Image by Just Taken Pics
I read a post on a blog a couple of days ago (which had best remain nameless). The writer told us he was tired of negative people – he didn’t want to hear their complaints or listen to their whining. He (you guessed it was a he perhaps) was sure that these people just needed to think more positively and get on with living a productive and happy life. You may also have guessed that he is on the speakers’ circuit and assures us he is wealthy.
Why I find responding to this kind of thing so difficult I’ll talk about in a moment. For now some of the problems with this analysis.
- It individualises every problem. It does not invite people into the positive space where they could contemplate and take action, so much as blame them in a way likely to keep them stuck.
- It simply isn’t true that everyone is born in equal situations, with equal abilities.
- It presumes being negative (because it annoys someone) is somehow bad or unproductive. It could, in reality become a stage to initiating personal change. (This would require the kind of support that the writer of this blog is unlikely to provide.
- No amount of positive thinking will magically transform the world. And neither will positive thinking bring new options into being. This requires the working with the difficulties of reality – often putting in great effort over a long time. (I for one think voicing complaints during this process is entirely appropriate).
- It lacks compassion – which also deals witht the difficult realities in which people find themselves.
- These are some of the problems I see with this kind of analysis. This line of thinking is so superficial and moralising I wish it would disappear off the face of the earth starting tomorrow.
After this long negative analysis perhaps you can see my problem. I’m being negative about someone being negative (as the writer of the blog was). It seems like a trap. I want to go into this trap a bit more, with a detour via a concept called ‘projection’.
Projection is a term used in psychotherapy – it means that there is something in me that I think is in the world ‘out there’ instead. For instance, there are always more grumpy people in the world when I have had not enough sleep. This is me projecting my grumpiness onto the world ‘out there’; instead of me admitting to myself that I am simply grumpy.
When I am doing this I am like a projector with a slide in it – the image is inside me (the projector) but I look at the screen (the world ‘out there’) where the image seems to be.
Awareness of Projections
Once I realise that I project my feelings onto others it can be very tricky to sort out what the world ‘out there’ is really like. We may even have a sense of vertigo, where we feel we don’t know which way is up. What the world out there is ‘really like’ is a big question that I won’t go into for now. Suffice to say that, being willing to listen to others, about how they see the same situation can help. It can also help to make our thoughts conscious – just saying to myself that ‘everyone seems grumpy today’ may be enough of a wake up call. We can also, after we have made our thoughts conscious, try doing a reality check on them. You may have had a series of bad experiences with a particular group in your society (an ethnic or a religious group or one particular gender). You may have concluded that all members of this group are dangerous. You can then set about verifying this conclusion – by talking to others or through your own investigations.
So the writer of the blog post that set me off on this post of mine, shows all the signs of projection. He doesn’t realise that he is critical and negative: and so he is annoyed by it in others. The saying that, “we are most sensitive to our own faults in others”, is often true.
What’s The Difference?
What is the difference between this post of mine and the one by this other blogger complaiing about those who complain. I think it is that I am aware that my response is my own.
But does it make a significant difference that I am aware it is my response. I think it does.
- This means that I am not convinced that negativity is something ‘out there’ that I can’t do something about.
- It means that I realise it is me who is the feelings that I’m feeling, and so have some choice about what I do about this. I’m not blaming this other person for being negative (they admitted in the post that they were jet lagged).
- And it means that I am not drawing conclusions about the world ‘out there’. I don’t think, necessarily, that all those wealthy males on the self-improvement speakers circuit think this way. I’m just alert to the ones who do. There are others who do blogs on self-improvement (such as Robert – who I did my last post about) who have a much more tolerant and human approach to personal change.
Working through our projections is liberating. It brings us a lightness and flexibility that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
This is my approach to negativity. Listen to it, examine it. I can ask myself, “Why is it that I’m not happy?” It may be that I haven’t had enough sleep – or some other need of mine hasn’t been met. Or it may be that something has happened which my deepest values protest against. We won’t know if we just go into automatic judegement, saying: don’t be negative, you should always think positive. Listening to and examining our negativity I think will lead us more quickly to taking positive action. Condemning the negativity is more likely to just keep us stuck.
Let me know what your experience is. How do you handle people being negative? Put up with it? Try to solve the problem? Agree? It can be very necessary to look after the impact on us too (ask any counsellor – one who hasn’t burnt out). And in your own life. How do you deal with your negativity. I would love to hear. And I should say that you are also welcome to be as negative as you like about this post. I will do my best to listen to all criticism (but I’m not claiming to be perfect).