Is Positive Thinking Really Your Goal?
"I'm trying to be positive." These are probably some of the most spoken words inside the walls of my office. I hear so many folks who, upon sharing about some of the tough stuff they're up against, are quick to blurt out about their difficulties staying positive as if negative experiences and feelings are inherently bad.
Being seen as negative is shame-filled for some people, but I am the furthest from judgemental when those least desirable 'non-positive' feelings show up. In fact, I believe there are loads of feelings calling out to be seen in the words that we choose and feel as negative. Feelings that are every bit as important as the positive ones. Feelings that, with exploration, provide keys and clues to ways that we may struggle in our day-to-day. Feelings that, with recognition, can become more tolerable with more experience paying attention to them.
Anger or disappointment, for example, won't just vanish because you repeat a mantra from a self-help book. It may become silenced for a time, or lessened in the moment - stuffed down and ignored until it tries to get your attention another time. Just do a quick Google search for the problem with positive thinking. You'll get a lot of hits.
These thoughts were sparked by an image I saw while scrolling through social media apps on my phone. This image, shown in this post, doesn't quite capture my feelings about the matter, but I'm glad it created an opportunity to say a few words here.
What if next time you're tempted to say "I'm trying to be positive", you said "I'm trying to understand these negative feelings and let them have a little space to tell me what they have to say"? If that feels too scary, maybe explore negative and negativity with a therapist you trust, and find out a little more about what's beneath the emotions you're so quick to dress up as something that they're not.
- Jenn Seeley