What the Germans can teach us about embracing negativity

January 13 | Guest post by KMCsparklepants

It's Friday the 13th! So let's talk about embracing negativity…

Negative Nancy iron-on patches from Etsy seller DannyBrito
Negative Nancy iron-on patches from Etsy seller DannyBrito

I treasure this group of people. I don't know any of you in real life (or at least I don't think so), but so many of the personal posts fulfill something in my life which I would otherwise find to be lacking — namely honest sharing of our human experience, and what seems to be our common trait of being "outsider women."

With that in mind, the post about mindfulness and melancholy was a perfect example of what I'm talking about. It was open, raw, real and honest. I thank the person who wrote it for bringing this to my frontal lobe for closer inspection!

Two main thoughts jumped out to me:

1. That I have also had difficulty with mindfulness, though in a somewhat different way.
2. This reminds me strongly of a major aspect of the German world/life view in which they (and I; more on that later) see the world as requiring the dark in order to see the light. (I'm painting with a broad brush and I realize that not all Germans think/feel the same way. But I'm saying this with decently good authority, so let's just roll with it for the sake of simplification.)

I'm gonna dig into each point now…

My own weirdnesses relating to mindfulness

It comes from a learned behavior from my mother. She's a hard core perfectionist (although she denies it) and her frantic need to prove her worth by way of presenting Martha Stewart-esque dinners actually winds up nearly ruining the final results more often than not. That's because in the preparation phase she's browbeat herself and her family to the point of actively not enjoying ourselves.

Not everyone has the same soul crushing need for perfection like my mother, but, many people tend to get so wrapped up in the process of creating special moments, we can easily miss the special moments that happen along the way, not to mention the "main event" when it's all said and done. I know that's a very real thing for me and I've been trying to find a better way to go about things.

Perhaps mindfulness isn't the solution for it for everyone

Or at least perhaps not in such a "down deep" way. Maybe it's more about learning new habits to override the old "harried" way of experiencing special times. Like just setting up a friendly reminder on your phone's clock that goes off at regularly scheduled times (daily/hourly/etc) that says, "Pause, take a breath, find something to smile about."

I learned about intentional new habit building in a group therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I have to say I've been in all kinds of therapy since I was a teen, and I have had many positive results but absolutely nothing gave me the "best bang for my buck" than DBT. The only thing is that some DBT therapists charge exorbitant amounts of money. Look for people/places that aren't so expensive. They're all teaching the same material.

Inhale tacos exhale negativity sign by Etsy seller TheSandyFarmhouse
Inhale tacos exhale negativity sign by Etsy seller TheSandyFarmhouse

The German embrace of the negative

The vast majority of my ancestry is German, my stepfather was German (he still would be, but he sadly passed away) and I lived in Germany for five years from the age of 12 to 17. We lived a German life while we were there; I went to German schools, lived in average German neighborhoods and I'm still close with my German friends and family. That's why I feel relatively confident about making the broad stroke assessment here…

I didn't realize until years after I moved back to the States, but the German outlook suits my personal view of life much better than the American one. Although I do wish Germans were generally kinder to strangers (they tend to keep their smiles for the people they know and love), I do admire their unapologetic skill in taking the bad with the good.

That means that melancholy is not only normal but totally healthy from their perspective!

It seems practically nihilistic to many Americans, but they're just better realists. That means that melancholy and negativity is not only normal but totally healthy from their perspective!

I believe that when we label something within ourselves negatively (often out of fear), it tends to consume us more.

Think of it this way, you probably don't usually question your "positive"
feelings, right?

That's because we're taught that we should feel good. And if we do, that means you are good. Conversely, we're told that negative feelings should be avoided because negativity is bad. It could mean that you're bad.

But it's not true. So I hope you can receive this: try not to feel bad about feeling bad. Do as the Germans do, and embrace your negativity.

How do YOU handle negativity? Embrace it? Ignore it? Inhale tacos? Let's talk about embracing negativity!

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  1. German here, having lived in Germany for most of my life – so I guess I'm qualified? 😉

    Disclaimer: Of course, things are oversimplified here, but that's what the author already mentioned and since this is just a short overview, we roll with it for now.

    From my point of view, negativity isn't "embraced" here, but maybe it appears like that from an outside view (duh, that was the author's point). So now oversimplifying "the Americans", it appears to me that a lot of friendliness there is quite superficial. If I walk into a store and the clerk is all broad smiles and "my dear" etc, how do I know if a smile is genuine when I'm meeting someone (outside of a business transaction)? Something that I noticed in an offbeat bride article about a photographer: "xx is so nice and becomes friends with all of their costumers" – that irks me. I don't want to be friends with a photographer, I want to have a business relation with that person. I'm happy if it's a friendly relation, but we're still not friends.

    Also, the question "How are you" is only asked when that person is at least mildly interested in the answer – consequently, it's okay to answer that you are not fine. If the person selling me the newspaper would ask how I was, I would wonder why they would want to know. Whereas, in North America, from my experience the correct answer to "How are you?" is "How are you?".

    Suffice to say, I still believe a lot of Germans could use a bit more politeness. Also, while depression isn't hushed over, a bit more openness about that issue in society wouldn't hurt.

    11 agree
  2. Like the OP, I'm an American-with-German-family who's lived in Germany. I really appreciated reading this article, as it resonated with many of my own feelings and experiences (including the perfectionist mother and the extremely stressful dinner party preparations…!) Like Florence, I'd flip the emphasis of the original post. It irks me to no END to see positive/sunny/happy sentiments and outlooks peddled endlessly everywhere from store checkout counters to retreat centers. I find it much more exhausting, really, than the more balanced German approach.

    Perhaps long practice in rejecting accepted narratives of what we "should" do and feel is one reason this offbeat crowd tends to be better about realistic grounding of creative, energetic endeavors than the positivity brigade. (I also have a lot of feelings about how the "Positivity!1!!" narrative depends on a default white, middle-class subject, but I won't climb on that soapbox at the moment!)

    3 agree
  3. Coming from the other end of the spectrum: France. We do not embrace our negativity, we revel in it, we adore negativity and often call complaining away our very own "national sport". If you're with close friends, chances are they'll tackle you for how you screwed up some parts of your dinner rather than compliment you for what you did well. Random strangers will gloat about how everything is terrible in order to bond. Family will probably go out of a movie pointing out the bad parts. In some circles, hell mend you if you admit liking something!
    You get the picture. It's thoroughly unhealthy. My point is, now that I live in Canada, the endless positivism is like a whole new perspective on life. I'm puzzled by it at times, since as the first commenter said, if you say "yes" to everything, it kinda devaluate it. Still, the optimism and positivism is a breath of fresh air. Negativity in the wake of the 2008 crisis is the prime reason I emigrated.

    I like your perspective because it feels there's a balanced middle ground between French negativity and North American positivism . That's why I'm striving to achieve, tempting as positivism may be.

    1 agrees
    • Hey, I'm another French here! After 10 years in the US, I see both pros and cons to the endless North American optimism. The huge pro is that no one will tear down your ideas. In France, you will constantly be warned that your project/business idea/marriage will probably fail, so the American make-it-happen mentality is very refreshing. However, if you do fail in France, you will not be secretly judged as a loser or pitied, and you won't have to frame the experience as a "learning opportunity". Your friends will take you out to drink and you'll celebrate life with all its shitiness 😉 American believe that anything is possible if you work hard, but that thought can be exhausting and leads to a lot of social anxiety. I learned the words "introvert" and "awkward" when I moved here. Most French don't like many people apart from their trusted intimate circle, so being socially anxious doesn't mean much. I find that when I'm feeling down, nothing comforts me more than a phone session with a friend back home. It's not a taboo to say "I had a terrible few months, I hate this new city and feel so lost, I've been wandering streets alone after work and avoid sex with my husband". I feel it's difficult to be so open around Americans, who get very uncomfortable around "failure" of any kind.

      2 agree
  4. This is good food for thought and reminds me of another alternative to relentless positivity: dark humor. My family is steeped in Irish ancestry, and I lived in Dublin briefly in grad school. One of the best tools in my Irish-influenced arsenal is making fun of things you don't think you could. Pretty much anything taboo in American mainstream culture is fair play for jokes. It can come across as callous if you're not used to it, but if you are, it makes it so much easier to endure hard things.

    2 agree
  5. "Think of it this way, you probably don't usually question your "positive"
    feelings, right?"

    Well, yes, I always used to, because I have severe depression that went undiagnosed for ages and for a long time felt like anything positive is some sort of weird anomaly. I actually had to learn to embrace anything other than negativity. I was also brought up with the idea that even mentioning anything good in your life was just bragging and you should really only acknowledge when things suck, and then you can bond with people over how miserable you all are. I'm very stereotypically American in some ways (can't fluently speak anything but English, fat, never left the country except Canada a few times as a kid) but dang, apparently I missed the one where we don't embrace negativity here.

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