all. First, how do you know the weather is going to be good enough? We might have rain. And what if we get there and it’s overcrowded? What fun is that going to be?”
“Well, why don’t we give it a try?” Carter answered. “Do you have to be so negative?”
Elsewhere, Natalie and Ryan had a conversation recently about how Ryan could use more encouragement, and Natalie has made it a personal goal to try and give that to him.
So, as they were both leaving for work, Natalie said, “I really hope you have a great day today, honey. You look like you’re ready for anything.”
“Yeah sure,” Ryan answered glumly. “Like either of has have any control of whether the day goes well or not. I looked in the mirror this morning and I most definitely don’t look ready for anything.” And then he added, “If you see a good day ahead, you need to polish your crystal ball.”
Natalie just nodded. “Okay, Ryan.” She felt deflated. Had she said something that made Ryan give her such a negative response?
Negativity can be a wake-up call if you’re willing to listen to yourself.
I suspect that both Grace and Ryan looked back on how they had spoken to their partners and felt bad about the way they had behaved. If not plain old guilty.
And they might have also asked themselves, “Why so negative? What’s going on with me?”
That’s a good question. What was going on with Grace and Ryan?
Asking those questions can help them understand what was behind all that negativity. And understanding can help them start getting themselves, and their relationships with their partners, back on track.
How about you? Do you ever feel so negative that you feel like you’re surrounded by a dark cloud? A cloud that makes everything feel like it’s not worth the effort, it won’t end well, and it will just leave you feeling worse?
When you find yourself in this spot, ask yourself a series of questions to understand what might be causing your negative attitude and what you can do about it. Here goes:
How am I feeling physically? If you’re not feeling well, if you have some symptoms of your chronic condition, or some side effects of medications, or if you’re just generally having a bad day, this is going to affect your attitude and outlook. So do a body scan and identify anything that might be bothering you physically. Acknowledge to yourself how you feel. Now you’re ready to evaluate the options you might have to feel better. Maybe you can do something about what’s going on with you physically, or maybe you just have to wait it out. Be aware.
How am I feeling emotionally? Your emotional state has a whole lot to do with your outlook on life. But we’re not always fully aware of what’s going on with us emotionally. It’s human nature to deny our feelings, even to ourselves, out of the belief that if we admit how we really feel, we will feel that much worse. And maybe even be overwhelmed by our feelings. Angry? Sad? Scared? Labeling your feelings gives your power back, and opens the door to taking action to help yourself cope emotionally.
What am I worried about? Walking around with nagging doubts and concerns can be a big contributor to a negative outlook on life. Just what are you worried about? Take some time to figure that out. Pressure at work. Finances. An upcoming medical test. Sort out in your mind what is causing you to worry. Identify the elephant in the room. It’s there anyway, so you may as well call it out. Pretending it’s not on your mind won’t make it go away. Is it time to face up to an uncomfortable challenge? Do some strategizing? Put your coping skills to work?
What resentment am I holding on to? This is a big one with couples. Resentments can build up over time and place your relationship at risk. Did your partner say something a few days ago that didn’t sit right with you? Or not follow up when they promised? Leave you with a household task they could have handled themselves? If you haven’t talked this out with your partner, it may be sitting inside you, building up to the point where you feel generally annoyed. Is it time to sit down with your partner and have a talk?
When you have answers to those questions, do something to better manage your negativity. Here are some ideas:
Be upfront about what’s going on. Let your partner know you’re not in a good space. Sure, he or she can most likely see this. However, saying it out loud gets it out into the open. You might find that the simple act of announcing you’re in a negative space helps you feel less negative. Also, telling your partner you’re feeling a lot of negativity signals that you don’t want to stay in this space. This can help to reduce any tension between you over your negative outlook. If you know what’s bothering you and causing the negativity, this would be a good time to disclose it so the two of you can sort it out.
Get support. Sit down with someone who can listen and have a conversation about how negative you feel about life. Someone who can listen without judging you or trying to tell you what to do. Vent if you need to. Ideally, you can have this conversation with your partner. But if you need to get some perspective from an objective person, like a friend, consider that as well. This might also be a good time to sit down with a mental health professional to sort things out before, or after, you talk with your partner. You may also want to bring your partner along and work on this as a couple if negativity is an ongoing issue in your relationship.
Respond to the wake-up call. Negativity can be a sign that something needs to be fixed. Namely, you. Don’t run away from your negative outlook on life. Don’t deny it. Don’t fear it. Feeling generally negative can be a sign that it’s time to address some underlying issues, such as the ones that turned up when you asked yourself the questions above. You may have some work to do to strengthen your foundation. Welcome the opportunity!
Build in some positive antidotes to the poison of negativity. Use some positive self-talk to give yourself a pep talk to try and pick up your mood. Do something you really enjoy. Get some exercise. Do whatever it takes to help pick up your mood and stand up to the urge to throw in the towel and go negative. If this is something you and your partner can participate in together, then so much the better.
You, your relationship, and negativity. It’s only human to go through times when you feel negative about life. But all that negativity can take a toll on your relationship. You don’t need it. Get to the cause of your negativity. Address it. Here’s the good news about negativity: You don’t have to be stuck there.
Do you have a tip for dealing with negativity? Add a comment below and tell our community what works in your home.