CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Science confirms ~ some people enjoy suffering

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Here's a story ready for the writing.

Okay, yes, it's been done, but if you're looking for something meaty to sink your creative teeth into, think about this.  How do people who dislike themselves react when you try to cheer them up?  When you put a positive spin on their lives?  They ignore you, right?

This study suggests that you may want to rethink cheering up your friends who have low self-esteem because, they don't want to hear it.  It's not that they're happy the way they feel about themselves.  It's that they only hear things that confirm their opinion of themselves.

People with low self-esteem have overly negative views of themselves, and often interpret critical feedback, romantic rejections, or unsuccessful job applications as evidence of their general unworthiness. On top of this, researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University found that this person likely doesn't want you to try to boost their spirits.  They're happy, so to speak, mucking about in their emotional pity-pot.

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"People with low self-esteem want their loved ones to see them as they see themselves. As such, they are often resistant to their friends' reminders of how positively they see them and reject what we call positive reframing-expressions of optimism and encouragement for bettering their situation," said Professor Denise Marigold, from Renison University College at Waterloo, and lead author of the study.

These individuals usually prefer negative validation, which conveys that the feelings, actions or responses of the recipient are normal, reasonable, and appropriate to the situation. So a friend could express understanding about the predicament or for the difficulty of a situation, and suggest that expressing negative emotions is appropriate and understandable.

The researchers found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem. And in fact, the people providing support to friends with low self-esteem often feel worse about themselves when you attempt to cheer them up. Oy.  What to do?

Some study participants indicated that supporting friends with low self-esteem could be frustrating and tiring. The researchers found that when these support providers used positive reframing instead of negative validation in these situations, they often believed the interaction went poorly, perhaps because the friends with low self-esteem were not receptive and the efforts didn't work.

"If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize," said Professor Marigold.

Ah, ha! So, acknowledge the "dark cloud" and "sympathize", then clam up.  In other words, don't encourage, don't point out the positive, don't put a good spin on things.  Agree with them, sympathize, let them sink in their own swamp, and let them work it out for themselves.

In fiction and film, doesn't the reader or viewer want the protagonist, in this case the person with the I'm-not-worth-a-shit attitude, to figure it out for themselves?  Don't we all enjoy a story where the main character grows and changes - through their own efforts?  It seems that what works in fiction is what works in real life.  People don't change until they are good and ready.  Right?

There's the plot, fellow writers.  What do you think you can do with it?
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Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Waterloo. Denise C. Marigold, Justin V. Cavallo, John G. Holmes, Joanne V. Wood. You can’t always give what you want: The challenge of providing social support to low self-esteem individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014


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