I don’t take criticism very well. Not even constructive criticism. I go through various stages of negative emotions, many of them just different types of anger, and I let it eat away at me long after the event. I can retain bitterness, even years later. ‘A woman scorned’, and all that.
(Have you noticed how, in the heat of an argument, women have an uncanny ability to remind you of every foolish thing you ever uttered, and of even the smallest slight against them going back to the beginning of time? We tend to come to a boil, then sit and simmer for a while, before eventually boiling over again.)
Anyway, recently, I had the misfortune of being criticised by a stranger. It was in the form of “oh, you shouldn’t have done that”, so it couldn’t have been construed as constructive in any way. There are fewer things in life more frustrating than being told how to do something, particularly when there’s no real “right” way of doing it.
But this time I was determined not to let it get to me. It consumed me for a whole 24 hours… and then I just let it go. Holding onto bad feeling like that does nothing but increase stress levels and blood pressure. It takes over your every waking thought, until you find yourself constantly tense and on edge. I wasn’t going to let a stranger rule my life that way.
“Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out.”
― Robert Tew
SO HERE’S WHAT I DID TO OVERCOME MY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS, AND WHAT YOU CAN DO TOO:
1. I asked myself if there was anything positive I could take from the experience.
Any silver lining at all. Was there a compliment hidden in that big, grey cloud?
Sometimes you can’t see an upside. Sometimes the experience itself won’t be positive, but will lead to something positive. Sometimes you’ll sit at home stewing about getting caught out in the rain and now being stuck shivering and shaking, and then look up to find a loved one offering a blanket and a warm meal.
There may not be goodness in every single thing, but there is goodness. Look for it and you’ll start to see it everywhere.
2. I looked for the lesson.
Not every experience is positive, but most experiences that stir up strong emotions have lessons to be learned, even if the lesson is only to avoid future similar experiences.
They don’t have to be life-changing lessons, like who your true friends are; they can be practical things, like knowing from now on which floorboard creaks when you’re creeping away from your sleeping baby’s crib.
Treat every bad experience as an opportunity to learn and grow.
3. I asked myself if there was anything to be gained by holding onto the negative thoughts.
If you’ve followed steps 1 and 2 and extracted what you can from the situation, the answer should be ‘no’.
Negative thoughts drain our energy, deplete our willpower, distract us, deceive us, and drive us demented. They prevent us from enjoying our lives.
How many times have you snapped at a loved one because you were still annoyed about that rude customer in work? Or spilled your coffee because you were so busy fuming about that person who cut you off in traffic?
Can you see where negativity gets you? Needless and avoidable arguments.Irritability. Tension. A dry-cleaning bill.
Does it always work for me? Hell no. I can still hold a grudge like no other. But does that mean I should always just succumb to negativity and never try to be a better, calmer person? Of course not! I try every day. Oh how I try!
Negative thoughts lead to more negativity. But, fortunately, it works the other way around too – positivity breeds positivity. (For more information about why this is the case, read my post on ‘confirmation bias’.)
Pure negativity has no benefits. At best, you’ll feel cranky and frustrated; at worst, your health will start to suffer. Is it worth the tension headache to re-play the episode over and over again in your mind, getting more and more bent out of shape each time?
Pick out the positive, learn the lesson, and let it go.
What do you do to overcome negativity in your life?