It’s been quite some time since I have sat down and made time to write out my thoughts. It’s been so long, in fact, that I almost lost touch with my greatest passion. There’s a long list of reasons why I took a break from writing. From moving across the country, to being pregnant, to having some scary moments in my pregnancy, to embracing a season of undivided attention to my family, to moving again, to my husband starting a new job, to having a precious baby— these things all contributed to my desire to take a break.
But perhaps the greatest reason can be summed up in one single word: negativity.
That’s right. Negativity crushed my health. It crushed my mental health, my physical health, and my emotional health. It crushed my dreams and visions. And we all know that without vision the people perish.
I was perishing.
I moved to a new city with SO much anticipation and eagerness. I met some amazing new people and had great hopes for our “new life.”
But slowly, over the course of nine months, I lost touch with me. And then suddenly, after all this time, I realized that the real me had been hiding.
And as I began to chisel away the walls the I had built, I realized that I was hiding from negativity— not just from my own negativity, but from the negativity of the world.
The walls I build make me look like I can handle anything. But the truth is, the girl underneath the walls is actually very weak.
And even that word, “weak,” can have such a negative connotation. But the thing is, for me, realizing a weakness in my life is exactly what I need in order to overcome and find strength. Realizing my limits is the only way I can create boundaries— to protect myself, but also to honor others.
In realizing I was hiding from negativity, I began to process negativity and its effect on my heart and mind. It’s a cruel spirit, really. Negativity invites fear, shame, and uncertainty into our lives. It tells us we aren’t good enough, that we are less than, and that we simply can’t. Whatever it is we aspire to do or be, it whispers (sometimes yells) that we can’t.
But it’s a confusing thing. Because there’s a vast difference between negativity and reality. And I think the two get muddied quite often, especially in the Christian world. We want to embrace positivity and believe for the very best. We want to speak life and encouragement and hope— to be the opposite of negative.
And that’s a great thing. Some of the most powerful voices in my life are those that can speak life into the darkest places in my life.
But those voices— voices of wisdom and maturity— don’t ignore the hard stuff. They don’t ignore reality.
You see, walking through HARD stuff and taking time to process and grieve those things does NOT make you negative. Life is damn hard sometimes, and you can feel the weight of those hard times and still find the strength to be positive. You can feel hopeless in the weight of dark times and not be negative.
In fact, I think truly processing the hard stuff is vital in order to have that positive outlook.
But there’s a fine line between being realistic and being negative, and that line needs to be walked with care— on both sides.
When the line gets blurred, we can slip into despair. Without hope, we are lost. When our hearts are set on only the bad, it literally steals our health. It’s not just a cliche inspiration-of-the-day sort of thing to say that negativity is crippling. It’s a truth that is vital to recognize. A life of negativity is just as bad for your health as eating fast food every day and only drinking coke and coffee.
Studies show that a lifestyle of negativity can lead to anxiety and depression and literally shorten your lifespan.
So how do we stay on the other side of the line and embrace the hard stuff without inviting negativity into our lives?
We first have to recognize what negativity really is.
The literal definition of negativity is this:
“The expression of criticism or pessimism about something.”
Another description of negativity is this:
“Negativity is a tendency to be downbeat, disagreeable, and skeptical. It’s a pessimistic attitude that always expects the worst. Negative outcomes are bad outcomes, like losing a game, getting a disease, suffering an injury, or getting something stolen. Negativity is an attitude that always expects such negative things to happen. “I bet it’ll rain during our picnic!” and “No one could ever love me!” are examples of negativity. “The world is getting worse and worse!” is negativity. Someone full of negativity is hard to cheer up, and they always expect the worst. The opposite of negativity is positivity.”
And while those examples seem very shallow, we all know that the worst case scenarios in most of our lives are much deeper and darker than that. And we all have them.
But notice that it does not say that the opposite of positivity is reality.
So how do we do it?
How do we live authentic lives where we strive to embrace both reality and positivity? How do we speak life and truth and hope without ignoring the hard stuff and pushing our feelings under the rug?
I’m no expert and I certainly have not mastered this, but I think it ultimately comes down to the attitude of our hearts in processing difficult things in our own lives as well as the lives of others.
If we can create a space for ourselves and others to be allowed to feel deeply, that’s a great first step. There’s often such a bad stigma around emotions, especially anger, that we can feel embarrassed or ashamed to even have feelings about things. It’s a vicious cycle because those feelings invite negativity into those places. We begin to doubt ourselves, to tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel a certain way, and that we should “be better.”
Just as often as we do this to ourselves, we do it to others unknowingly. Whether it’s an inability to handle pain or just an avoidance of going deep with others, our own desire to avoid reality in the name of being positive can actually create that negativity in the lives of others.
When we allow space for those we love to feel deeply and meet them in that place, it isn’t inviting negativity. It’s actually doing the opposite. It’s creating a space for them to embrace reality, while giving us the opportunity to invite positivity into those places.
Embracing reality invites positivity.
When we allow ourselves and others to express feelings, emotions, fears, and wounds— that is NOT negativity. It’s one of the most beautiful honors to be able to hear one’s heart and empathize with them in that place. And then to speak life into those places is a gift.
But this has to be done with great care, because that line is so fine.
Negativity is sneaky, really. It finds its way into the smallest cracks. The greatest defense we have against it is intentionality.
If we can listen with intentionality, speak with intentionality, and feel with intentionality I truly believe we can crush negativity.
And that’s what I am striving for in my life this New Year. I want to crush negativity in my life without negating feelings or ignoring emotions. It’s time to strike that balance. I want to allow my family and friends to share their hearts. I want to be a safe place for others to vent, but I want to stay on the right side of the line, extending my hand to those who have slipped to the other side. Even more, I want to be a safe place for myself. I want to allow myself the space to feel deeply without criticizing myself or speaking down to myself.
If I accomplish one thing this year I want it to be loving myself enough to stop criticizing every emotion I have. I want my attempts to be positive and encouraging to be pure— I want to speak life because it is TRUE, not because “I shouldn’t feel this way.”
In the same way, I want to say no to true negativity. There’s literally no space for that in my life, and when I allow that space or it finds a way to sneak in, I demolish my own health. It leads me to doubt myself and to doubt the pure intentions of others.
It’s time to polish the line between negativity and reality— it’s been muddied for far too long.
And as we polish that line, I truly believe we will find greater health— in our hearts, our minds, our spirits, and in our relationships.