Discover more from Seeking Veritas by The Professor, The Poet & Friends
By Vernon Hiller | SGP Columnist
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “no one can hurt you without your consent.” At first glance, the internalization of such a belief sounds like an immensely empowering action. But for someone struggling to silence their own negative inner dialogue, hearing that the words of others have no power over you unless you let them in, can ring hollow. It is hard enough to silence our own negative criticism, let alone that of others. The degree of mental discipline needed to reject negative comments in any form can be extremely difficult to maintain. How we view ourselves is not just entangled with the world around us, it is influenced by the negative words of others, and even more so by our own inner voice.
There are a number of reasons why humans seem to be more hardwired to take in, process and prioritize negative stimuli over positive. One psychological phenomenon known as positive-negative asymmetry suggests that it is our nature to internalize insults much more readily and deeply than we do praise. Additionally, we tend to ruminate more about negative things and remember traumatic experiences more readily than positive ones.
This negativity bias is thought to have developed in early humans tens of thousands of years ago as an adaptive evolutionary trait. In short, it was a survival mechanism that alerted us to danger like predators. Those who were quick to recognize danger or things that threatened their survival tended to live longer than those who were slower to process danger. Although such a trait was necessary for the survival of the species, this hardwired response to negative stimuli can actually be a hinderance in today’s information age.
Today, our bias towards negativity not only makes bad things feel much more important than good things, it can impact our lives in many unforeseen ways. One such way is in our decision making. Because we pay greater attention to the negative events around us, our decisions tend to be based more on the negative information we take in than the positive. This can profoundly affect the choices we make in our lives and what we believe is possible.
The negative images, messages and endless comparisons that emanate from our world’s social media networks can present monumental challenges to those struggling with self esteem issues. How can anyone’s problem-riddled life hope to compete against the highlight reels that everyone else seems to be running on their social media sites? Where do those battling depression, anxiety, or self-doubt ever find the strength to build the exciting lives that others seem to so readily create with little or no effort? How can those trying to remain positive and build a productive life for themselves avoid being drawn in by all the negative messages being sent their way about the future? Perhaps it comes down to how much we expose ourselves to negative messages, and how we respond those we do hear.
All of this brings me back to Eleanor Roosevelt and her earlier quote. Might there be something to be said for developing the self discipline to limit our exposure to what others say, display, and act out on their social media platforms? Could it be that the greatest threat to our sense of self is not just the words of others, but the words we choose to take in, make our own, and then repeat to ourselves every single day?
Building the discipline needed to block negativity and develop an unwavering perspective on life is nothing new. Various groups and cultures have been doing it for centuries. Buddhist monks will isolate themselves physically from the world for weeks and months at a time so as to give their minds and egos the time needed to separate truth from fiction. Individuals like Nelson Mandela and Viktor Frankl were able to find peace and purpose in the harshest of conditions. Through the development of a broader more positive and loving perspective, they were able to eliminate deeply seeded feelings of anger and hate towards their captors.
Could it be that even with all the negative messages that continually bombard us, how we take in those messages is still our choice? Perhaps we do have the power to stop ourselves from being swept along by the tide of negativity and chart our own futures. Perhaps it’s as simple as realizing and adopting the approach that Viktor Frankl so eloquently put into words when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Perhaps…it’s simply a matter of shifting perspectives.
About the Author:
Vernon Hiller is a decorated District Chief of Operations with the Toronto Fire Services and has served the city for over 36 years. He is a Board member with LEADR - a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to providing literacy tutoring for adults in Durham Region. - Having struggled with ADHD as a child, Vernon is passionate about helping others discover the potential that hides within them.