If you’ve been studying personal development, self help, manifestation or the law of attraction, then I can virtually guarantee you’ve heard or read about positive thinking. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, your negative thoughts aren’t all bad. In this post, I want to address some dangerous advice I’ve heard from various gurus about positive thinking and eliminating negativity from your life.
What is Positive Thinking?
To avoid any confusion, I pulled a definition of positive thinking from a British English dictionary, so we can begin on the same page.
So encourage positive thinking and a forward-looking attitude to life, especially when it comes to the building of new relationships.
the benefits of positive thinking
a technique for changing your attitude and fostering optimism
The effect which thoughts can have on life has been proved by people who have tried positive thinking, mind dynamics or visualization.
These people believe positive thinking can cure cancer.
Okay! Now, we have a clear understanding of what positive thinking is. Next, I’d like to discuss when I first started feeling bad about positive thinking.
Is Positive Thinking Bad?
I began to question positive thinking when I encountered The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I listened to the audiobook. However, there is also a physical book, and a movie you can and should check out.
It’s odd that The Secret made me question positive thinking because it is all about the law of attraction and manifestation which focuses heavily on good vibes, creative visualization, positive thinking, and positive self-talk. All good things, right?
I thought so, but there was something that gave me great trouble: Rhoda encouraged people to eliminate all doubt and negativity. I was super-fired-up to manifest my desires, so I began to follow that advice.
Positive Thinking Screwed Up My Relationships
Quickly, it caused problems in my relationships, especially my marriage. What happens to empathy and communication when you force yourself not to hear what others are saying when they have a bad day? It goes down the drain, that’s what. And what happens to your relationships? They follow your empathy and compassion down the drain.
Empathy and compassion have been cornerstone values in my life that have helped me navigate stress, difficult relationships, and more. To cut off these values felt like amputating my leg. It was brutal, and it did not feel like me.
Another unanticipated side effect: by not listening to my husband and letting him vent, he actually became more and more negative until all he could do was complain.
Of course, if you feel like you’re not being heard, it’s natural to keep going and going until you feel like you’ve gotten your point across. I just stopped listening and being supportive, which was a crappy thing for me to do. Speaking of crappy, my husband kept dumping on me until I felt like I couldn’t handle being around him any more. I finally said, “Is my name Charmin? [no] Then quit sh*tting on me!”
For a hot minute, my marriage was in real trouble. Needless to say, the situation could not continue. Fortunately, we’ve worked it out and came to a compromise. I give my husband a good listening-to when he needs it, and I gently let him know when his negativity gets overwhelming.
We’re also both focusing on changes we can make to reduce negativity in our circumstances that lead to the complaining. **This is vital.
Some people only ever want to moan and complain, but they never actually do anything to change their circumstances. These people can get toxic quickly.
It is perfectly reasonable to call someone out for complaining about the same crap over and over, but refusing to do anything to change their situation. Tell the person that you won’t listen to it anymore as long as they refuse to take some kind of action to help the situation.
Eventually, you may decide that the relationship with the person doesn’t support you, or add any value to your life. At that point, it can be worth cutting someone off in terms of the time you give them, or cutting them out of your life completely.
Positive Thinking was Exhausting
The other thing I noticed fairly quickly was that this command to eliminate doubt and negativity put a fair amount of pressure on me. I felt like it added so much to the stress and pressure I was already feeling that it likely made things worse for me instead of better.
Here’s a great quote about positive thinking that was on the dictionary page from which I pulled the above definition. It neatly expresses this big problem with positive thinking very neatly:
I took a deep breath and realised positive thinking could be so exhausting it was almost counter-productive.
There is a very fine line between positive thinking, and deluding yourself. Things are not always going to be sunshine and daisies. Ignoring negative signals can actually be very dangerous. Negative signals exist as part of a critical feedback mechanism that helps you and your body function properly.
For example, you’ve likely heard of homeostasis. Essentially, it refers to the body’s tendency to maintain an equilibrium. If your temperature gets high, you start to sweat to lower it. If you touch a hot stove you burn your hand, and you pull your hand away, and avoid further injury.
While no one enjoys pain, or negative signals, they are crucial to keeping you safe, healthy and happy. In fact, being unable to feel pain is a serious, though rare, medical condition that often leads to increased injuries, and reduced life expectancies. Therefore, negative signals help you to correct actions that can be harmful to you.
This relates to positive thinking because your negative thoughts and emotions can be like physical pain. The negative emotions or signals you experience let you know that there is something in your current circumstances that is not serving you, or is harming you.
Negativity is a Critical Change Signal
For example, you might hate your job. Every morning, you have an anxiety attack on your way to work. Your boss(es) belittle you, etc.
Positive thinkers would tell you to look at the opportunities to grow and learn. You’re gaining valuable work experience, and you’re learning to work with different personalities. You should be grateful you have a job. As bad as all these clichés are, it could be even worse.
A person trying to think positively might just repress or ignore the the bad feelings they’re experiencing. This could lead to serious health complications and illness because if you won’t acknowledge or deal with your stress, then your body will force you to stop and take a break. Alternatively, you might burn out and have a nervous breakdown. None of these options serve you.
Realistically, hating your job and having an anxiety attack everyday on your way to work should be taken as a very clear signal that you need to change your situation.
Serenity Now, Insanity Later
Repressing or bottling your emotions is not a long term solution to any problem. You ignore or repress these signals at the risk of great harm to yourself, and to others.
I’m not a huge Seinfeld fan, but this one episode (Season 9, Episode 3) speaks perfectly to this point.
This quote refers to the fact that you can’t ignore, or repress, or bottle up the negative emotions you are feeling because you WILL explode. I suggest you hunt down and watch this episode. It was surprisingly hilarious.
Anyone who knows me could tell you I am very optimistic. I always look for, and find the silver linings. Let me be very clear: my issue is not with positive thinking itself; my issue is with the notion of eliminating all negativity.
It felt callous and heartless, and it felt like an added source of pressure, stress and anxiety. It seemed a little delusional and possibly dangerous to ignore the negative signals I’d experience from time to time.
You don’t exist to get dumped on. However, there needs to be a balance between reducing negativity and being emotionally available, and responsive to your close friends and family.
The minute you start to feel pressure or stressed about positive thinking, you’re actually doing more harm than good. Thinking about something you’re grateful for is a great way to reduce feelings of stress and pressure.
Bottling up, repressing, ignoring or denying your “negative” emotions will backfire. Pay attention to those signals. They are signals that you should consider making changes in your life for your own greater health and happiness.
Instead of eliminating negativity, focus on reducing negativity while still being a decent human being.