What is addiction, really? It is a sign, a signal, a symptom of distress. It is a language that tells us about a plight that must be understood. – Alice Miller
Addiction. We hear that word and immediately we think substance abuse, eating disorders, gambling or other similar obsessive behaviors. But there’s another addiction, one that’s very habit-forming, though it’s not illegal. And while it may be seemingly ambiguous it is rather commonplace. Negativity.
That may sound a little strange but negativity is addictive. Think about it for a minute. It’s all around us; it’s prevalent. Just watch the news or reality TV. Watch people even for a short time and you can spot negativity. It’s how people interact with each other; how they conduct themselves; how they drive their cars; how they shop at the grocery store. It’s how they speak to each other. It’s everywhere, and in my humble opinion, it’s getting worse.
OK, so you may be thinking, yeah negativity is everywhere but that doesn’t make it addictive. It’s just life. Well, yes and no. It has become a regular part of life, unfortunately, but we’ve been become so desensitized by it that we’ve lost sight of how harmful it truly is.
The word addicted comes from the Latin addictus, which means to give oneself over to a habit or occupation; to become enslaved, to yield or devote, to sell out, to sacrifice oneself…well, you get the picture.
Now most of us wouldn’t think of negativity as something we would give over to like we would ice cream or chocolate (I yield for chocolate!) but we do give over to it without even realizing it. It becomes second nature to us because it just so easy to do. Before we know it, we become enslaved to it; we’re habituated to it’s effects. It’s so much easier to respond with snarkiness than optimism. It’s so much easier to be obstinate or ossified because as we indulge in negativity, it dulls our sensitivities. We lose our self-awareness allowing negativity to affect our social interactions and relationships. We become complacent with our negative MO. The dangerous thing about negativity, besides the obvious, are the physical and psychological effects it has on us.
When we continuously swim in the negativity cesspool, we can lose hope, feel helpless, and lack optimism or creativity. We develop anxiety and stress, and can become depressed. Here’s something else to note. Excessive negativity affects our brain’s ability to produce chemicals needed for experiencing happiness and joy. We can even develop chronic health conditions brought on by negativity. Research has even discovered that continuous engagment in negativity will actually shorten our lifespan. Yikes!
So how does one know if they’re addicted to negativity, you may ask? Well, if their immediate response to any question, idea or suggestion is an automatic “no” or they make snarky comments like, “that’s never going to work,” or “that’s not a good idea,” or “that’s not going to end well,” those may be signs of being a negativity addict. Or if they have the general attitude of a pecksniffian pessimist and perpetual fun-sucker (say that three times fast) because if they’re not going to have fun, then neither are you, then that may be an indicator that they’re addicted to negativity.
The same may be true for those who are worriers, seeing danger, danger, danger under every rock and around every corner. Danger Will Robinson! They take cautiousness to a whole nother level and become convinced some ill fate will befall them and you at any moment…just wait and see…aaany minute now…
Or they’re always down in the dumps. If life is a bowl of cherries, then they’re in the pits. And no one else has it as bad as them, so don’t even go there. And if you dare to compare, then them’s fightin’ words and they’ll eviscerate you right where you stand. How dare you try to minimize their plight with your own struggles!
On the flip side, there are those who are addicted to negativity by proxy. They’re drawn to people who are persistently negative and they want to fix them. They allow themselves to get caught up in another’s negative nonsense, internalizing it and then making it their mission to save said person whether they’ve asked for it or not.
The damnable thing about negativity is that it comes in all shapes and sizes, and is easy to fall into. It’s effortless. Half the time we don’t even realize we’re up to our eyeballs in it until it’s too late. Negativity may look like caution or seem like thoughtfulness or genuine concern but when it manifests into incivility, anger, depression, worry, despair, or control – just to name a few – then Houston we have a problem.
Of course some degree of negativity is normal; we’re human after all. We’re going to have bad hair days, bad experiences and bad attitudes from time to time. But when we live there, when we hang out there, when we swim in that negativity cesspool until our fingers get all pruney, that’s when it’s habitus addictus (yes, I made that up), and harmful to our well-being. We weren’t created to be negative, thus we can’t sustain a constant state of negativity. It’s unhealthy and it affects us mind, body and spirit. Whatever affects one, directly affects the others. Here’s how I see it:
MIND — BODY
To me, the condition of my spirit, the essence of who I am so to speak, directly affects my mind and body, good or bad. How goes the spirit, so goes the mind, so goes the body. So if my spirit is healthy, then my mind and body will be healthy too. But if my spirit is unhealthy, if I fixate on negativity; if I eat, sleep and breathe it, then my mind and body will suffer the ill effects too.
OK, so just how do we counteract negativity? Because let’s face it, simply going around singing “Don’t worry, be happy..” isn’t exactly going to cut it. It starts by identifying your negativity MO. I’ve said this before, and I will keep saying it – what you think is how you will act. If you pride yourself on being a pecksniffian pessimist or snarky cynic, then that’s how you’re going to treat everyone and every situation.
Actively engage in positivity. Don’t immediately make your answers be no. Don’t go making snarky comments just because you can. Don’t try one-up someone’s misery because you’re in a bad way. And don’t engage in the nonsense of others.
Become an optimist. Decide that the glass is half full rather than half empty. Look for the upside in yourself and in your situation. The more you do, the more it will boost your confidence level, your creativity, your optimism, your hope, your joy, your happiness. You will improve your relationships. Most importantly, you will improve your health and well-being.
Choose hearttitude (yes, that’s my word). If you choose to behave with humility; if you choose to respond with civility, then you will begin to break the negativity cycle. Speak words of kindness, respond with gentleness and act with self-control.
Gratitude, like hearttitude, instantly counteracts the effects of negativity. Acknowledge what you’re grateful for. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or profound. Be grateful for the simple things in your life. Having a job, a home, food, a family that loves you, your friends, your dog…you get the point.
Recognize a bad day for what it is. Engage in self-compassion and give yourself permission to have a bad day but then let it go. Honestly, this is one of my biggest hangups. I can get so stuck on the rotten day I’ve had that it follows me home that night, hangs out all evening, raids the refrigerator, and watches TV with me. Argh. It’s an effort sometimes to ditch it before it gets in the car with me for the ride home. But if I acknowledge my bad day, if I call it out, then it no longer takes control.
Stop keeping track of yours or anyone else’s shortcomings. (Again, one of my hangups. I’m terrible about tracking mine). We’re all a work in progress. Instead, keep track your accomplishments, strengths and positive qualities. Acknowledge the same in others, too. Remember, if you can’t say anything nice….
We’re told not to sweat the small stuff. By the same token, we shouldn’t dwell on the bad stuff. The more we fixate on negativity, the more we become negative. Avoid the negative-nancys. Don’t watch the news or listen to talking-heads that spout negative rhetoric. You will become what you consume and whom you surround yourself.
Take action! Do something good for yourself. Find a hobby, read a book, listen to music or inspirational podcasts, take a walk, have some quiet time, eat well and sleep well. And pray! Pray! Pray! Pray!
Start taking care of you!! Become addicted to positivity.
Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21
Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. Titus 1:8