By Sue Ingebretson
Have you ever heard (or overheard) someone refer to a person with fibromyalgia as a whiner, a complainer, or worse? What about being called out as having a negative attitude?
Fibromyalgia isn’t fun.
But that’s not the point of this article. Instead, we’ll take a more objective view of several factors that relate negativity to fibromyalgia. (You’ll likely be surprised by Factor #5!)
Most likely, we understand that temporary and circumstantial negativity is to be expected. We each have ups and downs. However, for some, the “ups” seem to be nearly non-existent.
I write for a variety of media outlets including fibromyalgia blogs, Facebook pages, and online forums. When I bring up topics of health, healing, positivity, encouragement, and motivation, you can be sure that I’ll see negative comments.
In any chronic illness community, there are always those who want to jump in and point out that this or that treatment “doesn’t work.” The interesting thing is that from the comment made, you’d assume that it didn’t work for them.
But, that’s not necessarily true. The comment could be based on no personal experience at all.
I once shared information on how to start a basic fitness program at a workshop I provided for those with chronic pain. There was an attendee who had a negative or contradictory comment for every point made. She simply said, “That doesn’t work,” or “I can’t do that.”
Knowing how it feels to be on the other side of pain, I didn’t take it personally. I kept an open dialogue with her and offered a variety of options or modifications that she could try. By the end of the workshop, she mentioned that she hadn’t tried any exercise program at all since her fibromyalgia diagnosis. In fact, she hadn’t done any exercise in decades and didn’t plan on it. She simply “knew” that it wouldn’t work.
Do you think she was just being cantankerous, maybe had a bad day, or perhaps there was something else?
There’s always more beneath the surface of any outward behavior. In fact, there are actually several reasons why fibrofolks (and anyone experiencing a chronic health challenge) can tend toward negative thoughts and comments. Check out the factors below.
5 Factors that Connect Fibromyalgia to a Negative Focus
- PainLet’s start with the obvious. If we’re in pain, we’re more likely to be in a negative frame of mind. Pain can blunt our ability to think clearly and definitely impacts our ability to think positively.
It’s the “no end in sight” nature of chronic pain that can profoundly sabotage our thoughts. And, if our thoughts are negative, it’s far more likely that our words, comments, and actions will be less-than optimistic if not downright negative.
Because pain plays a role – to varying degrees – for most of us with fibromyalgia, this factor is primary and exists in tandem with any of the following.
- DefenseMany people with fibromyalgia feel that they need to “defend” themselves against a world that often misunderstands their condition. This need to defend can spread to anything related to their health challenge(s)
The very act of defending their choices and beliefs feels good and/or necessary. It feels as if they’re standing up for themselves and validating not only their experiences – but who they are.
Feeling unheard adds a layer of insistence and frustration to this factor. The more they feel ignored or misunderstood, the more likely they’ll act out in negative ways.
Everyone wants to be heard.
- Group dynamicsAlong the same lines, there’s an interesting dynamic that occurs when groups of people with similar health challenges congregate.
Have you ever participated in a fibromyalgia support group?
For most people, this experience tends to be polarized to either a negative or positive experience. It’s natural to want to share your symptoms and circumstances with others. It feels good to hear that others feel as we do. It provides us with a much-needed sense of belonging.
Sometimes, however, this tendency can lean toward one-upmanship. I’ve heard conversations at fibromyalgia support groups that transpire like this:
Attendee 1– “I can’t turn my head today because I just had an injection of cortisone in my neck.”
Attendee 2– “Oh just one? I had three injections the other day! I got them in my neck, my shoulder, and my hip!”
Even if you don’t relate to the details, you probably relate to the concept. It’s interesting to observe the group dynamic in action. The tone of the group can spiral downward into a free fall of negativity pretty quickly without a strong group leader. And, likewise, a strong leader can keep the comments and conversation flowing in a helpful and productive manner.
When this group dynamic takes place online, you may observe factor #4.
- Online Disinhibition Effect(1)Have you heard of this? This term refers to the behavior of commenting in a negative manner on online forums simply because of the “arm’s length” distant feel of an online experience. It’s different than sitting next to someone and saying the same thing. The Online Disinhibition Effect comes into play when the person leaving a comment feels that their identity is unknown or at least, not obvious.
Deindividuation(2) is also part of the equation. The anonymity factor insulates those who behave negatively, giving them a feeling of security. This insular effect sometimes leads to the tendency to use harsh, critical, or even intentionally derogatory language.
Dr. James Olson, a social psychology professor of Western University in London states, “Deindividuation makes people less likely to follow norms … and to conform to an expected way of behavior.” He goes on to say, “Therefore, they’re more willing to express opinions that might be politically incorrect, aggressive, or more insulting than they would to someone in person.”(3)
You’ve probably seen the effects of this on blogs and online forums. The conversations can get fairly heated with no real benefits or solutions provided.
Now, we’re on to factor #5, which is quite interesting. It shows us how and why negativity can actually serve us in a healthy way.
- Survival wiringThis topic is positively intriguing. Literally. I enjoy the study of how the mind works and where our tendencies lead us. I enjoy it all the more, when it sheds light on how our behaviors can change for the better.
Keep in mind that our thoughts always precede action.Therefore, if our thoughts are negative,
our actions will stem from that frame of mind.
I happened to receive an email today that has the subject line, “Is your brain diseased?” Of course, the answer to that is no, but while my brain isn’t diseased, it is predisposed. It’s predisposed toward negativity … and, yours is too.
It’s a survival thing. It’s an evolutionary thing.
When it comes to the survival of the human race, we must be acutely aware of our safety and our surroundings. Are there threats? Does danger loom ahead? It’s only natural for our focus to be centered around this heightened awareness.
If we could compare our levels of focus, it’s clear that we’re more aware of the potential for danger than for the potential for something pleasant. Pleasant experiences aren’t usually a matter of life or death.The tendency to look for and react to
threats is hard-wired into our brains.(4)
The way this plays out in our everyday behavior is that we naturally think of negative things. We ruminate over what we haven’t done, what we should have said, what we wish we could have (but don’t), etc.
It’s common for every human being to have this natural tendency. But, it’s amplified for those of us with chronic health challenges. Our pain and our experiences have shown us that perceived threats can transmute into real threats. We may have felt that others have let us down. We may feel that we’ve let others down.
While we all have negative thoughts, it’s the persistence of negative thoughts that can turn the tables toward worsened health.
Now that I know these 5 factors, what can I do?
Here’s a statistic that may not be on the tip of your tongue. Did you know that you have approximately 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day?(5)
More prophetically, approximately 95% of the thoughts we have each day are the same ones we had yesterday!(6)
Do you see the vast potential for improvement inherent in that fact?
I hope so.
Most of our thoughts operate on a subconscious level. Once we train our awareness to detect and redirect negative thoughts, we can create unstoppable momentum. The possibilities for physical and emotional transformation are limitless.
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turn the tide on negativity
through intentional action.
Understanding that our thoughts (words) precede action, gives the following quote all the more oomph.
Words don’t just describe our reality, they define our reality(7).
This ancient proverb made famous by Margaret Thatcher says it beautifully.
Watch your thoughts for they become words.
Watch your words for they become actions.
Watch your actions for they become habits.
Watch your habits for they become your character.
Watch your character for your character becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.(8)
Are you ready to intentionally change your thoughts?
It’s time to get “mindless.”
There are many ways to change the focus of our thoughts including prayer, meditation, journaling, walking in nature, participating in a repetitive activity such as crafting or drawing, or something creative.
What’s your favorite “mindless” activity? Do you prioritize it as part of your daily health routine? It may be time to harness the power of changing the focus of your thoughts.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.
Would you like to find out more about the effects of STRESS on your body? Download Sue’s free Is Stress Making You Sick? guide and discover your own Stress Profile by taking the surveys provided in this detailed 23-page report.