The Viral Spiral of Negativity

Have you ever noticed that it can take just one negative coworker to really bring an office down? Or how one parent berating an umpire can “inspire” others in the crowd to do the same? Or how one person gossiping can open the door to others chiming in and “sharing,” too?

Negativity can suck people in like a raging vortex. Whether they are merely brought down by the negative or whether they contribute to it, negative breeds more negative. Or at the very least makes it damn hard for the positive to hold ground.

Studies show that we can actually take on the emotions of others—both good and bad—and that it’s wise to pay attention to the company we keep.

I see this played out in my own family. If one of us is in a bad mood (which is so unbelievably rare), odds are that the rest of us will succumb to the twister of negative energy. Though it’s not inevitable, it’s all too likely. Of course there are many times when someone in a good mood can help the Negative Nellie pull back and reevaluate just how much of an asshat they’re being, but it is certainly an uphill battle.

The sad truth is that it is easier to stay in a bad mood than pull out of it. Being grumpy or lashing out requires less effort than self-control, doesn’t it? Especially when we feel we’ve been the recipients of others’ negative crap. I call it “kicking the dog syndrome.” If we’ve had a day of getting beaten down at work, it takes real effort not to bring that feeling home. It’s so much easier to let the short temper fly and “kick” at the first sign of anyone crossing our paths.

This unchecked negativity is running rampant in our society today. It’s not just a case of someone in the family dashing the spirits of other family members. It’s nationwide and a cultural epidemic.




It is the viral spiral of negativity, and if we’re not careful, we’re going to get sucked right down the drain and into the sewer.




Honestly, I feel like we’re already smelling plenty of sewage. For sure in our media. Presidential elections in my lifetime have always been antagonistic, but our current one is charting new and ugly territory like never before. It hurts my heart. Literally, I think. My chest hurts when I read or watch the news. Deep inside I have a sinking feeling like this new “normal” is winning and bringing out the worst in people. My anxiety flares, and I feel despair. How did we get here?

I’ve written before—like here, here, and here—on how these hurtful ways are permeating our society, but it continually amazes me how widely accepted such reprehensible behavior is becoming. The bar of civility and respect just keeps getting lower and lower. Many days it feels like that bar is already down on the ground, covered in dirt.

Of course, I am not without hope, though some days it’s freaking hard not to just shake my head and retreat to a safer place. As someone who is aware of how much what I surround myself with matters, I try hard to immerse myself in the positive and keep the dark at bay, but even that can backfire.

Just the other day I was reading a review of a book by Glennon Doyle Melton, an author I love and value not only for her words and wisdom but for her courage and vulnerability. Her book, Love Warrior, is a raw, revealing—and healing—memoir of an immensely challenging time in her life. After reading the review, I made a big mistake.

I started reading the comments.




I was shocked at the animosity and just flat-out nastiness of so many of them. I could tell by the content of the comments that they hadn’t read the book—or even knew who she was beyond the subject of the review—and yet numerous people took the time to rip into her as a person. WTF? Here is a woman who is laying herself bare in an effort to help others see how her journey led her to a deeper understanding of herself, and that gets her shredded?

The sad reality is that anything can get anyone shredded anymore. Even those who are working hard at bringing hope and encouraging a life of openness and truth while attacking no one in the process.

Here I thought I was going to peek at the comments and see others who are as supportive of the author as I am, and instead I read malicious rants. I had to stop my incredulous self from reading them because I recognized that my spirit was taking a hit. I felt it in my mind, body, and soul, and I knew I had to pull myself out of the environment that was causing it. But it didn’t leave me. It haunts me. The fact that we are now so at ease with being so outrageously mean to anyone breaks my heart. I don’t know if it is a cyber version of kicking the dog or what—but no matter. It is wounding our spirits, people.

Hope does spring eternal, and I’m not ready to give in yet, but we’ve got to stop the viral spiral soon before we let ourselves be sucked into a black hole of hate. If this is the new normal, then I’m going to do everything in my power to be abnormal.

Pulling out of the spiral that continually gathers energy requires us to recognize the grip of the negative force and to push back. Hard. It requires a slamming on of our Fred Flintstone brakes to stop the momentum, and then a concerted effort to keep swimming against the tide of snide and malice.




It isn’t and it won’t be easy. Too many people keep the tide moving and foster powerful undercurrents of spite and cruelty. But like Dory says, we’ve got to just keep swimming.

We’ve got to.

I’m not going down without a fight. Are you?


All photos are my own or used with permission.
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6 thoughts on “The Viral Spiral of Negativity

  1. Oh, yeah, it’s hard not to be weighed down by negativity. I’ve been guilty of this myself–giving more weight to negative comments about my writing and almost ignoring the positive ones.

  2. Great article!

    I’ve become much less susceptible to emotional contagion lately but I still get caught up sometimes.

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