“I recently read in the book My Stroke of Insight by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor that the natural life span of an emotion—the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body—is only a minute and a half. After that we need thoughts to keep the emotion rolling. So if we wonder why we lock into painful emotional states like anxiety, depression, or rage, we need look no further than our own endless stream of inner dialogue.”Tara Branch
“What is wrong with me?”
Dear listener, there is so much hope, beauty and potential inside of you; I can assure you there is absolutely nothing wrong with you in any shape or form. When we often question ‘what is wrong with me’, it can often in many cases be due to our relationship and understanding of our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Emotions are our bodies way of telling us something like a compass telling us the way. The emotions themselves are neither necessarily good or bad but it is our understanding and relationship with such emotions through a clouded haze or some form of maze that we can become lost. Even as a Positive Psychology Practitioner myself, I also have challenging days and I am always learning more about emotional triggers, growing with mindfulness based practices and much more. You are certainly not alone. Please take a deep breath and take your time to read this article and explore additional resources within this article to help you grow.
Please do talk to a loved one about how you might feel right at this moment in time. Also please do look into Mind for further free resources and assistance.
It is natural to feel like this
According to Douglas Van Praet (2017), a study about words and emotions conducted by Robert W. Schrauf, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at Penn State found that;
“They discovered that people, regardless of culture or age, know significantly more words to describe negative emotions than words to describe positive or neutral emotions. Of all the words participants listed, 50 percent were negative, 30 percent positive, and 20 percent were neutral. And this observation held true across age groups and cultures, suggesting that this a human tendency shared pan-culturally.”
What we can learn from this is that it is perfectly normal across the board to have negative feelings and the depth of words attached to such feelings portrays how significant negative emotions are in our lives. What is important is how we perceive these emotions and how we react to them.
Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School (2020) says;
“Negative emotions exist to keep us safe. The primary negative emotions include sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. We experience them in an involuntary way in response to environmental stimuli. You never say to yourself, Hey, I think I’ll feel afraid now—you just feel it and react with fight or flight, which can save your life. Disgust similarly alerts us involuntarily to potential pathogens. Of course, your system can be hyperactive—you can have an anger-management problem or be excessively fearful—but the broader point is: Although they aren’t fun, bad feelings are supremely important.”
Negative emotions can present moments to grow as individuals, and we can often find that some of our most meaningful moments in life can be quite painful. To live a meaningful life embodies positive and negative emotions. Of course we want to build an environment that is full of constructs that bring positive emotions such as joy and love much more often in our lives; albeit it is important that we understand our negative emotions, understand their purpose and understand how to navigate and flow with them in a healthy manner for ourselves.
Please see a short video by Vernon Sankey & Katey Lockwood from Improve My World. Vernon & Katey also partner with Meaningful Paths as coaches.
Why do you feel this way?
There are many reasons that may have caused you to question ‘what is wrong with me?’. Leaning more about the Negativity Bias and the Positivity Bias can help you to understand how the mind works. Furthermore learning about theories such as Learned Optimism and Learned Hopefulness can shed light on the power of a thinking habits.
Negativity Bias: ‘Negativity Bias’ refers to our proclivity to “attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information” (Vaish et al., 2008, p.383). This can help us to understand more deeply why we may focus our attention on negative thoughts more quickly. We may potentially recall insults more regularly than compliments. If our day had several good events it is possible that we may focus on the one bad thing that happened as well.
Positivity Bias: Also known as the ‘Pollyanna Principle.’ The human tendency to centre our attention on the positive and also use more positive words and phrases during a conversation. Individuals who are not suffering from depression and who are in a healthy mental place tend to focus more on the positive than the negative, and are also likely to recall positive memories more often. Courtney Ackerman describes (2021);
“Doctor Clay Jones puts it this way: “Anyone who isn’t clinically depressed is on some level more like Pollyanna than Eeyore” (2014). We may not think we’re very positive, but it is written in our very DNA to look on the bright side—we all have a built-in capacity for positivity, but whether we actually embrace the Pollyanna Principle and set our sights on the positive or succumb to negativity is almost entirely up to us.”
Learned Optimism: This is the concept whereby we can change our negative self-talk and perception on life’s challenges and train ourselves to see the broader picture in life. In relation to Alphonse Karr; when looking at a rose bush do we think negatively and see the thorns on the rose bush or do we see things positively and embrace the fact that a thorn stem has a beautiful rose on attached? According to Catherine Moore (2020);
“Learned optimism is very much a positive psychology concept; it’s the opposite of learned helplessness: a phenomenon whereby individuals believe they are incapable of changing their circumstances after repeatedly experiencing a stressful event (Abramson et al., 1978; Seligman & Garber, 1980; Maier & Seligman, 2016).”
Learned Hopefulness: Hope requires a sense of control on your part and is different to faith which can be underlined by the control of another to help you. Unlike other positive emotions such as joy, love, awe and so on do not require another emotion to set them on their way. Hope on the other hand requires negativity or uncertainty to be triggered. If you next day was certain you would not need hope, and being a a challenging situation or feeling lost can trigger the feeling of hope. Uncertainty is part of the recipe for hope.
As Dr. Dan Tomasulo,(2019) describes;
“The key to understanding how hope works is understanding our perspective. When our expectations have been let down, or we are facing the unknown do we believe there is anything that can be done to change the outcome? If we do, then hope is possible. If we don’t, then this is where we give up, and let go of our goals.”
How to break negative thought cycles?
“My philosophy is to “kill the monster while it’s little.” The best time to handle a “negative” emotion is when you first begin to feel it. It’s much more difficult to interrupt an emotional pattern once it’s full-blown.”Tony Robbins
How do we break our negative thought patterns and integrate our learnings from above?
- Build up your self-esteem with small daily steps. Find an activity that you enjoy or that you used to be passionate about before this situation. Do not put pressure on yourself and the only goal of that task is to physically get up and do it. For example you may choose to walk in nature and take photos of trees. You may call a friend or loved one just to ask how they are? You may start listening to an inspiring podcast. For free resources please see our page – self esteem techniques.
- Practice mindfulness. The process of mindfulness is to allow our thoughts to float freely like clouds, to acknowledge our thoughts without judgment. Please see our mindfulness exercises for more information.
- Understanding suppression: When we try to avoid a negative thought ironically it comes back more and more. TRY NOT TO THINK OF A WHITE BEAR. Did you just think of a white bear? The metaphor of a sushi conveyor belt can be very useful. If we imagine food going around in a restaurant on a conveyor belt (our thoughts); and each time a plate of food we didn’t like appeared (negative thoughts); then if we knocked the plates off the conveyor belt we would continually trip over these plates of food we didn’t like (suppression).
- Watch an inspiring film to help you engage with the above idea of Learned Hopefulness. Sometimes an inspiring film can trigger belief within ourselves. Use that trigger to be PRO-ACTIVE and work on mindfulness exercises, physical exercise and organically building up your self-esteem.
- Avoid too much caffeine as this may make your mind overthink and cause anxiety.
- Avoid alcohol as this will be a momentary high and result in limited cognitive functioning during and after the drink. Also avoid any other substances that could harm your cognitive thinking. This can lead back to the thoughts of, ‘what is wrong with me?’ The only way you will grow is if you take action on your thinking patterns and physical action to partake in activities outside of the home, Take small daily steps on things that make you grow as a person, menially, spiritually and physically and you will organically move away from your troubles.
- Practice gratitude. Wrote down on a piece of paper or in a journal every night before going to bed three things that you were grateful for that day. This could be something very simple even being grateful for the sun; a nice text message; seeing a happy dog on a walk and so on. Small and simple practices like gratitude in time can completely change the dynamics of our thinking patterns.
A conclusion of thoughts
Dear reader, firstly I am sorry for the challenges you are going through right now. I hope this article has helped you to understand the questions of ‘what is wrong with me?’ I hope when reading this article you have found many reasons to know that there is indeed nothing wrong with you at all. Please do explore our website for lots of blog articles, free resources, quotes, and also our free course on Meaning under ‘My Account.‘ The first step is always the hardest but I assure you once you find the courage to change, find and learn hope, learn to be more optimistic and start to take action you will organically grow to where you want to get to. In 6 months time, in 12 months time, you will not recognise yourself for how far you have come. Practices such as mindfulness can be the foundation of emotional regulation and inner peace. From this practicing gratitude can help you see your life and the world in a new light. Take small daily steps to grow your self-esteem and this in time will give you much more confidence to handle life and thrive in life.
Thanks for listening.
Don’t Push Away Your Negative Emotions – The Atlantic
How Hope Works (thriveglobal.com)
Learned Optimism: Is Martin Seligman’s Glass Half Full? (positivepsychology.com)
Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life | Stanford Graduate School of Business
What Is The Negativity Bias and How Can it be Overcome? (positivepsychology.com)
Why Negative Thoughts Are Normal | Psychology Today UK