Could Positive Thinking Delay Your Growth?

I will always remember the time in my life when I started reading about the philosophy of Positive Thinking in books, magazines, and other mainstream media. It all sounded to perfect…so precious, really. Just think positively about EVERYTHING…just be grateful for EVERYTHING, just see everything as a blessing, these wise people said, and your life will be perfect and rosy forevermore! And doesn’t it SOUND really wonderful? It sounded wonderful to me! I remember when I first read the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I was totally and completely enthralled, and couldn’t wait to start proving these concepts in my own life. And while I would say that many of the principles that I read about in The Secret and other such books about the power of Positive Thinking were and are really good principles to live by for many reasons, I have learned something about myself and about others over time that has changed my perspective a bit. It’s a nuance, you might say, that doesn’t so much contradict the philosophy of positive thinking so much as it adds a little flavor to my practice of it in my daily life.

I would say that this revelation began to slowly crystallize as I had a conversation with a friend (let’s call him Mac) a few years ago. Mac is one of those people who is just happy ALL the time. And by happy, I mean perhaps EXCESSIVELY happy, if it’s possible to be so. 🙂 Mac smiled a LOT. He was charismatic and friendly every day. He consistently lent a helping hand to others and had a grand time doing it, he had more friends than anyone could count, and he had the most positive outlook of anyone I have ever known. People could not help but to admire Mac, and everyone loved being around him. One day, Mac came to work with his usual smile on his face, but with less feeling than usual behind that smile. I stopped in his office to chat with him, and I asked him how he was. He went on and on about what a beautiful morning it had been, and how grateful he was for the sunshine, and what a lovely breakfast his wife had cooked for him that morning before work. I stopped him and asked him if something else was going on because he didn’t quite seem himself today. This is when he reported to me that his father had passed away the night before. I knew how close Mac had been to his father because over the years that I had known him, Mac had shared with me many stories of the happy times that he and his father had spent together, and what a wonderful man and father his Dad had been to him.  And I knew that this must be heartbreaking for Mac, and for his whole family. Yet here Mac sat, telling me what a beautiful funeral they were going to have, and how all the family would be coming into town during such a lovely time of year, and how everything was going to be just GREAT. What Mac was doing was pretending that Positive Thinking was the way out of feeling the grief that he was truly MEANT to feel about his father’s death.

As human beings, we have the ability to feel so many varied emotions. And sometimes the philosophy of Positive Thinking tells us that only the positive, happy emotions will get us to the point where we want to be. But pretending that grief and sorrow and broken-heartedness don’t exist actually keeps us stuck in a place of not truly healing anything, but just burying the negative emotions deeper and deeper inside of us, to the point that we’re no longer being our authentic selves. We’re no longer expressing the beautiful range of emotions of which the human heart and soul are capable, but rather only stuffing down the “unacceptable” ones and only giving energy to the positive ones. 

In order to avoid this perpetual denial trap, I have developed a new way of looking at Positive Thinking.  I use my knowledge of Positive Thinking more as a diagnostic tool, if you will. I use it to analyze how I’m thinking and feeling on a regular basis. I ask myself if I’m truly FEELING and thinking positively about certain circumstances. And if I’m not thinking positively about something, I use this as a springboard for an inner dialog that helps me to figure out WHY I don’t feel good about it, rather than just beginning to recite over and over only good and positive things about the subject. In this way I can help elucidate what the real problem is, rather than simply pretending that the problem doesn’t exist. This acceptance of the normalcy of fear, grief, loneliness, resentment, or anger is really what allows me to begin to move through the healing of the situation, rather than simply pretending that everything is rainbows and unicorns.

The next time you have a difficult situation in your life, rather than going to your favorite motivational quotes and speakers for some inspiration, and rather than just telling yourself that you need to TRY HARDER to be happy, I encourage you to try allowing the “negative” feelings to come out. Just cry it out, talk it out, scream it out, run it out, punch it out (on a safe, inanimate object, of course 😉 …do whatever it is you need to do to accept and give space to the feelings without being critical of yourself for having them in the first place. I find that when I do this, I naturally move through the healing process much more rapidly, and I actually begin to FEEL better about the situation on a much deeper level than I would have if I had just recited some positive affirmations and given myself a pep talk.

The time when I know that I need some help moving through something is when I get stuck in that place of feeling the grief or anger or fear, and am unable to move past it. That’s when I know that I need the help of a friend, a healer, a confidante…someone who can see the other side of my pain and can help me to see things about myself and about who I am that I can’t see for myself at the moment. Healing of our past and of our present is possible, and the creation of a new life is the beautiful result. I wish you a life lived in the fullness of all its thoughts and feelings…both the positive AND the so-called negative ones.  

Many blessings,

Janette

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2 thoughts on “Could Positive Thinking Delay Your Growth?

  1. Kendra says:

    I appreciate this more nuanced view of positive thinking. What are your thoughts on the idea of using positive language to help manifest new growth? I’ve been told that the negative words I used to describe my feelings or perspective on a difficult situation is trapping me in that situation and perpetuating it, but to me it feels like I am just telling my truth of what I am experiencing and it would be disingenuous to try to sugar-coat what is happening. I get trying to use more gentle language toward myself and others in a hard situation, but sometimes things just suck … and it doesn’t seem quite fair to say to that person who is experiencing the hard thing, “Your negative words are making this bad situation happen/continue/worse.”

    • janettesjoy8000 says:

      This is a great question, Kendra, and it’s also a point that I struggled with for some time in my desire to be authentic while also trying to avoid perpetuating the very same “negative” thing that I disliked having in my life. I do believe that words have power…especially when spoken with powerful emotion. And when you’re in a difficult place, there’s bound to be powerful emotion behind your words, because you REALLY don’t like what’s happening. I heard a phrase several years ago (I couldn’t tell you the source) that helped me to find some peace in this type of situation. The saying is “Energy flows where attention goes.” It makes sense when you think about it just superficially…friendships that you put time and energy into will be more likely to flourish…plants need water and care to grow…children need the love and attention of their parents. But on a deeper level, this saying sheds some light on the situation that you described. To me, it comes down to how much energy and focus we’re putting on the “suckiness” of the situation, and how much energy we’re putting on trying to move past it/through it/over it with a positive outcome. I believe that we can usually find a way to truthfully say something at least neutral, if not actually positive, about a situation, even if it really sucks. If we can begin to think about the situation in terms of what we’re meant to gain from it, what we can do to improve it, and perhaps brainstorm verbally with our loved ones, this helps the energy to flow more toward the “getting through it” phase, and less towards the “I’m stuck here” phase. So yes, it’s OK to say “This just sucks.” I think that’s an authentic part of having a human experience. But then I would say that it’s ALSO helpful to put some attention towards “So what am I going to do about it?” And that can certainly be difficult. But it does help to balance out the energy of powerlessness and victimhood in the situation, and I believe that it helps to shift your brain power to a solutions-oriented thought pattern. In this way you are putting just as much, if not more, energy and focus towards moving forward from it and seeing it just as it is…an opportunity for growth.
      Many blessings,
      Janette

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