‘Bad’ feelings linger longer than ‘good’ ones because they alert us to possible danger, says Geraldine Walsh.
The word ‘negative’ “suggests a bleak lens through which the ‘negative person’ views the world.
"It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot and you could argue that even accusing someone of being ‘negative’ is itself evidence of negativity in the accuser,” says Hilda Burke, psychotherapist and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook.
Humans are social, our happiness dependent on other people. We absorb the behaviours and feelings of our loved-ones and friends, including their negativity.
However, it’s subjective how we allow negativity to play a part in our lives.
Royston Gooden, dancer, choreographer and owner of the talent agency RnD Creatives, prides himself on being a giving person, but his high expectations of others have been disappointed.
He says, “If people don’t give you the same level of decency or respect that you show them, then you simply need to remember that you’ve been the bigger person.
“I believe negativity breeds invaluable lessons to be learnt, which truly enrich us as people and professionals. I have to make a conscious effort to not take things to heart, but, at times, it does get the better of me.
"I’m only human and I have to accept that. It’s how you bounce back that’s important.”
Dr Malie Coyne, clinical psychologist, believes there is an evolutionary reason why negativity lingers.
She says: “’Negativity bias’ refers to the way in which negative experiences weigh more heavily on the brain than others.
"We’ve evolved to be fearful and heavily attuned to the strong possibility of a threat, in order to sustain our survival, whilst underestimating our resources to manage.
"Left unchecked, the negativity bias can become a serious impediment to good mental health, as it has been found to be synonymous with anxiety and depression.
“Studies in psychology and neuroscience have shown that for every upsetting thing that happens, we need five positives to balance it.
"Knowing that not all emotions are equal gives us a sense of control over what we can do to counterbalance negativity, and this is where making a conscious effort to be compassionate towards ourselves and others comes into play.”
Jessica Markowski felt negativity when she began acting and modelling.
She says, “My first year in the entertainment industry was hard on me. People would always make comments, whether it was about my looks or personality.
“At 16, going to castings and auditions non-stop, and not booking as many of the jobs you are going out for, is very hard. You feel not wanted.
"You feel rejected. It was a period in my life when I dealt with an eating disorder.”
Negativity can break us, especially when it comes as an attack, and an anonymous one at that.
‘Keyboard warriors’ have a sense of justification in sharing their opinion, forgetting, or choosing to ignore, that a real person may swallow their barbed words.
Urszula Makowska, actress and fashion blogger, has been a victim of online trolling. The more she read, the more she believed.
She says, “Every word was hurtful and having to read it about yourself, it gets stuck in your head. Negativity has had a damaging effect on me.
"In some ways, it made me perceive myself as being the person that people wrote about. I started to believe it as being true.”
Negativity is a powerful concept, as author Charlotte Underwood has discovered. It has become entwined with her life.
She says, “It is as if I am so used to bad things happening, and so aware of them, that when things are good, when things feel positive, I find it hard to accept.
"I am always waiting for things to go wrong and so it affects my life from the moment I wake up; because I’m desperately trying to protect myself from these negative things that my brain is telling me will happen.”
Lacking positivity is something she has become accustomed to, as, for most of her life, she says, everyone around her seemed to be more positive.
"I looked past the happy snippets on the news. I looked past the positivity preaching.”
Charlotte says she has always been hyper-aware and overly curious, which induces pessimism. Burke rationalises Underwood’s behaviour as fear rather than negativity.
“Some people,” she says, “may have been brought up with a ‘just think positive’ culture imposed on them, with the result that they remain fearful to express anything less than ‘everything is grand’.
"The irony is that once such a person allows themselves to express the truth of their emotions as ‘negatively’ as they feel, then things can start to shift.
"They can start to see things from a different perspective, a more balanced one.”
Charlotte says, “There have been times when I have gotten past it, like going in a helicopter, getting married, moving home, and signing up for university.
“It’s not that I am always able to suddenly jump on the positivity bandwagon, but I think that if I care about something and am passionate, I almost don’t mind the risk and therefore the negative thoughts become a thing of the past.”
This switch is understandable.
Burke says, “If we’re constantly feeling we should be positive, then we’re likely to neglect other feelings that we label ‘negative’, brushing them aside, and that can be unhelpful to our overall emotional health.”
In making sense of how negativity affects our lives, Dr Coyne says, “It is sometimes said that we should ‘fill our lives with radiators and not drains’, because spending our time with those who have a negative spin on life, or who put us down, has a detrimental impact on our wellbeing.
"If the answer is no, then it is time to surround yourself with those who do appreciate you, to distance yourself from the negativity, by stepping away from contact, and to focus on nurturing yourself.”
Negative thoughts remain long after the internet troll or negative colleague leaves.
Dr Coyne says that at stressful times we are driven by our emotions and opinions, which fuel each other, creating a vicious circle.
“If you were to accept that many of your thoughts are opinion rather than fact,” she says, “I wonder, would that make you less likely to be distressed by them?
“If you are less distressed by them and accept that your thoughts are not necessarily a reality, then this will make you better able to make wise and calm decisions about what to do next.”