Why is it that negative experiences get stuck in our memory? How come we are less open to positive experiences? How is it possible that we often think that we can nót do it? Or quickly think that the other person does not like us? Psychologist Peter explains in this blog why loving yourself is so difficult.

Focus is on the negative

Research shows that negative experiences have much more impact on us than positive experiences. In an experiment, researchers gave 50 euros to test subjects who played a gambling game. Some lost 50 euros and others won 50 euros. They investigated which emotions were strongest: the negative emotions (after losing the money) or the positive emotions (after winning). It turns out: people who had lost money had much stronger emotions than people who won just as much money.

In another study, researchers saw that the negative effect of a setback on your mood is much greater than the positive effect of successful experience. It appears that you need about 5 good experiences to compensate for one bad experience.

How did that happen?

We are all strongly pre-programmed to see everything negative in ourselves and in others. Why is that? We think it has to do with evolution. A long time ago, when people lived among wild animals, it was vital to be aware of dangers. A negative event (a dangerous animal in your neighborhood) could immediately mean your death, while a positive experience (a kind word from a family member) did not cause a life or death experience. 

We still suffer from this legacy (automatically paying much more attention to negativity than to the positive) on a daily basis. If you ask people to list good and negative characteristics of themselves, they will often come up with a larger list of negative characteristics. Everyone will also recognize that you remember bad memories better than happy memories. And perhaps most importantly: that eternal critical voice in your head that always says it is not enough. That little voice is so normal that we are often not even aware of it.

Compassion is the cure

Fortunately, we can learn to focus more on the positive, by training kindness for yourself and others. How do you create more compassion? You can primarily do this by thinking regularly ‘’is the critical voice speaking?’’ Is that voice nagging at me again? If you are sad or lonely, for example, and you notice you are telling yourself that you are blaming yourself. That is not helping, right?

What will help is to ask yourself how you would react if a child you love felt that way. You would probably try to comfort it. Then why don’t you pamper yourself a little too? Probably a reaction immediately pops up: “that is stupid” or “I do not deserve that.” That is exactly the negative that is so ingrained in us.

The challenge is to go against your feelings and to be kind to yourself. Try doing something that can comfort yourself if you feel bad. Even in situations where you do not feel bad, you can train yourself by looking for something positive.

Laugh about it

When I read this kind of advice myself, I always get such a sense of “that is simply said, but it will not work for me. I can not keep that up ”. It can help you to realize that it is not your fault that you keep falling back into self-criticism. Our brains tend to do that. It is already nice to be able to smile a little when you notice that you are taking the negative side.

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Peter van Drunen

I am a clinical psychologist at the Synaeda in Leeuwarden. In my work I am mainly concerned with the question: how you can change old patterns in which you are trapped. And how you can become a little milder for yourself.

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