The problem with negativity is you often do not realize how bad it is, or at least that how it is in my experience. I used to be so depressive, pessimist and hopeless about life. I had this very fucked up view on what I think I deserve and I don’t deserve; I let people underestimate me and look down on me because I think I deserve it, and I never tried to get (or be) the best simply because I don’t think I deserve it. From an outsider point of view, I probably look like a psycho masochist or something, but for me it was normal. Depressing yet normal. It was my mind, it was how I perceive world and how I understand the world works. Trust me, if I can burn the content of my brain into a DVD and play it for you, you will feel like you are watching Requiem for a Dream or something.
Negativity is something that I identify with myself strongly, especially when I was younger. After I distanced myself from my supposed source of depression and grew a much, much better and positive new mindset, I looked back and realized how awful my mental state was, mainly because it did not have to happen. I was not a war or child trafficking victim – it is not like I was subjected to a prolonged inescapable torture or something. But negative perception to the world does not only happen to victims of these serious situations – it can happen to everyone.
Example: Dan Howell.
I've been watching loads of his videos lately, and I can assure you he is the poshest, most articulate youtuber out there, so it is a good influence to your English speaking ability (not the swearing though). I reccomend it if you are sick of watching TedxTalk and want something lighter. Dan, who started youtubing at the age 18, mainly vlogs about his social awkwardness, procrastination and negativity, wrapped in sarcastic, witty humor. I think it mostly started as a passive-aggressive way to deal with things he hates about himself (‘yeah whatever this is me you wanna laugh go ahead’), but it turns out to be what distinguishes him from other youtubers and he is known for the most. Now he is currently one of the most famous Youtuber on the planet, has a successful career as radio presenter, and widely acknowledged as a walking wet dream. And you know what; those negative traits are still there. He still has existential crisis every two weeks and in videos when he has to unexpectedly interact with other human beings, I can almost feel the awkwardness emanating through the screen.
See? Negativity is not a matter of what happens to you, but how you react to those situations.
NEGATIVITY IS NOT A CHOICE
People usually blame depressive and negative people for their hopelessness. “Be positive!,” “Get over it!,” or “Just forget about it already!.” Woah, isn't that an awesome, informative, ground-breaking suggestion. I did not know that what I have to do it is just to get over it.
That was sarcasm, in case you did not know.
There is a psychological attribute that prevents you from getting out of negativity even though you are able to. It is called explanatory style. Remember that question ‘Is the glass half-empty or half-full?’. Yup, that more or less is what this is about. Explanatory style is ‘one’s tendency to offer similar sorts of explanation for different events’ (Peterson, Buchanan & Seligman, 1995). It is the way people explain good or bad thing that happens involving themselves along three dimensions. The first is internal (they blame it on themselves) vs external (they blame it on somebody else). The second is stable (they view it as something permanent) vs unstable (they view it as something temporary). The last is global (they think of it as a life-determining event that defines them as a person) vs specific (they think of it as it is). People who have internal, stable and global explanatory style are said to have a pessimistic explanatory style, while people who have external, unstable and specific is called optimistic.
The question is, what are the determining factors? What makes a person optimistic and other pessimistic? Eisner (1995) reviewed the studies in this area and reported four different determinants of explanatory style. The first is feedback from teacher, parents or other influential figure, especially in young children. The second is modeling, which means that children develop their explanatory style by adopting or mimicking the style of their significant others or primary caregivers (i.e. parents). The third is genetic, a conclusion after the difference in result of experiment involving monozygotic and dizygotic twins. And the last, is learned helplessness effect.
We learned about this in class actually, which is the reason why I wrote this. Learned helplessness effect is a condition in which an organism forced to endure pain or similar unpleasant stimuli, is unwilling or unable to avoid those stimuli even if they are provided a way to escape it, presumably because they have learned that they have no control over it and whatever they do will end up futile. Ovemier and Seligman (1967) did an experiment during which they found out that dogs exposed to inescapable and unpredictable electric shock in one situation later failed to escape shock in different situation where escape is possible. Basically there are 2 groups of dogs; the first group which has been trained a way to escape the pain show normal response and recovered after a while, while the second groups, whose pain subjected to them seemed to start and end at random, after a while shows a kind of ‘giving up’ behavior and stop trying to escape the pain, even though a way of release was provided later on. This result contradicts the predictions by B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism theory, which is by the way the leading psychological theory at the time.
People who are exposed to the feeling of helplessness on a regular basis will most likely to develop a pessimistic explanatory style (‘It is because I’m stupid’, ‘Fuck my life’, ‘My life is useless’, etc.). On the contrary, pessimistic explanatory style can worsen the feeling of helplessness as well. Together these make a never ending chain of misery that sucks you in and never let go.
These are the source of all those negativity, and it broadly affect a person’s life. Learned self-helplessness and pessimistic explanatory style have been linked to depression, poor motivation and lack of social effort. Children who are constantly exposed to miserability (is that even a word?) they cannot control can develop pessimistic explanatory style that last until their adulthood and in turn determine how they react to everything that happens in their life. People may neglect medication, diet or hygiene simply because they are conditioned to think that it is useless. Abused or neglected children will very likely to choose a partner who also treats them that way. It is impossible for them just look past the dark shadow engulfing their mind at whim – it can be done, but it is not easy. There are therapy designed for that, I forgot what it is called though.
Basically, everything that happen in our life programmed us to think in certain way and to act out of what you are programmed to be is not an easy thing to do. Just like how a conceited, overly optimistic person is very difficult to accept criticism or admit fault. Therefore, next time you met a depressive person, try not to judge them. We know we have to be grateful, positive, all smiling and crap, but try to go to that from where we come from is hard, okay? Give us time.
Seligman, M.E.P.; Maier, S.F. (1967). "Failure to escape traumatic shock". Journal of Experimental Psychology 74: 1–9.
Peterson, C., et.al. (1995). “Explanatory Style: History and Evolution of the Field”. Explanatory Style: 1-20.
Eisner, J.P. (1995). “The Origins of Explanatory Style: Trust as a Determinant of Pessimism and Optimism.” Explanatory Style:49-56.