A Cycle of Negativity Hard to Break
These past months have been a revelation about the way I tend to assimilate life’s events. I am both, surprised and annoyed by the realization of how parts of myself working against each other may have contributed to bringing about the kind of wavering outcomes that leave me baffled or plainly frustrated.
I consider myself a strong and positive person and yet until this week I had not really understood the influence that some unchecked patterns of thoughts exert over my well-being. It seems that the “daily me” consciously engaging with life with a calm and positive outlook is being overridden by a less obvious another subtlety sabotaging my efforts.
Biologically predisposed toward negative thinking
Does your focus stubbornly gear towards the negatives- fear, lack, danger, wanting? You’re not alone.
Today we know that the brain has a built-in capacity to weigh heavily on negative input to keep us out of harm. This was extremely useful in prehistoric times, but today our brain’s natural tendency to cry “danger” can be more of a hindrance than a precaution. When this is coupled with growing-up environments with high sensitivity to unpleasant news, we might end up trapped in a “worst scenario” vicious circle that breeds anxiety and self-fulfilling catastrophe prophecies!
There was a time when I felt completely at the mercy of life. Although a part of me hoped for the best outcome possible, another was highly prone to think and expect the worst. I cannot say if it was the brain’s negativity bias or an acquired inclination that made me fear feeling good about something or wary about trusting my instincts. The fact is that for a long time I was torn apart by my belief in life as a miracle and my painful reality. I couldn’t seem to reconcile them.
I tend to respond more to adverse stimuli than positive, to recall and think about rejection more than compliments. I dwell on unpleasant events more than pleasant ones and even when experiencing many good events in one day, I would focus on the sole ‘bad thing’ that happened and ruminate for days!
I suddenly became aware that by venting, I tend to feed and expand the “problematic” view of my circumstances instead of focusing on what I want to create.
Talking about the injustices, my hurt feelings, the doubts and fears that plague me, might feel as exorcising them. Nevertheless, this perception might be flawed. If venting worked, patterns and events should not be repeating, and they do. As time goes by, I find myself complaining about the same issues and lending my ears to friends with similar tendencies.
Venting can be cathartic, it can also backfire
Emotional venting has positive aspects, just as it has negative. When we let something get to us, our “logic” function goes offline, venting can help us regaining control of our rattled feelings and find some perspective.
Being annoyed by our jobs or frustrated with a friend or our life’s circumstances are common subjects we vent about. Haven’t you notice how some “discussions” tend to be never-ending? How we resist closure? There seems to be “some kind of pleasure” in disclosing our pains and complaining about the unfairness of our situation, but when a possible ‘solution’ is brought up to our attention, venting seems to lose its appeal — we shut up- or find an incredible amount of “problems” with it.
Yes, venting our frustrations might make us feel “lighter” momentarily, but when it’s confined to repetitively sharing self-vindicating messages about our misfortunes, it can become very self-limiting.
The more we talk, the less we do
In my teens, some friends and I used to call upon a phrase taken from the experience of a family member who constantly complained about her boyfriend. Despite the endless issues, and break-ups- she kept making up with him. His nickname was ‘brownie’, thus, every time she showed up with the “poor me” face we exclaimed: Brownie again!
Many situations surrounding me seem to respond to this personal joke. Brownie again! And again…
Which made me realize that although emotional ventilation can feel almost like we are doing something about our issue, it is a poor substitute for taking appropriate action. In fact, it can be counterproductive because it might serve as a way to deny any personal responsibility for the situation that is hurting us.
When we complain, the feelings behind the event do not subside, they are just temporarily smooth out. It might be comforting to see ourselves as a victim of someone else’s unfairness rather than taking responsibility for our choices, but this perception can be disempowering as we are less likely to act assertively in our behalf.
I am not saying we need to bottle up our feelings or denied they exist, just that talking about our problems for days on end in my experience, is an ineffective way to solve them.
Why changing the way to deal with our problems is crucial?
Our neurological pathways don’t dissolve. The only way to change course is to create new ones. How many times have we heard that what we focus on expands? Venting keeps us focused on negativity longer, complaining rewires our brains. It wears down a path of negativity, making it easier for our thoughts to travel in a negative direction in the future!
I have both, gone crazy about avoiding toxic people and situations and engaging in self-improvement strategies. What I did not realize is that walking away from people or situations would not prevent them from being present in my experience. The action of walking away does not mean that my mental patterns have changed, if I keep remembering, explaining, venting my story, I keep the “energy imprint” active in me, I keep walking the same neuropath and attracting those situations into my experience.
What constructive actions can we explore?
Try acknowledging that you feel the way you do, note what you are experiencing and move on. Noting rather than ignoring or persisting on a bad moment can help us focus on those things that really make a difference.
2. Making a habit of savoring moments
Create the space for positive experiences and the things we want to grow- like happiness, resilience, love, confidence- and consciously help them sink by acknowledging these small and big treasures. The compound effect of tiny steps in this direction shall become an effective neural structure.
3. Releasing resistance to change and the need for control
The best way to help myself and my love ones is to make peace with the current situation, look for the most positive aspects I can find and expect good outcomes. The contrary has not worked- and I had tried for years! If I look back, I can find man instances in my life where faith and intuition “got it right.”
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Einstein.
But it is so comfortable!
Yet, I want to bring about some changes in my life. Thus, rather than constantly reliving challenges and unpleasantries, I endeavor to:
- Focus on the benefits the experience offers instead of punishing against the unwanted aspects.
- Take time and savor the positive experiences and create positive mental memories and feelings that can leverage our brain’s propensity or learned habits towards negativity.
- Engage fully in the good sensations, happy thoughts, and pleasant emotions that we feel and make a note of what we enjoyed about it.
- Appreciate the contrast that hardships caused and focus on the improved life experience you deserve with optimism.
What about you? What is your experience with venting?