Love was in the air last week. Happily Married couples celebrated World Marriage Day on Sunday, February 13th while sweethearts celebrated Valentine’s Day on Monday the 14th.
For the single, divorced, and those in struggling Marriages, these back to back days can feel like a double whammy. Pink and red lace displays bombard us in every store. Social media posts plastered images of sentimental cards, long stemmed roses, and boxes of chocolate.
It can remind us of our aloneness, our brokenness, our sadness. Dwelling on these emotions causes feelings of bitterness, depression, injustice, and victimhood. While this is understandable, it is not helpful and if we are not careful, we can easily submit to a cycle of negativity.
Fortunately, it does not have to be this way.
5 Causes of Negativity
Many factors contribute to negativity. Genetics, past trauma, and family history play roles, but there is more too. Situational negativity, as some experienced this week, results from thought patterns. Here are pitfalls to watch for.
- Holding Grudges – Few admit holding a grudge, but that’s what happens when we refuse to let forgiveness flow. We think we need protective walls, but unforgiveness gets trapped behind those walls and becomes a bitter poison eating away at us and those we love. Other times, we use unforgiveness to deflect attention from our part in what happened. By holding onto another’s sins, we insulate ourselves from the pain of acknowledging we contribute to our own brokenness or, worse, the brokenness of loved ones. This protective mechanism backfires because we need to take responsibility for our part in a failed relationship so we can hope to love and be loved differently in the future. Grudges keep their holders in victimhood mindsets.
- The Myth of Arrival – This is the belief that once you achieve a certain milestone, you will have “arrived.” Many think, “If I just achieve this next thing, then I will be happy.” We see this in singles endlessly scouring dating sites for their “perfect” match, in those rushing into Marriage, and in those hurrying to divorce – although few admit doing so. The Myth of Arrival hinges happiness on future events rather than on decisions we make in every moment.
- The MisValued Self – This concept ensnares in two ways. The first convinces us no one will understand. This seems to be a pattern of beating ourselves up, but it actually inflates us into thinking our problems are heavier than another’s or that others are too shallow to comprehend our load. This prideful thinking is destructive to us and to those who might help. The second trap is the truly de-valued self when one honestly feels unworthy and believes she deserves the worst. This dishonors our creation as made in the divine image and likeness of God.
- Eternal, Global Thinking – In this thought construct, we think negativity in one area applies to all areas and is never ending. This is dangerous because it can lead to despair, hopelessness, and a reluctance to look for reasons to be grateful and positive.
- Misplaced Trust – Hearts shatter when we put our hopes in human beings. People let us down, even those with the best of intentions and those who truly love us. We are fallen creatures. This does not mean we are bad or that we should not work on building stronger, more loving relationships. It simply means faith and trust must not rest wholly on another human being. Consider Sunday’s first reading from Jeremiah 17:5-8
“Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
but stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
5 Tips for Positive Growth!
How we experience situations is often determined by how we think about them, what we do in them, and how we see ourselves growing from them. Here are five tips to counter the negativity traps above.
- Letting Go – Forgiving can leave you feeling vulnerable. Begin by praying to want to want to forgive. Then forgive little things. Let them add up. Trust and move forward. Remember, Jesus was betrayed by a kiss. Go to Him. Have a conversation with Him. Go back in time. He is willing to stay on that Cross until you feel your bill has been paid. Realize forgiving does not mean forgetting or re-exposing yourself.
- Consider it All Joy – God doesn’t promise happiness on Earth. Instead, we hear, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Joy is not situation dependent. You have the power to divide time and insert a thought between an event that triggers negativity and your experience of negativity. What you do between the event and the feeling changes your trajectory.
- Your Humbly Courageous Self – The only way you will know who to trust is to trust. Train yourself to do so. Begin by trusting the Lord. Sit with Him in silence every day. He has your back. Begin to trust yourself. Trust you have a story worth sharing. Trust you bring value to others. Trust that when someone betrays your trust, you and the Lord will handle it together. Trust in small ways and wait. Like the seed that falls on various types of ground, some will be interested so they can betray you for personal gain. Others will mean well but not follow through. More will be trustworthy but incapable of helping. Eventually, when you persevere in the right circles, you will find a rare few who have fought their own demons and thrived. They are strong, capable, and generous. They will hold you accountable and help raise you up.
- Short and Spicy – When you catch yourself thinking in absolutes (“This is never going to work,” “I’ve always been this way,” and so on) stop thinking long term; stay in the moment. Forcefully put your hand out and say, “STOP.” This initiates an interruption response in your brain. It gives you time to realize what path your thoughts are on and allows you to rewrite the script. Instead of thinking you will never be loved, remind yourself you already are loved. Be brave in that. Put on the armor of God. Stand up straight. Shoulders back. Narrow your eyes. Focus your gaze. Tense your muscles. Be a Warrior ready for battle. Know this moment may be spicy, but it is also short.
- Be a Tree – Situational negativity is usually a result of our leaning too heavily on the created rather than the Creator. This is why we have broken hearts and feelings of worthlessness. We believe rejection is a reflection of who we are and miss the beauty of who God is creating us to be. Reflect in silence for a few minutes on the end of Sunday’s reading and commit to training to be the fruitful tree.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
I don’t know the pitfalls the calendar holds for you, but I know we all face some. Take time this week to grow in self-awareness. Reflect on the readings. What speaks to you? When are you more barren bush than fruitful tree? What traps ensnare you? Who might you begin to include in your circle of trust? What healthy practices help you avoid negativity? How do you see God Loving you? How do you love Him back?
Changing negativity takes a good plan, a bit of practice, and some solid support, but the Lord is always there to help you when you decide you want to change for the better.
If you are interested in resiliency, optimism, and opportunity coaching or my new VUCAROO 40 day challenge, please let me know!