How to Channel Cripplingly Strong Bouts of Negativity into Healthy Competitiveness, Creativity and Self-Love (or -"Kinda Like")

Like most people, I still drift toward negative thoughts from time to time, but I’ve gotten much better at keeping myself from spiraling out of control.

Nov 12, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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It came out of nowhere -- I just checked my Facebook, home of the humblebrag, and scattered among the photos of homemade gourmet omelets and Eurotrip albums was the one thing that could ruin my day: that person I don’t like accomplishing something.

Two things happened: The first was this burning feeling that started in my cheeks and slowly branched off and incinerated the rest of my body as I sat in my seat. My eyes fixed themselves to the screen until my brain ordered me to look away, minimize the page -- NO -- close the page, maybe even delete Facebook, who needs Facebook anyway? And then I calmed down, feeling a coldness settle over me -- the chilliness only evidence of how powerful these feelings of self-deprecation and envy really were.

The second thing I did was applaud myself  because, unlike 5 years ago, this feeling only lasted 10 minutes. I turned my attention to pudding or puppies next -- the fact that I don't remember the details further proves the point that I just couldn't care anymore.

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I remember now -- it was alpacas!

The first time I ever really, really, felt jealous was inexplicably important in the context of my life. It was in the 8th grade, and having finally found a best friend, I felt intimidated and hurt when this other girl joined the picture and was friendly to my friend and not to me, because my friend was the top student in all our classes, while I blew off all my work and couldn't motivate myself to do anything. And this girl, who I felt was stealing my friend, was everything I wasn't -- pretty, organized, studious, a good conversationalist. And I hated her.

I hated that my friend liked her and was afraid that she too would look at me with annoyance one day. So I started studying, for the first time in my life. Simple things like raising my hand or answering a math problem became a race of the most extreme significance -- I had to beat her to it. 

In a way, had I not irrationally felt that my happiness was threatened, I most likely wouldn’t be where I am now, because this sudden need to compete made me care about my grades and career for the first time in my life. But while I got my academics in check, I had lost my empathy. I had lost my desire to do things for myself, instead of for the sake of proving a point. I had lost my emotional freedom, always thinking about what was wrong or unjust rather than the hundreds of small things that made my life the best life I could hope for.

As everyone else, I still drift towards negative thoughts from time to time, but I’ve gotten much better at keeping myself from spiraling out of control the way I did for so many years. 

So here are my tips.

Know What You're Angry About REALLY

I know by now that the root of my jealousy is always that I feel like someone doesn't deserve the happiness I believe they have, usually because they did or said something to me that was rude or just plain spiteful. (Ironically enough, their actions towards me are fueled by jealousy a lot of the time, too -- see how much of a cycle this is?) Of course, this is completely ridiculous; crappy people can totally be talented and physically attractive and have a lot of friends or "friends" or whatever else there is to be envious of. I know that.

But, due to a misguided sense of morality, I will absolutely internally lose my shit a little when I know that Deplorable Human #3 won an award or Succubus from the Center of Hell got the job and I didn't. If I look deeper, I can also tell that my envy almost always ties into insecurities about my intelligence and talent. So that's something to work on.

Make a List of the Good Things

When I was coming down from the ecstasy of living in Europe for 4 months, I was letting really small things claw into me, all while trying to brush off the creeping paranoia that I would never be that happy again in my life. So, out of desperation, and also because I probably saw it in some movie, I went up to the whiteboard in my room and made a quick list of everything that was going well.

It was a long list of all the things I could come up with -- an exciting internship, a well-paying job, tons of new friends. I never got around to erasing it, so when I go home for breaks, all I see is the amount of things I was ready to overlook because I was no longer a train ride away from Paris. I know it sounds cheesy -- it IS cheesy. But give it a try. You might just surprise yourself.

Make Some Social Media Changes if Necessary

After I graduated high school, I remained Facebook friends with people I disliked (former bullies, guys who called me a lesbian in an attempt to hurt my feelings, LOVELY PEOPLE) just because I wanted to keep tabs on them. I knew a bunch of them were probably not going to change for the better.

After what they put me through, I wanted my piece of passive-aggressive revenge in the form of seeing them slowly crumble from the comfort of my laptop screen. The problem with this is, however, is that, while the occasional immediate gratification is there, there will be times when you might feel horrible about your body and then see that Mean Girl rocking a bikini, or be slaving over midterms and then see Racist Misogynist Neanderthal getting blackout at a party with a pretty girl wrapped under each arm. Why do that to yourself? Delete. 

Take a Leap, No Matter What Happens

When I discovered this deep pit of longing whenever I saw people singing or performing onstage, I decided to try. I almost threw up every time and my dad gave me "herbal calming pills" (a.k.a. placebos -- yes, really) to try and keep me from breaking down every time I went to the stage for my high school's semi-annual talent shows. Not only did I gain the valuable life skill of being able to calmly face a crowd of people, but I stopped feeling absolutely horrible every time a perfectly hard-working and deserving person was in the spotlight and I wasn’t. If you never try, as much as it completely paralyzes you, stresses you out, makes you want to crawl in a hole and hibernate until further notice --  you'll always be in the sidelines, simmering away. 

Keep Yourself Busy

This is the hardest one ever for me, because I bet if I got my wallet stolen, suddenly had a surprise paper assigned for the next day and caught strep all at once, I'd still probably find time to dwell on really mean things said to me once or the fact that I dislike my thighs for no reason. That's the thing about negative emotions, that's why we have to fight so hard to expel them -- they have a way of lingering.

Self-doubt is one of the ones that can plague you at pretty much every moment of your existence if you let it. The thing is that keeping busy with work, hobbies and people who don't make you feel like you'll cry a lot in the future isn't just a ploy for distraction. Rather, it’s about doing things that are important, either to other people or just to you. When you attach significance to your existence, things get easier. They just do. 

Befriend the Soft-Spoken Voice of Reason

Not all Deplorable Humans are actually deplorable. The Succubus from the Center of Hell is a person, with possibly more problems than you. I personally try really hard not to hurt people and to be as understanding as possible, and when someone doesn't reciprocate that, I get upset. we all have so much stress and baggage and inevitable conflicts in our lives, why do we have to add to the load with passive-aggressive remarks, dramatic falling-outs and whatever else?  But, then again, how many truly happy people do you know that would do any of the aforementioned?

Every unkindness or lashing out is just an expression of pain, insecurity, and feeling that happiness will never be in abundance in this person's life -- it'll just trickle in occasionally, only before retracting back into some other world where everything works out for everyone else except for them. It's not an excuse for meanness, but it is an explanation, and you don't have to turn the other cheek -- just stop glaring all the time. 

Stretch Until You Feel Something

I hate yoga. I hate pilates. I hate the elliptical machine and the treadmill as much as one can hate an inanimate object without being classified as completely insane. But, weirdly enough, I'm always excited to go, as if I have no idea how much I'm going to absolutely abhor the silky-voiced Yoga to the People instructor in the next hour as I have to stay in Downward Dog for a whopping 30 seconds.

There's something truly unearthly in how you feel in the exact moment you release yourself from a difficult position or stretch. You carry a lot of strain in your body, and only when you move do you realize just how much. Of course it's hard -- almost all good things are -- but if you can hold your entire body up for even a moment or power through and run for as long as you can, you'll start to realize how strong you are. You were always strong -- but, like with many other things we struggle to believe, sometimes we need physical proof.

Repeat.

This isn't a one-day gig. This is a lifetime of work that, with enough patience, becomes easier over time, mostly because you've gained self-worth and don't need to focus on the past or cast stones on others. It takes honesty with yourself and the ability to admit your shortcomings, which, yes, temporarily aggravates the situation. But if you can get to the point where you can live your life and feel like you can accept the low points to the same degree that you appreciate the high ones, everything starts to equalize. You feel at peace. And that is the way to live.

Intern Julia tweets once in a full moon @jaypugz