Are You a Debbie Downer?

How to tell the difference between being negative and keeping it real

Posted Jan 22, 2015

Debbie Downer

Having negative feelings sometimes is natural and healthy, but being a chronically negative person could be a symptom of a problem.

Let's look at the difference between negative feelings and negativity...

Pop quiz (don't pretend you don't love these)!

Which of these people, if any, are being negative?

1. Victor is a student approaching final exams. He tells his friends he probably won't do very well.

2. Sherry wins 2nd prize in an equestrian competition, and all she can think is, "I didn't win."

3. Joan's friend wants to buy a house, but Joan says home ownership is a bad financial investment.

What do you think? Are any of these people being negative?

My answer to all is "Not necessarily."

1. Maybe Victor knows very well he's spent more time eating Doritos and playing video games than studying this semester. He knows there will be academic consequences. Maybe he's being realistic.

2. Sherry's disappointment is understandable if her cherished goal was to win first place. Consider an analogy: You're madly in love with a man who doesn't love you back, but you can date a friend of his who's nice enough. How happy would you be with that? Sherry's disappointment with second place is valid, given that she had her eye on first.

Of course, if Sherry's a perfectionist who's never satisfied with second place in anything, that's a different story. Her disappointment is a feature of her perfectionism problem, not the natural outcome of genuinely high hopes.

3. Joan has sold several houses at a loss. She understands that the costs of home ownership can't always be recouped, even if the market happens to go up, which it doesn't always do. An informed view is often confused with a negative one.

Having negative feelings about upcoming exams, or coming in second, or buying a home, doesn't make you a Debbie Downer -- unless you define Debbie Downer as someone who speaks inconvenient truths to those who'd rather not hear it.

Will the Real Debbie Downer Please Stand Up?

If you tend to feel or express negative views about almost everything...

If we can count on you to sink a helium balloon...

If winning the lottery makes you think about what a hassle it will be to claim the prize...

... then you might be a Debbie (or Danny) Downer.

DD's can't help but see the glass as just plain empty, no matter how full it might be. They may not like it, but that's just how it seems to be.

There is such a thing as temperament. For all we know, there may even be such a thing as an Eeyore gene.

But I don't believe that temperament has the last word when it comes to social behavior.

Our genes alone don't dictate how we act; we're social beings who learn from others, and from life.

If you find it hard to feel optimistic or positive about most things, it's just possible that there's been too much bad stuff that's happened in your life.

Being a negative person can act like a shield against past injuries.

Bad memories might want to masquerade as negativity about random things, because that's how those feelings can safely manifest themselves.

It may feel safer to be negative about the present (or future) than to face the truth about a painful past.

If you find kittens depressing, vacations boring and weddings a joke, maybe too much bad stuff has happened to you that still needs to be processed.

In that case, please find someone to talk to about what's really under your skin. You don't have to be trapped in negativity for the rest of your life.

If you're pretty sure your negative attitude didn't come from experience, might it have been learned at home?

Examine your parents' negativity levels and compare them with your own. If there's a match, root out automatic thoughts by consciously challenging them.

By the way...

Did you hate this post?

I knew it. :(