Getting in touch with your emotions is hard. Or rather, getting in touch with your negative emotions is hard.
Because when you do, someone will be there, just around the corner, to call you mean names and paint you out as evil.
When you’re just starting to get in touch with your inner crass, and learning how to use your discernment for good, people around you aren’t going to like it.
They’ll fidget and try to throw rocks at you. Do anything to shut you up.
Because they’re too uncomfortable with their own inner feelings.
Now, it will be tempting to snap back at them when they accuse you of being “too negative” or “whiny” or “unproductive.” Crass does come before class after all .
But after a while, you’ll notice that firing back only wastes your energy and time. And they’re still judging you as evil after it all.
The smarter, more resourceful, most productive thing to do is to remain balanced.
What it means to remain balanced
You’re an individual. You’ve got your own ideas and opinions about things. When you’re confident in what you believe, you go through life being balanced. You spend time and energy on things that you believe in.
You don’t waste time and energy on things you don’t believe in. And you don’t waste time an energy fighting against things you don’t believe in. (It’s really the same thing.)
So when someone comes up to you and hollers in your face: “Hey, you’re wrong man! I’m right! You suck!”
It doesn’t phase you. If you have an emotional reaction, you attend to it in private, or confront the clown with mindfulness.
When you’re really confident in your beliefs, no one can crack you open. You’ll remain completely still. You won’t feel compelled to react. And you’ll deal with the situation in the way that best conserves your time and energy so that the clown will get out of your face and you can go on with your life — continuing to spend your time and energy on things that you believe in.
You may decide to consider his words, or reassess your beliefs based on his claims. But in the end, it’s done with mindfulness and care. It’s done so that you can better understand what you believe and why you do. It’s done for more long-term balance — yours.
How to remain balanced when under accusation
Okay, so what if that guy isn’t a clown? What if he’s your significant other or your boss or your neighbor. Then you’ve got a trickier problem.
The bottom line is that anytime someone tells you that you’re “too negative” — or implies that you are — you’ve got a problem. It could be that your negativity puts the other person in danger or harm’s way. And if that’s the case, you need to hear them out and figure how you can keep things safe for both of you. (Venting without asking the other person if they want to hear it isn’t safe.)
But most of the time, it’s that the other person is just uncomfortable being around you when you express your negative thoughts or feelings — and they want to make you wrong so that you’ll stop. When this is the case, remember that feelings can’t ever be proven wrong; when they exist, they exist.
To remain balanced when someone accuses you of being too negative, you need to keep perspective of the situation and plan your constructive course of action.
5 steps to remaining balanced when under attack
1. Get clear on where the culprit was coming from (that’s usually you)
When you voiced your negative thoughts or feelings, were you simply voicing an opinion, or were you asking for one? Were you bringing to light a problem? Answering someone else’s question?
In other words, what was the social context? What was the dynamic of the relationship? When a cashier tells you you’re being too negative for complaining about food prices, it’s a much different context than when your mother tells you you’re too negative for requesting that she stop ordering you around.
2. Figure out where the accuser was coming from
Were they simply interrupting you when you were saying something negative? Did they try to control you? Did they try to shut you up or put you down? What was their ultimate aim? Was it to avoid listening to what you had to say? Or to strike back in anger because they didn’t like what they heard?
3. Figure out what the claim is and where the evidence lays
The claim might be obvious, or it might point to something else you have to pick apart from what’s said.
“You’re being too negative” could mean, “Oh stop it already,” “I’m not ready to hear this,” “I’m uncomfortable around you when you express upset,” “I wish you would tell me what you want from me,” or “I can never please you.” If you can’t pick it apart, you might have to ask the person.
Whenever someone tells you that you’re being too negative, they’re misplacing their own problem onto you and trying to make you out as the blame.
It’s important to weigh the evidence, if there’s any. A big part of that process includes step #4.
4. Figure out if the accuser contradicted themself
The biggest way that an accuser can contradict themself is by dodging the culprit’s attempts at working things out or trying to come to an understanding. Usually, the accuser makes their claim and folds their arms across their chest as if they have nothing else to say. Or they walk away. Or they get defensive when you try to engage them in discussion. That’s counter-productive, and thus negative. Because it’s not constructive, it’s not collaborative. It’s an opportunity for learning, growth, and cooperation — wasted.
Another way that an accuser contradicts themself is by making the claim at all. By saying that you are being too negative, they are making a negative statement. They’re not saying that you’re positive, or a critical thinker, or honest about how you feel, or aware of problems, or trustworthy for your discernment — you’re negative, which implies you’re bad. Their calling you bad is a negative thing itself. That’s how they contradict themself without even knowing it.
5. Decide on your final verdict
After you’ve poked holes into the accuser’s claims, kept a broader perspective, and remained true to your original negative thoughts and feelings, you can make your final decision.
How are you going to respond the most constructively? Are you even going to respond at all?
How are you going to go on with your life — given their claim? Are you going to consider it and find the faults, as well as the good points made (if any)?
How are you going to use the accusation to ultimately help you in living your life with balance by committing your time and energy to things that you believe in?
A Mindful Construct example
Since this is the kick-off example for the article series “Juicing Negative Blog Comments,” we’ll refer to a real-life example from this blog.
In this scenario, the culprit is me.
1. Getting clear on where the culprit was coming from
I wrote the article “The Dark Side of Mindfulness Meditation” to shake people up to the potential dark side of mindfulness meditation: escapism.
It pushed a lot of readers over edge because they misinterpreted me as saying that monks don’t deserve to live and meditation is the root of all evil.
The careful readers weren’t offended at all — some who are regular meditators. Maybe they saw that I’m not against meditation and do think it can be wonderful and powerful.
Where was I coming from?
Seeing all the mainstream “Me too!” attitude so typical of the West. Where Americans (professionals included) take on a practice unaware of its dark roots and richer backstory, and thus unaware of its potential dysfunction. I wanted to show that others who are ready or already see it.
2. Figuring out where the accuser was coming from
On June 10, 2010 at 4:50pm, commenter “derek” accused me of spreading fear and doing the wrong thing by talking about a problem rather than offering a solution:
“A lot of fear. You could explain the benefits of proper meditation and self education in meditation. It is not about hiding from emotions but how to accept them for what they are, feelings we experience. It is good though to warn people of downfalls that can happen through blind faith. Take it easy.”
In addition, he advised me to take it easy — implying that I was sitting on the edge of my seat while writing the article.
In telling me that I should have explained “the benefits of proper meditation and self education in meditation” instead of writing the article that I wrote, he overstepped a boundary. First of all, he’s not the editor of this site. And secondly, I didn’t ask for his opinion on what I should have written instead.
The accuser was coming from a place where he felt compelled to control my behavior.
3. Figuring out what the claim is and where the evidence lays
The claim is that I’m a bad person because I’m perpetuating fear and only talking about problems. The claim is that I’m a bad person because I’m talking negatively about the sacred institution of meditation. If you don’t think mindfulness meditation is an institution (independent of Buddhism itself), just take a look at all the commenters attacking me.
I happen to think that derek was really saying, “I see your point, but you don’t offer any solutions, and that irritates me.” Of course he could leave a comment here and explain himself if he wants to be honest, but my guess is that he doesn’t really want to extend the conversation. And that leads us to the next step.
4. Figuring out if the accuser contradicts themself
The most obvious way that derek contradicted himself was by telling me that I should have explained “the benefits of proper meditation and self education in meditation” of writing the article that I wrote.
We’re going to get nitpicky here.
There are two things that derek is talking about, problems and solutions. According to him, I’m talking about problems, and should be talking about solutions.
The thing is, his comment follows similar suit. He talks about problems: the article has a lot of fear in it (which is problematic), I “could explain the benefits of proper meditation and self education in meditation” (which makes the article lacking or off-course, and thus problematic), and apparently I’m wrong about meditation (which is a problem) because it’s “not about hiding from emotions but how to accept them for what they are, feelings we experience.”
That second point may seem like a solution — giving me what to write about instead (which supposedly isn’t problematic) but it doesn’t give me much to work with. And it’s in ignorance of the fact that a vital part of education on benefits is an education on pitfalls.
I’d love to write about how to meditate in a functional way in the future. But the bigger fire to put it out is — all the ways that meditation can negatively interfere with your emotional life. And I’d rather focus on readerships ready for real emotional work before trying to bridge to meditators who are predisposed to use complex techniques to avoid or dissipate or “observe” their emotions.
Another contradiction lies in the last part of the comment:
“It is good though to warn people of downfalls that can happen through blind faith. Take it easy.”
Derek does acknowledge the importance of looking at downfalls, or pitfalls. He does agree that blind faith isn’t helpful, but hurtful. Yet, he can’t reconcile that acknowledgment with the fact that I’m not taking it easy enough. That I’m apparently riled up and perpetuating fear. Which seems to invalidate the fact that warnings are useful.
His contradiction is an indication that he probably understands that warning people of potential problems is a good thing — but emotionally it’s too uncomfortable for him to embrace himself. Therefore, by my being the negative messenger, I’m out in the open and easy to attack.
Here’s the bottom line: If derek were truly sure of the goodness of warning people of downfalls, he wouldn’t have been offended by the article, because he’d see it as containing this goodness.
5. Deciding on my final verdict
My final verdict was that derek got upset by the article (like most of the commenters there did), didn’t know what to do with those feelings, and chose to channel that by accusing me of being wrong in at least two ways.
I chose to respond most constructively by not responding directly to him (because he really left no room for conversation) and instead juicing his comment for this article that you’re now reading.
I do think that derek’s statement about the value of offering meditation education is valuable. I hope to get to it someday.
How have I used the accusation to ultimately help me in living my life with balance by committing my time and energy to things that I believe in?
I believe in you. That you’re reading this article instead of all the superficial stuff out there means that you care about your response ability and this planet. You care about your emotional health because when you’re strong and you stand by your goals, you change this world for the better just by being you.
I believe in arming you for emotional resilience. Comments left on Mindful Construct are a microcosm for your relationships; internet discussions are a microcosm for in-person communication. When people attack me here, we can learn something from it. You can be better prepared to respond with mindfulness and care when your significant other or your boss or your neighbor attacks you in similar fashion. That stops the cycles of dysfunctional relating, and makes this world a better place for all of us.
How to apply this to your life
People love to jump on you when you’re the bearer of bad news — or being “negative.” It’s only natural because they themselves are uncomfortable hearing, let alone sharing the message.
But stay true to your thoughts and feelings, no matter how negative they are. Learn how to work with them constructively. Learn how to use them for positive mobilization.
And remain balanced when you can. It takes practice, but you can get it. And you’ll end up far more confident, productive, and effective in your life.
What do you think?
What do you think about derek’s comment? What do you think about how I’m responding to it?
Are there any other comments on the site you’d like to see featured in this article series?
This is the first article in the series “Juicing Negative Blog Comments,” where I deconstruct real comments left on the site. As an opportunity to talk about healthy deflection, nuances in communication, mental boundaries, recognizing when people invalidate you, and figuring out what to do about it. Subscribe to get updates when this series expands.