What is Negativism?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2019
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Negativism is defined as behavior that is extremely resistant to both inner and outer stimulation. This condition is often present to some degree in toddlers and adolescence, but can also manifest itself in adults as well. Both males and females can experience negativism in various forms, some of which can be socially and emotionally debilitating.

There are several different forms of negativistic behavior. One that is often seen early in life is known as active negativism. In this manifestation, the individual chooses to not only not comply with direct orders, but to actually go on to do the opposite of what was requested or ordered. For example, a child that is told to not eat cookies before dinner will choose to wait until the adults are not looking and sneak cookies out of the kitchen.

An extreme example of negativism can be a sign of some type of undiagnosed mental disorder. Patients who tend to become non-responsive to not only suggestions and motivations from others, but also to internal stimuli like hunger and pain are exhibiting what is known as catatonic negativism. This extreme detachment from self and others can be a dangerous situation, and should be treated by mental health professionals as soon as possible.


Negativism in children can manifest in several different ways. Along with choosing to do the opposite of what parents or caregivers tell them to do, children may draw inward and become verbally non-responsive. The lack of response may go as far as to not look at others, or even acknowledge that others are in the room in any manner. In some cases, a child exhibiting negative behavior traits may react to hearing instructions he or she does not like by fleeing from the room without any type of verbal response.

Many people go through periods where they exhibit this type of behavior on a limited basis. This limited withdrawal or even antagonism to the world around them may take place at times when life circumstances are undergoing a drastic change. For example, a young person dealing with the emotional as well as the physical changes that occur at the onset of puberty may go through a phase of being extremely negative. Adults who experience life-changing events such as a divorce, loss of a spouse or child, or even the loss of a job may develop negativism for a period of time.

Fortunately, there are effective ways to deal with negativism at any stage of life. Counseling can often help uncover the basis for the negative reactions to others, and eventually render those reasons ineffectual. In situations where the root causes of the negativism are more complicated, there may be a need to utilize medication along with behavior modification therapy and counseling in order to break the negative cycle. As with many types of emotional disorders, the sooner that treatment commences, the better chances the patient has for recovery in a short period of time.


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