For the negative

Hedgehog on pool floater. Photo by  Jessica Cusick  on  Scopio

As a social worker, I find myself surrounded by positive vibes. You know, people with signs that say keep your head up cause things are gonna get easier, ooo child things are gonna get brighter… or posters with cats hanging off a branch that say “Hang in there!”

I of course love self-care memes and will put out all the cutesy things on the internet because it makes me happy. But I think space needs to get made for the social worker/mental health professional/therapist who embraces the negative. I’m not saying we need to sit and wallow in misery, but as a naturally negative person I believe it’s not only therapeutic, but necessary, to feel all the feels, especially the bad ones.

One of the reasons I love spending time with other social workers is the prevalence of dark humor you find in this profession. We work with people who face incredible trauma – domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide of loved ones, imprisonment, homelessness, and a whole host of mental and physical conditions. If you stay in this job for more than a couple of years it’s likely you either are emotionally curled up in a ball in the corner or you have got thick skin like a M-F’in DRAGON and your one-liners breathe FIRE.

However, most social workers are women (citation needed… but you all know it’s true) and a lot of women are socialized into believing that they need to be nice, positive, take care of others, and of course not speak ill of anyone or anything. In the Midwest this niceness is on steroids, or whatever the opposite of steroids are because that image isn’t evocative of niceness.

The funny thing is that for all the social shunning of negativity, everyone secretly loves negative people. Videos of people saying “screw you” to their bosses as they quit go viral because people LOVE IT. Why do people love shows like Real Housewives where women are flipping tables and throwing wine? We want to be that negative but we can’t! It’s freeing to watch someone who can do it. I won’t lie, I’ve had clients tell me they walked off the job or punched their coworker and deep down I was cheering for it even as I talked them through other ways to handle their emotions. Of course there were consequences and violence is maladaptive (don’t try this at home) but the confidence that takes! Amazing.

I also want to point out that we should talk about the negative because it humanizes us. We all share the positive things on social media and then create this world that makes everyone feel even more miserable when they don’t feel their life is going where it needs to, because it looks like everyone else has it all together. I want to be the first to say that I don’t. I’ve had a large share of disappointment and frustration and 90% of the things I try to do I fail at and then get upset. People in my life will be familiar with my long tirades, I’m a verbose person so that’s how it comes out. I tried for years to be less negative and it was going to be like cutting off a foot so I stopped. When bad things happen to me I feel like the entire world is caving in and if someone comes in saying something positive I will snap on them like a pair of garden shears. This entire business was born out of frustration because I was not getting hired anywhere despite having an advanced degree and a license, working and working and never getting anywhere. It’s not something I’m going to say is all better because honestly it didn’t.

So if you are out there and you’re hitting your head against a wall with something – your career, family, money, whatever – I’m not going to tell you to hang in there. I’m going to tell you that sucks and it’s the worst and f*** them, whoever they are. I literally have no idea what it is to feel your feeling, but that feeling is real and big and you get to have it, however you want to.

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