Avoiding the Negativity Slide

Aug 7, 2012

I’ve developed a new bad habit.

I’m not proud of it, didn’t even realize I was doing it. But last week the truth smacked me upside the head like the faithful palm of a best friend.

You’re being critical, Michele. Choosing negativity over grace. Haven’t you learned this lesson already? 

Pshaw. Not me! I’m a cheerleader, a staunch fan of the underdog. I’m the one who loves to take care of people, to celebrate their successes, to make them feel good about life and encourage them to keep going. How could I possibly be—gasp!—negative?

As it turns out, I could. And I was.

It sneaked up on me, over the course of weeks and months. It came out in short little snippets, a comment here and there sandwiched in ordinary conversation. When details of a situation were unknown, I assumed the worst rather than the best. After a disappointing day, I caught myself being sharp and curt with my replies. I heard myself criticizing people I’d normally applaud. What’s wrong with me?

I spent the better part of the last few days trying to unravel the why’s of my slide into negativity. Although I’ve been known to be tough on myself, I thought I was positive and grace-full with others. But practicing it on myself only made me more of a pro when relating with others.

I’ve discovered at least three triggers that pushed me down this slide. Chances are they might have the same effect on you. Just one of these is enough to spark a negative outlook. Combine all three at once and it’s like greasing the slide.

  1. A Personal Disappointment. When I believe I’ve failed at something or missed an opportunity, my recovering-perfectionist self talks smack. Thankfully, I’m better at accepting my shortcomings than I used to be. But it’s still an effort to keep myself from slipping into a negative thought pattern. Are you facing a disappointment? A dream unrealized? A mistake you can’t shake? Allow yourself disappointment, but set a limit. A day, maybe two. Then forgive yourself, drop it, and move on. Otherwise personal disappointment will bleed into disappointment with others.
  2. A Painful Wound. I’m not easily hurt. Loyal to the core, it takes a lot to wound me. But once I am, it’s a struggle to reengage. I shut down, withdraw. The details don’t matter, but I’ve recently let a wound get the best of me. Rather than confront it or release it, I’ve let it marinate and grow. And the result is negativity spilling into daily life. If you have a wound, join me in dealing with it, quickly. It’s not worth allowing a wound to poison a good life.
  3. A Place of Exhaustion. This is the clincher. Most of the time, I can deal with disappointments and wounds in measured doses. But pile them on at once, add stress and sleepless nights, and I become inconsolable. As I review the past couple months, stress and exhaustion mark my path like constant mile markers. How about you? Are you spent and worn? Perhaps the best thing you can do for others is actually take care of yourself. Get some rest, cancel a few appointments, slow your pace. Allow your mind, body, and heart to rest and recover. Then you—and I—will have the fuel to tackle the wounds and disappointments in a positive way.

Do you ever struggle with negativity? What triggers it for you?


  1. Heather Day Gilbert

    This post is SO timely for me. Personal disappointments and rejection are par for the course in the “writerly” life, but I find myself constantly assuming the worst. I think this is my pessimistic tendency–to plan for the worst (while secretly hoping, against all odds, for the best)–I’m like a pessimistic optimist. Deep down, I know it’ll all work out right in the end. But in the meantime, I’m shielding myself from yet another hurt.

    Hard to find the balance in this life! Many bad things are bound to happen to us, but it gives us something to look forward to in heaven! Ah, well. Thankfully my husband seems to balance me out–he has far more faith than I do and buoys me up when I need it. And sometimes I give him a more realistic picture of things when he needs it.

    I appreciate this post, and need to work on channeling those personal disappointments into something more creative. Like writing another book…I’ve done that before, and I’ll probably do it again!

    • Michele

      Disappointments are huge for me, especially when it comes to something I’ve invested much of myself in … like writing. 🙂 Such a challenge to move past it. Thankfully, I have a husband who balances me, too! A lifesaver, truly. Don’t give up, Heather. Keep taking a step forward, one day at a time.

  2. Alizabeth Rasmussen

    Nobody can be positive and full of grace 100% of the time and still be real…and there’s a lot to be said for “real.” I don’t know who Pollyanna is, but I have a strong suspicion that she doesn’t have much in the way of authentic relationships – with God or anyone else. I think the best we can do is recognize what sets off the landslide of negativity and be as proactive as possible to maintain the conditions necessary to prevent or stop it…just like you’ve done here. And when we get off track, we allow and we forgive and we find compassion for ourselves and others…just like you’ve done here.

    Thank you!

    • Michele

      I love your perspective. And you’ve hit on something I’ve been pondering lately: When does authenticity become negativity? I’m all about being real, but I have to guard against talking myself into a pit. Not to mention, “real” that’s constantly negative is a drag on everyone else. Might write another blog post about this one!

      • Alizabeth Rasmussen

        I will very much look forward to reading that blog post! Because, you’re right, it is a really fine line. I’ve summed it up as the difference between allowing and wallowing…one little letter, a world of difference. I would love to always be able to honestly recognize the challenges for what they are, allow myself to honestly experience the associated feelings, and then move on. Too often, though, I start to identify with the feelings, and start to feel bad for feeling them, and before I know it I’m in a downward spiral that can be difficult to climb out of…I’m getting better at it, though, and progress is progress. 🙂

  3. Kristen Evensen

    Oh, Michele, thanks for your authenticity! I, too, have found myself accepting a negative attitude lately–which is so not me. I think my triggers are disappointment and exhaustion, and if I may add one, discontentment. Sometimes, I just want to “get there”, to that next point in my life that seems “better than here and now”. It’s especially hard to have a vision, but still be stuck in the same place. I have been praying to stay fully present with an attitude of gratitude. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in my negativity battle.

    • Michele

      You’re definitely not alone. In fact, I think we could be twins … Disappointment and exhaustion are my dangerous duo. 🙂

  4. Penelope Brown

    Hi Michele,

    A really touching post. I have been learning about grace from this website http://www.whatisgrace.net/ Just had to mention it because as you said the conflict of choosing negativity over grace is like overpowering the other.

    • Michele

      Thanks for the link, Penelope.

  5. Jackie

    Great post Michele! And timely. It is hard to get out of a negative funk, once you’re in it – and it makes you realize how important a positive attitude is to your daily life. You don’t always realize how you benefit from positivity until you’ve gone all crabby.

    • Michele

      True! That positive attitude feels much better than the negativity, but usually we don’t realize it until we’re deep in the thing.

  6. Ken Shaddox

    Michele: As a preacher I’m fond of three points. 🙂 You make three great points of emphasis that are right on target. Thanks for your insights and honesty. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t battle at times with negativity. Your post offers encouragement and guidance for staying on the positive side of things. Blessings to you and yours.

  7. Danica

    Thanks for sharing Michele! I’m glad you’ve shared this, but I also hope that you give yourself some grace on this one. You’re human, and going through a lot of human things. I so appreciate you willing to share that struggle. I’m not sure I could handle what you’re going through with as much as you do.

    • Michele

      Grace is a beautiful thing! Not beating myself up over it, but certainly learning from it. I think it’s interesting to identify the triggers that lead up to it. Gives me a good reason to take a nap!


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