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Prevailing Against Negativity

Updated on February 13, 2009

We live in a culture where destructive criticism is entertainment and accepted, to the point where compliments are viewed with skepticism for the fear of sarcasm. We see this all the way from the high brow academia to the homeless. 

I’ve personally been on the blunt end of racism as a foreigner from Hong Kong during my stay in Texas, and I’ve lived in Utah, unemployed and surviving on Ramen noodles in the winter. But I’m still alive, and I’ve lived through self-wrought depression and negativity from family, friends and work. I’ll share with you here how I triumphed in my uphill battle. (The tricky part is staying on top of it all.)

Definition of Negativity in the Modern Sense

Well, I’m definitely not talking about the negative charge of an electron, so my usual nerdy mathematical approach wouldn’t work here. However, negativity is a very real aspect of our society, and we should define it for the sake of clarity.

From, negativity is “characterized by habitual skepticism and a disagreeable tendency to deny or oppose or resist suggestions or commands.” 

The keyword here is HABITUAL. We often do many things in habit, and habits are signs of persons who has trained themselves (or been trained by their surroundings) to be unaware of their actions. For example, we almost never think about which foot we start walking with, and that’s because it’s such a strong habit that we totally do not think of it. Negativity is just as much a habit - the way to combat it is awareness to our own thoughts and actions AND to our surroundings.

Habits of Negativity

The negativity can manifest in three different hurtful forms:

  • Attitude 
  • Words 
  • Actions 

Out of the short list above, the attitude is the most important, since it influences the other two forms. A mildly annoyed person might simply snap at you, but an extremely annoyed person will try to dehumanize you.

However, Actions done in direct violence or abuse are very damaging, and we must be aware and cautious. 

What do you say to yourself when you spill milk? (Photo:
What do you say to yourself when you spill milk? (Photo:

Self-Induced Emotional Abuse

Make an attempt to listen to your own thoughts. Become an observer of your own mind. A good method is to take a regular day that is not too busy, and record everything you have thought about on paper. Don’t worry, you’re the only person that needs to see this piece of paper. 

When you spill your milk in the morning, do you think to yourself “what a clumsy bugger” or just “whoops”? Small bits of negativity towards yourself will build up, and taint how you receive negativity and how you process and react to negative comments and attitudes as well. Remember to listen to yourself, and remind yourself that you’re human, and there’s no use crying over spilled milk. (Just clean up the milk before it spills to the floor.)

Behind the Scenes in Our Peers' Minds


At times, the world seems to want to hunt you down just to give you a wedgie and make you say “uncle.” But at the same time, when we view the world as “others” who are out to get us, do we dehumanize them as well? 

The most important realization that help me break through depression is this: I found out that the people around me are alive and human as well. Perhaps they are going through the same cycles of negativity. So I decided to test this theory. (I’m a math/science nerd, sue me.)

My Experiment

I looked past the people around me’s negativities, past that protective shell of habits and into their “human-ness.” I stopped habitually assuming that the negativities directed towards me were simply because I was inadequate (the self-induced emotional abuse) or that the world was out to get me. I simply listened and try to see if the negative comments meant anything. 

See through the mask of negativity! There's a human being underneath it.
See through the mask of negativity! There's a human being underneath it.

My Discovery

Often, the negative comments are simply habits formed by the people around me, because I habitually assumed the comments were negative before and responded with my own negativity. Of course, this vicious cycle was not broken in a day, but seeing and reacting differently to my surroundings gave the people around me a smile.  

There were times when a person verbally attacked me, with full awareness. This is different than the types of comments mentioned above; because, in this case, the person was fully conscious of his actions. For the purpose of safety and peace of mind, simply do not react at all to these people, and eventually they will seek their battle elsewhere. (Think of them like misbehaving children who seek attention in a destructive way.)

The balance beam of happiness takes a lil' training, but well worth your time. (Photo:
The balance beam of happiness takes a lil' training, but well worth your time. (Photo:

The Balance Beam of Happiness

To remain afloat in a mucky puddle of negativity sometimes seem almost impossible - if you’re attached to the habit of negativity as well. The trick is to remain nimble, and never become too attached to a negative comment. 

However, there is also a balance between being passively aware and actively engaging in the flow of life. Simply watching the world go by will only lead to a form of loneliness and isolation! But too actively attempting to digest your surrounding’s negativity will also give you quite a big heartburn. Balance and awareness is key.

Suppose the world is an ocean of emotions, and you are a creature of the sea. Some creatures stay at the bottom of the ocean and will never understand the concept of “air.” Do you wish to continue to be carried by the currents of your surroundings, or would you like to evolve and chill on the beach with a beer and umbrella? We can still go for a swim in the ocean of emotions, but we, as evolved beings, will understand that turbulence will not last forever. 


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    • ethanol2323 profile imageAUTHOR

      T Chan 

      9 years ago from Bay Area, California


      You're very welcome! Thank you again for your kind words.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      9 years ago from Ohio


      I agree that many people have habits of negativity. It takes a strong sense of self worth to be able to see past others' negativity and understand where it is really coming from. Many people will project their insecurities onto others...some can't feel good about themselves unless they can make another look bad (kind of like: I can't be so bad, they are worse). There are many reasons (usually involving a lack of knowledge of their own self worth) that people interact and respond negatively.

      People all over have private insecurities that play into how they interact with others. I find if you try to understand others, you can overcome your own negative reactions.

      Thanks for the inspiring and uplifting advice!

    • ethanol2323 profile imageAUTHOR

      T Chan 

      9 years ago from Bay Area, California

      Proud Mom: Thank you. ^^

    • ethanol2323 profile imageAUTHOR

      T Chan 

      9 years ago from Bay Area, California

      Writer Rider: The whole point of this article is to show HOW not to take things personally, not just on the level of bottling up the negative criticisms, but to also process and be aware of them.

    • ethanol2323 profile imageAUTHOR

      T Chan 

      9 years ago from Bay Area, California

      Triplet Mom: No problem, your prompt hit close to home for me, since I've been through some random (and some very-not-random) negativities in my life.

      Thanks for the prompts, and keep it up with the hubbing!

    • Proud Mom profile image

      Proud Mom 

      9 years ago from USA

      Very well written. We are responsible for our outlook on life.

      Very good!

    • Triplet Mom profile image

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Ethanol, Thank you for responding to my request. Very indepth answer. I can understand how you can expect negativity from a person if they have dished it out previously. I personally feel that you have to turn something negative into something positive although that is not always easy to do. If I cannot turn that around then I will probably cut ties with the ones that I feel are negative. Thanks again for your response.

    • profile image

      Writer Rider 

      9 years ago

      I have to say, criticism shows a freedom of thought without being herded into the multitude of the brainwashed. Why should I or anyone else not think for ourselves. Don't get me wrong, I understand where you're coming from-criticism is not intended to make anyone happy but to do otherwise is just playing safe. Sarcasm is just a form of humor, nothing more. You could take it personally, but then it's a reflection about how you feel about yourself not the person illiciting the sarcastic joke. Of course, I've been the receiver from time to time but I take it in stride since people are entitled to their opinions. I guess it basically comes down to what's important to you-freedom of thought or mind control.


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