Comment & Analysis

The challenge is to be a realist, not a ‘negaholic’
"People who are addicted to negativity are generally angry about something”, writes Michael Kelly

Negaholism’ is a term that is increasingly being used to describe the state or condition of being addicted to negative thinking. Counsellors and therapists more-and-more see it as a psychological addiction that has an impact on a person’s overall quality of life.

It’s important to distinguish between negaholism and deep-seated clinical depression which is a serious issues often requiring medical intervention to help people find balance and wellbeing.

The problem with negaholism is the fact that it is masked by the perception that a person is acting nobly and for a righteous reason. Someone who is accused of being overly-negative will often respond that they are simply “telling it like it is” or “confronting reality”. Sometimes this is true – there are few things more annoying than a clueless optimist who wants to ignore facts.

Negativity can often be propelled by a desire to challenge consensus and what is deemed ethically and morally acceptable. At the height of the madness that was the Celtic Tiger, some economists tried to raise their voices in protest at reckless policies – they were quickly dismissed.

So, we shouldn’t be afraid of people expressing negative sentiment. But, we also need to be wary of when people are motivated not so much by a desire to challenge groupthink, but instead what might even have become an addition to negativity.

People who are addicted to negativity – and I fear we have many of them in the Church in Ireland – are generally angry about something and rarely express happiness. They are almost never satisfied, maintaining the appearance of fighting for ‘a cause’ that gives the impression of being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Too often in the Church in Ireland when someone points to a concrete positive thing that is happening to help people rediscover their faith as a ‘green shoot’ of hope, a negaholic will always find a way to tear this green shoot down.


Prophets of doom are rarely in short supply – already some commentators and columnists have been trying to outdo one another in finding negatives about the potential visit of Pope Francis in 2018.

The Pope has stern words for believers who are crippled by negativity: “sometimes these melancholic Christians’ faces have more in common with pickled peppers than the joy of having a beautiful life,” he said back in 2013. “If we keep this joy to ourselves it will make us sick in the end, our hearts will grow old and wrinkled and our faces will no longer transmit that great joy, only nostalgia and melancholy which is not healthy,” he added.

The great reformers in the Church – people like St Malachy, St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena – were not people who specialised in analysing the situation in which they found themselves with endless negativity. They faced the challenges with courage and in so doing made a lasting impression on society and an everlasting impression on the Church. We have to be realistic about the challenges facing Irish Catholicism, but endless naval-gazing leads to paralysis.

So, here’s a New Year’s resolution for the followers of Christ: hear the naysayers for they are sometimes right about the need for reform. But, remember, they are generally wrong about what form the reform should take. Challenge their negative thinking and their desire to tear things down rather than build things up.

And, rather than tearing up the pages of the Pope’s letter, The Joy of the Gospel, to put it on the fire for warmth, remind them of the Pontiff’s words that “the joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”. Happy new year!