Being Too Negative In Social Situations
I've noticed that as a group socially unskilled people are more susceptible to becoming too negative. Negativity is multifaceted and shows up differently in each person. Broadly speaking though, negative people are more likely to focus on and bring up the flaws in situations, or talk about things they dislike. They have a cynical, pessimistic attitude. They may be straight up moody or grumpy, or have more of a subtle prickly, sarcastic edge to them.
Negativity hinders people in two ways. First, it's just viscerally unpleasant to be around someone who's injecting unpleasant emotions and vibes into every conversation. It's not that their points are never valid, but it wears people down to always be subjected to that perspective. Secondly, someone's a lot less likely to do things to further their social cause if they see the worst in everything. They're going to be held back in making friends if they keep finding flaws in everyone they meet, or they're too critical towards their own efforts to improve their social skills.
Targets for negativity
People can direct their negativity towards a number of things. Everybody has thoughts like the ones below occasionally. It's more a matter of degree, whether someone is constantly dwelling on the bad side of things or not:
- Towards yourself (i.e., low self-esteem)
- Towards your future prospects ("I'll never have friends. I'll never be happy.")
- Towards other people ("I'd have friends, but everyone at my school is so boring.")
- Towards events ("That party was painful", "This dinner is going to be dull.")
- Towards people's actions ("He made the lamest joke", "Wow, that girl is so superficial.")
- Towards general groups ("I hate hipsters. They think they're better than me because they listen to crappy obscure bands.")
- Towards larger, more abstract organizations or institutions ("My city is so phony and stuck up", "Everyone in my country is so selfish", "I have nothing in common with society.")
- Towards art, in the form of being overly critical and nitpicking and never seeming to like anything ("Eh, I couldn't get into that movie. The lighting in some of the scenes could have looked more natural.")
When someone is blatantly negative it's pretty obvious, but people can also do it in a more subtle manner, where they may not even realize how often you're acting that way.
Signs you may be too negative
- You're always complaining about things, even it's in a rational, logical, "This is an interesting tidbit to mull over" kind of way.
- Your mind is overly tuned towards noticing the flaws in things (people, activities, ideas, art).
- Even inconsequential flaws in something will ruin it for you. You have a tough time seeing the bigger, overall positive picture.
- If someone suggests something you're really quick to point out why it won't work or why it's a bad idea.
- If you see a flaw in something, you just have to speak up about it. You feel a little rush, like you're winning points, when you do this.
- If other people are talking about the positive aspects of something, you have this urge to go, "Yeah, but..." and point out its negative aspects.
- Sometimes you get this glee when you're being negative with someone else and tearing something down.
- Certain aspects of the world get under your skin, and you have to rant about them to anyone who will listen.
- If something is going well, you've got a dozen reasons why it actually sucks and won't work out.
- You think positive people are naive, have low standards, and are impressed too easily.
Reasons people can be too negative
I think there are a lot of reasons someone can end up being negative too often. Most of these causes are understandable. It's not like people intentionally set out to be gloomy downers, they just fall into it without realizing how they got there. I think there are two general ways people can become overly negative. The first is that a gloomy perspective is a side effect of other problems in their lives:
- Their life isn't too great at the moment, and that naturally affects their outlook for the worse.
- They're feeling depressed, and their negative view of the world is a symptom of that.
- Someone hasn't had the greatest past, and it hasn't given them a reason to think the universe is anything else than a disappointing, negative place.
- Someone may use negative observations as a way to prop up their shaky self-esteem. They criticize things to feel better about themselves, whether to knock everything down to their level and/or to boost their ego by feeling smart and capable for noticing the flaws in things.
- Negativity can be used as a perverse coping mechanism. If you lower your expectations then nothing disappoints you. Or you may be mentally invested in the idea that nothing will work out, and your negativity unconsciously acts to keep your life that way.
I think the other way people can become overly negative is when it's a behavior that becomes habitual, or it's a personality trait that gets over-expressed. An individual may see their negativity as a useful trait:
- Someone may not intend to come off as negative, but they like their conversations to be more weighty and in-depth, and they've found getting other people to get into their problems is a reliable way to have them.
- Some people simply fall into the habit of complaining too much because on some level it feels get to get worked up about something and vent.
- People can rely on negativity as a crutch in conversations. They wouldn't know what to say if they weren't complaining about or critiquing something.
- Some of us picked up a negative style from people we knew growing up.
- Negative people can think they're being intellectual. They see unnecessarily telling people about the flaws in everything as a sign of perceptiveness, analytical ability, and honed critical thinking skills.
- Some people can be a little too rational and not in touch with their emotions. Negative information doesn't seem like a big deal to them because they're not tuned into its unpleasant emotional weight. It's just as valid a thing to bring up as anything else.
- It may be part of someone's humor. They may think they're being a clever, observational comedian or commentator by pointing out the flaws in things.
- People can associate being cynical and overly skeptical towards certain things with being 'in the know' and aware of how the world really works.
- People can romanticize negativity and associate it with being a deep, complicated, tortured soul.
- Someone may associate negativity with having refined tastes. Putting down mediocre things allows them to show what a developed palate they have.
The difficulty of breaking the negativity habit
I said earlier that being too negative can be like a bad habit. It can be a hard one to break for a number of reasons:
- You can come to feel you just have to say negative things. The urge is too strong.
- Being negative can become so second nature you have a hard time noticing all the times you're doing it.
- You get something out of being negative, i.e., one of the reasons I listed earlier.
- You don't see becoming more positive in a good light. You associate it with "Positive Thinking" and all the images of glossy eyed, emptily smiling, self-help junkies the term brings up (I'd consider that kind of stuff to be overly positive if anything. Real positivity is more down to earth, and not so over the top).
A few ideas on how to be less negative
- In general, work on any issues that may be contributing to your negativity. For example, if you're feeling depressed then take steps to overcome it. Try to clear up any practical problems you have in your life, such as disliking the program you're enrolled in at university.
- If you have troubles in your life you want to talk to people about, spread it around. Don't unload them all onto a handful of friends, as this will wear them down, even if they mean well and would like to help. If your need for support is really high it's helpful to see a counselor or join a support group.
- Just try to hold your tongue about minor complaints and critiques. If you feel the urge to criticize something or go off about some topic, try to keep it to yourself. Learn to rely on other types of topics to fill out your conversations.
- Don't see being positive as a liability. It doesn't mean you have to be hippy-dippy and love everything, that you have to sacrifice your tastes, or that you can never think anything is wrong with something.
- Try to get more in touch with the emotional aspect of conversations. On a logical level something may seem fine to talk about, but it may sour people's moods, or deflate the vibe of a group discussion.
- This isn't something you can exactly seek out, but if you ever find yourself around another negative person, it can really show you from an outside perspective how irritating it can be. That may give you the push you need to cut down on this behavior yourself.