Many years ago, my husband got a whopping case of poison ivy. It covered his entire body. Yes, all of it. And it lasted for months. In the summer. In sweaty Texas. It was horrible. He lost 15 pounds he couldn’t spare, lost sleep, and no lotions or shots helped. Finally (and scientists will roll their eyes but what can I say?) homeopathic pills* knocked it out.
Ever since then, when life is difficult or just seems generally crappy, Tom says to himself, “At least I don’t have poison ivy.”
Maybe that’s setting the bar low, but the thought nonetheless helps him through tough times.
The popularity of my previous posts about being a cranky old pessimist (here and here) tell me that there are plenty of us out there seeking validation. The dark minded among us are harangued for our negativity, urged to put on a happy face, criticized for our stinkin’ thinkin’, but that just makes us feel even worse. Where is the love for the dark side?
I’ve been skimming research on self-esteem and was particularly interested in a 2004 article titled, The Costly Pursuit of Self-Esteem. In it, the authors argue that while high self-esteem is a good thing, pursuing self esteem that is contingent on how others perceive you can lead to depression and anxiety. For example, if you feel you must get the highest grades in the class, or knock people out with your beauty, or even be lauded for your kindness, and fall short, your self-esteem will crumble. On the other hand, self-esteem based on respect for your intrinsic qualities, such as your values or compassion, is stable and healthier.
So, can we therefore argue that trying to put on a happy face so people will accept us puts pessimists on shaky ground, self-esteem-wise? Perhaps we would be better off finding value in our negativity?
Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley made self-affirmations look goofy. But maybe the affirmation worked, since Stuart Smalley/Al Franken is now a senator. Certainly there can be no harm in saying nice things to ourselves, and in finding value in who we are rather than constantly striving to be who we are not. And affirmations can help us get through bad times. Even gloomy ones, like my husband’s. (My only caveat is that if you are defending qualities that isolate you or antagonize people, you might want to step back and reconsider.)
So, fellow pessimists, maybe instead of looking for the silver lining and giving ourselves loving hugs, it’s OK to settle for rayon and a heartfelt pat on the back. Whatever works.
A few affirmations for the negative minded:
- When things go wrong, I’ll deal with it as I always have.
- You can’t make lemonade without lemons.
- I’m an acquired taste.
- Low expectations=pleasant surprises.
- If everybody likes me, it means I have no personality.
- If I were perfect, people would hate me.
- Too much sunshine can be boring.
Those are some that work for me. Got any of your own to add?
* They were called Rhus Tox Poison Ivy Pills, which are out of stock at our supplier at the moment but on order. They have become a staple in this household.