Performing artists are subject to reviews and criticism throughout their careers. Their experiences differ widely, but there’s one thing they all agree on. While they may not precisely remember their good reviews, they can remember every negative review, word-for-word.
Gamblers say the same thing in another way. The boost they get from a big win is never as powerful as the agony of a big loss.
I once worked with a teenager who told me that he could be having a fine day. And then some kid might say something offensive or critical about him, and his day is ruined.
John and Julie Gottman, renowned experts in the area of couples relationships, have determined that just one negative communication – an insult, a destructive criticism, a “look”, an accusation, a threat – is so powerful, that it takes about five positive communications to make up for it.
Why is negative energy so influential? Why does it have the power to ruin your day? Your relationship?
The brain is wired to help us survive threats. When we feel attacked, offended, hurt in any way, we experience a minimal fight-flight-freeze reaction. Our survival mechanism kicks into high gear, and the brain remembers vividly how the threat looked and sounded, because we need to recognize similar threats in the future.
In order to feel safe we might even magnify the “threat”. Kids who feel insecure do this all the time (so do some adults). If they’re feeling threatened, their response to a parent’s attempt to correct them might be, “Don’t yell at me”, even when the parent speaks in a normal tone of voice.
Some people have experienced a lot of negative input about themselves; criticisms, hateful words, insults and threats. If those communications come from powerful people – parents, coaches and teachers for example – the individual can come to believe such messages, as if they’re true; they’ve allowed the negativity to become a part of their personalities. When asked if they think change is possible, they might say, “Well, that’s just the way I am”.
Bull. Habits of behavior and thought are always subject to change. The problem is that most people can’t tell the difference between an ingrained trait – like color-blindness or the inability to sing on key – and a self-defeating behavior or belief.
Brain science over the past several years has proved without question that the human brain can be ‘rewired’ at any age. The old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is false.
Maybe a good starting point, if negativity has a hold on you, is to acknowledge its power and to take on a life-long commitment to combatting it. Life-long commitment. And to accept the fact that restoring balance is an ongoing process. You’re never done. You just keep on keeping on, day by day, never giving up. That’s how it is. If you expect that one day you’ll be able to let up … that’s when you’re at great risk. Don’t go there. Stay on track.
If you’re not sure how to proceed, I’m ready, willing and able to help. It would be an honor to be of service.