Positively negative, a note on the relationship between optimism and adversity.
“Our capacity to weigh negative input so heavily most likely evolved for a good reason—to keep us out of harm’s way (psychologytoday.com).”
We’re wired to be negative.
Negativity is an evolutionary advantage to successfully identify danger, it was life or death. Our brains want to investigate signs of trouble. Seeking thoughts of paranoia and fear of the unknown was helpful. Now we live in a much safer world than 100 years ago. We don’t need to quickly combat danger, from an evolutionary standpoint.
Your brain may be pessimistically wired but that’s normal. When I say pessimistically wired I’m not referring to depression or other mood disorders. Having depression really dials up the suffering.
Depression is a common mental illness, pessimistic hardwiring and optimism can go hand in hand. I have depression and it makes a life full of adversity cut deeper. I’m a realistic optimist meaning that I ground my optimism with information from both sides. I’m a depressed-realistic-optimist because happiness and pain are not mutually exclusive.
What’s Realistic Optimism?
Benjamin Schneider, Ph.D., M.A. (2001) said, Realistic optimism is possible, rational, and perhaps a better approach to actually heaping good outcomes than either pessimism or unrealistic optimism (self- deception).
People who have optimism and hope are more likely to prepare themselves with even unfavorable information.
(Salovey et al. 2000)
Why do I care?
Right now I’m going through a period of a lot of self-reflection that I’ve avoided, until now. My obsessively helpful coping skills allowed me to move forward. I didn’t know it then, but I was creating a space for me to heal from trauma and rest from the struggle of it all.
Then I went to graduate school, working towards a Masters in Positive Organizational Psychology and Evaluation.
Even in my undergraduate career, I was well informed about the struggles of graduate school. As a psychology student, I knew that if I wanted to use my degree that I was going to have to be in school for years. My undergraduate research professor often said, “Graduate School is like working two full-time jobs.” How bad could that be? I’ve worked more than one full-time job, for survival. When orientation rolled around I wasn’t expecting to have to revisit years, long past.
Flashbacks from my abusive childhood began to disable my ability to cope, my ability to function. The emotional intensity of PTSD is fucking exhausting. I was already exhausted from the 20 plus hours a week dedicated to advanced statistics. Twenty hours and many more dedicated to ONE of my Four courses. Then I took no more responsibility because that’s what I do, I find all of my resources and use them to the best of my ability. At the start of classes, expectations, stress I couldn’t afford anything going wrong.
Grad school is not the time to have your past attack ever step into progress. Unbalanced, unanchored to the present. I through myself into progress, but the work wasn’t attainable. Untenable, watch your self-fail, shackled by disability panic attacks. The ruminating thoughts of fraud, validated by ruminating thoughts. I want to emancipate myself from that helpless battered and belittled a child. I survived, I’m not a victim.
That inner voice isn’t neurotypical, playing on a constant loop. An air horn sounds off, without rhythm. Leaving an unpredictable force. I anchor myself to this fear… my life to fear, fear not simply of failure but of self-harm. Razors cutting into my consciousness, it’s almost like I want to bleed out. To stop striving to become, to not be.
Remember, optimism is not the absences of adversity or pessimism.
Grad School commanded every step, shaking while racking my aspirations into tattered tendons. I started giving a voice to that compartmentalized case of unstoppable anguish. Give a voice to an abusive past wasn’t easy. I didn’t make this change until my first C, which was a failing grade. I went straight on to medication, counseling, regular exercise, all while trying to function. I just needed to function and not be debilitated by my past and present.
If you’re wondering I’m taking a break from graduate school right now because I have to take care of my mental health.
“An optimistic, more naturally cheery person can be thwacked by circumstances, chronic or acute, and appear to be an Eeyore when they are really a Pooh.”
An Example, a Realistic Optimism’s Planning Process.
I find it easier to plan for the future and to really anchor myself in pieces and in different content. The person that you are learning about in this blog post, the writer, me. I’m naturally depressed, well clinically, anyway… I don’t trust my first thoughts or emotions in response to the planning process.
I dice up my skills and characteristics and look at them in the context. I like to look at myself as in different parts.
For example, I’ll write down all of the skills I have, the level of each competency. Essentially I’ll look at my LinkedIn profile and my latest covers letters, resumes, and CVs and break this down into categories.
Looking at myself chopped up like that in piles, it’s much easier for me to look at my self as valuable, that’s the mind of a depressed person.
Facing adversity as a realistic optimist can be helpful. How? Taking a closer look by seeking out resources and guidance.
Being optimistic doesn’t prevent adversity, shit still happens.
Mental disorders make everything worse but that doesn’t bar you from success.