HUNT COLUMN: Negaholics know how to needle

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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By Cathy Hunt
Retired Troup County teacher and current school board member

You’re enjoying your day, everything’s going your way, then along comes Debbie Downer!” – Saturday Night Live writers.

Rachel Dratch brought life to the Debbie Downer character (wah-wah) on SNL when she was a cast member, and Debbie became such a well-known entity that you can now find her in online dictionaries.

The SNL skits usually featured Debbie at a celebratory event where she would drop depressing nuggets into happy conversations. For example, if a couple were receiving best wishes as they set off on a honeymoon cruise, Debbie would give a detailed account of the current killer hurricane season.

I thought of Debbie recently when I plucked a little book from my shelves and gave it a look. The author is Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, who has been a corporate and life coach for decades. The book was okay, but what really caught my attention were titles of other books written by Carter-Scott about “Negaholics.” These were published thirty years ago, and I don’t know if the author coined the word, but I had never heard it.

What a great term! We all know people who are seemingly addicted to being negative, sour and hypercritical. They’re often folks who, though they’d never admit it, have self-esteem issues and make themselves feel better by talking trash about everything and everyone around them. They can be absolutely exhausting.

My dad, at 88, recently moved into assisted living. I asked him if he is making friends and having good conversation at mealtime. He mentioned one particular woman whom he does not care to dine with because she never has a nice word for anyone. 

He was appalled when she summoned a staff member to the table to loudly proclaim “This is the worst food I’ve ever eaten.” I wondered if she’s always been this way or has developed a mean streak due to her deteriorating mental facility. He said she seems pretty sharp.

We’ve all known negaholics at our jobs. There was always one or two in every department when I was teaching. They talked negatively about everyone behind their backs, so you knew you were the butt of their comments when you weren’t around. No matter what plan or directive leadership put forth, there was something wrong with it. They’re toxic to the environment. When I had the opportunity to speak to the school system at the back-to-school kickoff last year, my number one piece of advice was to “surround yourself with positive people.” It’s good for your mental health and your personal effectiveness.

Of course, social media is a vast playground for negaholics. I unfriend people who do nothing but gripe on Facebook. There are particular commenters who come out of the woodwork whenever the school system makes an announcement. Take, for instance, an inclement weather decision. If school is cancelled, these parents will raise Cain about it being a stupid inconvenience. But if school is not called off, the same people will rant about how that is a terrible decision and that their children will be in peril. These are folks who never post a congratulatory comment on the many occasions when good news is posted.

Board meetings are the same way. Complainers will show up en masse if they’re mad about something. Otherwise they’ll never darken the door. Negaholics everywhere can get mighty self-righteous without knowing all the facts.

I’m not advocating for living like a blissfully ignorant Pollyanna behind rose-colored glasses. That’s not the same thing as putting way more positivity, encouragement, and praise out into the world than Debbie Downer drivel. Have I been griping about Negaholics? Oops. I’ll say no more, except have a great day!