The Harm in Positive Thinking

Often when people are going through difficult times, illness, loss of job, disability, unable to find work, separation/divorce the response from friends, family, and acquaintances on social media is one of “think positively” and accompanied by platitudes and cliches. More often than not these statements are harmful. When one is sick, has lost a job it is, frankly, a shitty situation. There may be a positive in it somewhere, but saying that someone needs to see the positive in it is not helpful.

Being told to “think positively” implies that one should not also be thinking and planning for a worst case scenario. What if I don’t find work in a month, two months, six months, a year? What if this is a permanent condition? What if I need invasive medical treatments that may not work? What if I lose my job because I decide to transition? These are all valid questions that people do need to think about when faced with these situations. In my opinion ignoring these questions is not thinking positively, it is burying one’s head in the sand.

The statement “think positively” is how people are now telling people to shut up and pretend everything is okay.

Thinking positively does not mean that one thinks life will be all roses and honey. It means that whatever happens one can be resilient and work through events. It means that one acknowledges that it is okay to break down in tears. It is okay to want to be a turtle for a while and not interact with others. It is okay to feel down. It means that it is okay to have what are commonly referred to as ‘negative’ emotions.

Feeling sad, feeling uncertain, feeling anger, feeling grief, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling hurt are all valid emotions. They are all healthy emotions that are part of being human. We are not Vulcans who hide emotions and do not express them. Expressing emotion is part of human nature. One of the biggest challenges in my life has been how to deal with emotions in a healthy way.

As a child I was told I was “too sensitive,” that I felt things too deeply. This would have been bad enough had I been perceived as a girl, but being perceived as a boy it was much worse. I was not allowed to show certain types of emotion because that was deemed as being weak. Therefore I learned to suppress my emotions, bury them. It came out as anger, which was acceptable to a point. It was not acceptable to be too angry, however, and I did hit a point where my anger was overwhelming and unhealthy. This was not positive thinking, and “think positively” was not part of common parlance.

Through my transition I began to learn how to deal with my emotions in more healthy ways. Thinking positively, the power of positive thinking, and all that stuff had become part of various self-help tomes and aphorisms. Yet, it always felt false to me. Therefore, I have chosen to take the idea of positive thinking and, for myself, turn it on its head.

For me, positive thinking is:

  • Recognising that not everything in life is good.
  • Acknowledging that ‘negative’ emotions are just as valid as ‘positive’ emotions and are just as healthy or unhealthy
  • Recognising that sometimes a good outcome is not what mainstream society and culture necessarily thinks is ‘good’ or ‘positive’.
  • Admitting that I am not perfect, I make mistakes, that I fall short of the mark. I am human.
  • Being aware that what is right and good for me is not right and good for others.
  • That what is positive is relative for each person and changes for each person depending on their circumstances
  • Good and bad are part of life and how situations are dealt with depends on each person
  • Being ‘healthy’ is a relative concept that is not only physical but includes the mental and spiritual as well.

We all have our ups and downs in life. Sometimes it is overwhelming. Seems like it is too much. The challenge lies in figuring out how we get through it in a way that is healthy. We may not know what healthy is right away. We may need to discover what that means, and the meaning may change. It is a lot of work and does require healthy support from others. If one needs to take a break from interacting on social media, in person, and in other ways that is okay. Needs change. Acknowledging and stating our needs is okay.

We are all unique, and we all get to define what ‘good’ and what ‘positive’ means for ourselves and seeking the help of others in defining these is also okay.

Be positive for yourself, whatever that may mean for you in each moment.

One Reply to “The Harm in Positive Thinking”

  1. Thanks for this. Sometimes I just want to club all those positive thinking people over the head. Let me acknowledge the darkness and find my own way through it.

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