top of page


Why insults hang around longer than compliments

Spam Filter For Your Brain Episode 14

So this week, I'm talking about something, which you may already know, but I only learnt a few years ago, and as soon as I understood this information, it made so much sense. So much of my life made so much sense. And what we'll be talking about today is why we hang on to insults more than compliments. Why can someone say 20 nice things about you, and then there's one thing that jars a little bit, and that's the thing that you keep replaying in your head, or that's the thing that stands out, that you focus your attention on and quite often can be the lasting impression of the conversation.

That's why you can have people remind you how loved you are, how brilliant you are, and how wonderful you are. Left, right and centre, but as soon as someone criticises your appearance, for example, that becomes the loudest comment in the room and the one you ruminate on.

Now, it may make perfect sense to you why we remember bad things more than good ones. But I didn't know this. So come with me if you need to become more familiar with this theory.

Remembering the unpleasant things is something which has kept us alive for hundreds and thousands of years. The people who remembered which people said bad things about them, the people who remembered which things which came across as dangerous or unsafe were the people who remained alive. The people who trusted people a little bit too much, or the people who just ignored the things that didn't feel comfortable. They were the people who went chasing bears, and they were the people who went and hung out with the other tribe who were offering them "a nice cup of tea", and then they ended up in the cauldron. Or they were the people who, I don't know, perhaps saw some rocks being thrown at them and went to go and try and pick up some of the stones because people might be playing fetch. Whatever the image is that you have in your mind. It was the people who are terrified and hypervigilant of the dangers all around them all the time are the ones who survived for hundreds and thousands of years.

We are the results of generation after generation, descendants of the people who've been scared, and for hundreds and thousands, millions of years, this has served us. This is the thing that has caused the survival of our species until now. Our brains are hard-wired in this particular because we are the descendants of the frightened people and also the descendants of the people, the alive people.

It just so happens that this particular point of evolution which has worked so well up until these exceedingly modern times, is the thing that prevents our growth; because we are so frightened of getting things wrong or being judged or being outcast or being seen in any negative light by other people, that unless we work consciously and put a lot of effort into working against it, prevent us from doing anything that exerts energy, looks or smells or tastes a bit like change.

Our brains want us to rest; our brains want us to stay small and safe and preferably in the cave because out there might be bears out there.

So when you are wondering why is that your partner might say many loving things to you, and then they happen to be this one thing that you heard, inferred or read into, or might be phrased differently than you would like it or you, or is being said in a way or about something that you were not particularly happy about, why that's the thing that is so much more important than all of these lovely things that they have said or done or shown throughout the years. It's because we're hardwired to look for this stuff.

But when we know that this is how our brains are wired, and it's an evolutionary thing, we can also now understand that that is where things come from. We can actively work to change it because once we are conscious of something, we can decide whether it's something we want to keep doing.

So sometimes I find the most helpful thing that we can do in this these kinds of situations where we are ruminating over something that feels negative or doesn't sit quite right with us, or we think that someone else's judgment of a problem might be more valid than our own is. I invite you to check in with yourself and ask yourself what the feeling is.

And if the feeling thatis coming up for you, if you can label it as a one-word emotion, if that feeling is fear, then something might be triggered off in our internal wiring systems, that means your brain is trying to keep you safe. And when we think of it, rather than "I'm afraid something's gone wrong", we can look at it as I feel frightened. "Oh, my body or my brain is trying to protect me." Then suddenly, it takes a little bit of the fire out of the situation, and it's a bit like an exhaling shoulder drop moment, like, "Oh, I can see what's going on here". And when you can see what's going on here, you can decide whether it's something that you want to be in a reactive state about or whether you want to put some effort into responding differently or trying to put your energy and focus into maybe trying something new this time.

If you'd like to try something new this time with me, I'd be delighted to do that over at SelfCareSchool. I suggest writing things down on paper and looking at the resources and tools you have around you to look at doing something different is always available as an option to you.

Awareness precedes change, which is how we can watch our brains, look at the things that have kept us alive until now, thank them and possibly, if we want to, let some of them go.

I hope that has been helpful for you if you haven't heard that theory before, and I hope it provides you with much peace when you feel challenged.

I look forward to speaking to you next week.


bottom of page