Psychological Research Explains Why Our Good Qualities Can Sometimes Be Bad For Us

When we are good at something, or when we engage in a behavior that is deemed harmless by societal standards, we sometimes forget to pause and reflect on whether it’s actually helping us be the person we want to be. But, the truth is that we can sometimes possess ‘desirable’ traits that undermine our mental health and relationships.

While we should be careful not to permanently label any behavior as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ it helps to check in with ourselves periodically to sift out any traits or behavioral patterns that are causing us more harm than good. Remember, even great people develop bad habits – so there’s no shame in hitting the reset button.

Here are three examples of good traits gone bad, and what to do about them.

#1. An unhealthy sense of humor

The levity and release of tension provided by humor can make it a great way to cope with difficult situations. But not always.

For example, people can damage their own self-esteem by indulging in self-deprecating humor and making fun of their own weaknesses to gain social acceptance. According to psychologist Chloe Lau of Western University Canada, a self-deprecating sense of humor can also be used as a way to escape underlying feelings of negativity. This is okay to a point, but it’s also important to address unresolved negative feelings before they turn into a bigger problem.

Moreover, a dark or cynical sense of humor may be a predictor of dark personality traits. According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people high on the trait of machiavellianism, or the tendency to be conniving and strategic, use dark humor as a means to manipulate and/or shun others.

What makes your sense of humor adaptive or maladaptive has more to do with its purpose than content. Are you using your sense of humor to manipulate or make yourself or others look bad? Or, are you using it as a way to enhance interpersonal relationships and decrease your anxiety?

#2. An obsession with your work

It can be hard to tell when a person has crossed the line from professional success to full-blown work obsession, especially in cultures that celebrate workaholic tendencies. According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, people who are obsessively passionate about their work experience more anxiety, stress, negative emotions and often report low levels of psychological well-being.

If you have obsessive work tendencies, here are a couple of ways to move toward a more balanced lifestyle:

  1. Choose harmonious passion over obsessive passion. Harmonious passion, as opposed to its obsessive counterpart, drives you to pursue an activity with flexibility and balance. Harmoniously passionate people devote time, energy, and love toward their passion without turning it into their sole preoccupation.
  2. Ditch your ‘bottom-line’ workplace. If your workplace focuses only on productivity, profits, and performance and ignores things like employee health and interpersonal relationships, it might be pushing your obsessive tendencies into overdrive. Taking a sabbatical or even just stepping back could help you inject more balance into your life.

#3. A hyper-fixation on your daydreams

Even something as commonplace and innocuous as daydreaming can be a predictor of pathology. Maladaptive daydreaming, according to psychologist Eli Somer, is distinct from normal mind wandering.

“It is an abnormal form of daydreaming that is intentional, fantastical, very vivid, fanciful, often accompanied by repetitive physical movement and is associated with dissociation and several mental disorders.”

According to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, most people use maladaptive daydreaming to fulfilling the following functions:

  • A distraction from current reality
  • A means of wish fulfillment
  • A means to fight boredom
  • A rewarding pastime

And, the most recurrent and popular themes of these daydreams were:

  • Finding a relationship with another person or finding love
  • Being powerful and dominant
  • Receiving extra attention
  • Escape

For anyone struggling with maladaptive daydreaming, Somer makes the following recommendations:

  1. Seek help from a mental health professional with a specialization in treating habits and behavioral addictions.
  2. Keep a daily diary to increase awareness of what your days and daily behavior look like.
  3. Engage in mindfulness trainings, which have shown promise in treating maladaptive daydreaming.
  4. Since maladaptive daydreaming flourishes in solitude, minimize being alone and increase your degree of social interaction.


Constantly seeking validation, striving to over-perform, or even being too inward can deprive us of healthy and normal life experiences. Check in with yourself regularly to avoid slipping into maladaptive behavioral patterns.

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