Clients often come to me utterly frustrated with their own negativity. They’re annoyed with their inner critic. They’re tired of a fearful outlook regularly ruining their days. They’re able to identify “negative self-talk,” and they want to know how to make it stop. They’re exhausted by worry and the thought of worst-case scenarios, and then they hate themselves for not being more positive. They think they are broken because the whole thing keeps happening. “I know, I know, I need to be nicer to myself. I wish I could be more positive.” Does this all sound familiar to you too?
The problem is, you can’t stop negativity just because you know it’s happening. You’re never going to magically “JUST THINK POSITIVE!” without any negative thinking. Yes, you need to be conscious of your negative thoughts, inner critic, etc. in order to do something about it. Awareness is a first step, but it’s not a solution all by itself.
The next step, after awareness, is acceptance. We have to work on accepting that this is how human brains work. Your brain will look for worst-case scenarios. It will criticize you. It will worry about what people think. It will predict future problems. It will always do this. It does this to protect you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your brain, or with you.
Wishing the negativity away doesn’t work. When we accept that the negativity will inevitably come, we can learn how to handle it. It’s actually an important function of our brain, and without it the human race would not exist.
In our evolutionary past, it was more advantageous for our ancestors to be hypervigilant and sensitive to potential threats or dangers in their environment, and to be able to predict and prepare for problems, rather than to be overly optimistic or positive. The super chill guy who wasn’t worried about the future was the one who starved to death or was eaten by the lions. Worry and fear has kept our species alive. And even now it helps us to plan for our future and keep up with our responsibilities.
So it’s not going anywhere. The negativity is here to stay. So how do we deal with it?
Be kind to yourself about it. If the negative voice has already got you feeling anxious, don’t compound the situation by criticizing your lack of positivity. Offer yourself some compassion for falling victim to the protective negativity that every human brain has. Acknowledge the negative thoughts, but let them go. Engage in some self-soothing and calming skills to reduce any anxiety symptoms, and practice some positive self-talk or cognitive work to right your thinking.
Learning to tame our negativity through acknowledgment, acceptance, and dismissal is one of many ways we can move toward increasing self-compassion. When we remember that negativity is a universal part of the human experience, we usually find it easier to extend kindness toward ourselves instead of judgment. When we accept, and even respect, our negativity, we can give it a nod and say, “Thanks for looking out for me, but I simply don’t need your services right now.”
Are you interested in getting help to increase self-compassion, improve your coping, or combat perfectionism? Get in touch and let’s talk.