Traits: What can come across as negative can also be construed as a positive


We all have unpleasant traits we wish we could change. It’s part of our character and personality. However, when examined from a different perspective, some of what we consider a bad trait can be seen as a strength.

We might think someone is extremely self-indulgent. Sounds negative. You might think, “Jane is so focused on Jane. It’s all about Jane, Jane, Jane.” Now, looking at it as positive, we may think, “Gee, Jane takes great care of herself. Sure, she looks in the mirror 10 times a minute, gets Botox and fillers, but hey…she is vigilant about her good health. She goes for annual checkups, a colonoscopy every 10 years, the dentist every six months, gets a freckle check at the dermatologist every year, exercises daily, has sex regularly, eats well and gets enough sleep.” We all should take such good of ourselves.  

Barbara proudly announces that her bad trait is her good trait. She is no nonsense, efficient and fast in everything she tackles. She doesn’t believe in dawdling or wasting time. But, she often, not always, expects others to function the same way and might get a tad annoyed with those who don’t move at the same pace. Hurry up, she thinks, though she tries not to say it but sometimes might nudge a bit too much. If she does get agitated, she is quick to apologize. This is a good trait, and her efficiency and time management skills allow her to get a great deal done well.

Margaret can be a procrastinator. She may futz around until the last minute, but she always manages to finish a task on deadline, whether her writing, cleaning, learning new music. She does her best work when she’s under the gun.  

Our character traits determine how well we interact with our families, friends and society as a whole. A “bad” character flaw, which might cause people to shun you, is a negative emotion or part of one’s personality that sends out unwelcome energy to others. Maybe you have a short fuse, can be standoffish or even considered callous, controlling, a chronic complainer or childish. Some bad traits may seem intractable and cause harm to others such as addiction, anger management issues, abusive tendencies. Here, intervention and good therapy are a must.

Good traits do the opposite—they send out positive vibes and include a sound moral code, compassion, honesty, authenticity, resilience, good manners, punctuality and compassion. These traits draw people into your orbit.

Here are a few examples of those who can turn a negative trait into a positive:  


Good/bad trait. He’s frugal but adds that his bad trait is his good trait. It’s bad because he often sacrifices personal comfort to save money such as carrying three suitcases on a bus to get to the airport. He refuses to take a cab and avoids the subway and bus by riding his bike everywhere. Because he’s so conservative with his spending, he was able to pay off his 30-year mortgage in eight years, he says proudly. He wears his frugality as a badge of honor. 


Her bad trait, she says, is indecision. It takes her an inordinate amount of time to reach a conclusion. This is a trait that has a good side as well. Her choices aren’t quick or impulsive. She takes her time, ponders over choices, makes her list of pros and cons and then finally after maybe too much time, she nails it.  


Her negative trait is stubbornness which she has parlayed into perseverance. She does not give up. When she was young and had a bad experience swimming for the first time, she got right back in the water. Her attitude about everything is, “I can do it.”  And she does.


Good trait: She doesn’t take herself seriously. Bad: She tends tend to get defensive, but at age 72 she’s working on fixing this. Susie is sensitive to the downside of this trait, but it’s her way of protecting herself when emotionally wounded.


Good trait: One character trait I like about myself is my empathy and compassion for others. Even as a child, I felt others’ pain and confusion.

A bad trait:  being too opinionated  — but aren’t we all?  Too much input, can be too much for someone —  coming from me. However...If you want an honest opinion if you're having trouble making a decision about something, Rena is your go-to person. She does not mince words but won't hurt your feelings doing so.   

Here is a list of a dozen other familiar traits that can be viewed as negative/positive. As the atavistic cliché goes: every cloud has a silver lining.

Idiosyncratic, You view and operate in the world differently than most and this translates into creativity. Idiosyncratic people can break unknown ground, come up with new ideas and solutions.

Pollyanna-ish. People are drawn to those who are positive. Does it mean a person is naïve, maybe, says Doris Kearns Goodwin who claims to be a bit pollyannish. “It’s the only way I can live.” Being negative sucks up energy and accomplishes nothing. A positive viewpoint implies there are still solutions, still hope.

Brash and forceful. If you tone it down to assertive, you have the right temperament to negotiate a big purchase, get a job promotion, support a cause or protect someone who is being mistreated.

Outspoken. When moderated, this can mean someone who tells the truth as they see it. These people are authentic. You’re not afraid of what others might think. You mean what you say; put your money where your mouth is. You say you’ll do something and almost always follow through. The only caveat is not to be so outspoken that you hurt anybody’s feelings.

Too sensitive. Even if you get wounded easily—a bad job performance, not getting invited to a party, being snubbed by someone you considered a friend, being sensitive also means you possess a large capacity to sympathize and empathize. You avoid hurting others.  People are drawn to you for this.

Overly negative. Who wants to be around Debbie Downer or anyone who always finds the dark hole in any situation, even bright sunlight. “It’s too hot and will likely thunder and rain,” they say. But we might view some of this trait as a way to consider all sides, not always be on the complete sunny side of life, but have some good skepticism when they approach stuff. They’re probably the ones to carry an umbrella just in case or eat a little before they head off to an event where there may be no food.

Extremely quiet. People who aren’t quick to raise their hands or blurt out thoughts offer the positive of saying something very noteworthy when they speak. We tend to listen more closely to them since their rarely spoken words are often very insightful.  

Guarded. You are vigilant when riding the subway or walking the streets at night by yourself.  You are always aware of your surroundings. Talking to strangers is verboten in your book. You’d never jump out of a plane, gamble your money away, invest in a questionable venture or climb a mountain. Sometimes, however, you may miss out on a friendship or experience by not being open to taking a chance.

Rarely serious. Having a sense of humor is a trait we greatly admire and keeps us remembering what’s important in life—including a bellyaching laugh. There are plenty of times to be worried, serious but these folks take the edge off life’s many troubling situations.

Distrustful. You think things through before acting. You won’t open a sketchy email or click on a website, not answer the phone when an unrecognizable number pops up.

Hyper. Although it might be difficult for you to sit still or focus and are all over the place, you can be productive, move quickly and can get more done than most.

Too laid back. Maybe you are slow on the trigger and don’t rise to the level of drama that others might experience, but your Zen personality has a calming effect on others. Like smooth jazz, you’re easy listening.

And in the spirit of positive traits, we’ll dish up what we consider one of our best collective traits, generosity, as we continue to share our life lessons weekly with you. Feel free to share your comments and questions with us as well.

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