The Dangerous Trouble With Positive Thinking

The power of positive thinking is called a bubble. Reality testing is seeing that the bubble has burst–or will burst. Yes, there is value in negative thoughts and (sometimes) extreme danger in positive thoughts. Sometimes, optimism can kill you.

Positive thinking surely comes with advantages: it may encourage us to take needed risks and expand our horizons. But it has downsides as well and may not be for everyone, especially those for whom worrying and kvetching come naturally as coping mechanisms. Moreover, positive thinking may be counterproductive if it leads us to blithely ignore life’s dangers.

Finally, as journalist Barbara Ehrenreich warns in a 2009 book, the pervasive assumption that positive attitudes permit us to “think our way out of” illnesses such as cancer has an unappreciated dark side: it may lead people who fail to recover from these illnesses to blame themselves for not being more chipper. from article originally published with the title “Facts & Fictions in Mental Health: Can Positive Thinking Be Negative?”

Image courtesy of Pexels under Creative Commons)

Positive thinking is a mental and emotional attitude that focuses on the bright side of life and expects positive results.

Why doesn’t positive thinking work the way you might assume?

Dreaming about the future calms you down, measurably reducing systolic blood pressure, but it also can drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals. Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.

An art piece on forced positivity by Arnika Müll entitled “Happy, happy, joy, joy.” Arnika Müll

This post bellow ” A Psychologist Explains the Dangerous Trouble With Positive Thinking” was originally published on Ideapod blog.

Has anyone ever told you to “Just Be Positive?” It’s a common piece of advice that gets tossed around so often that it doesn’t really mean anything. But according to psychologists, the “positive thinking culture” that’s developed in America has become almost an obsession. From self-help books to workplace cultures, people are being told to smile, even when they don’t feel like it.

“How happy we are—or appear to be—is one of the ways that we define success in our culture, almost as if it were a commodity,” explains research psychologist John Williams, Ph.D., co-founder of California Anxiety.

“Just look at how we put on a smile for photographs, even if we’re not having a good time.”“All this ‘think positive’ business makes it seem that a person’s happiness is completely in their control,” explains Peg O’Connor, Ph.D.

“It seems as if the underlying belief is, ‘Just change your attitude, put a smile on your face and everything will be fine.’” Yet, according to O’Connor, “perpetual happiness is not a reasonable expectation. ”

Unrealistic expectations

The trouble with trying to always be positive is that you become intolerant of negative feelings. According to MD Samantha Boardman, “We pathologize heartbreak, sadness, loss, and have forgotten that it is natural and part of the human experience to feel bad sometimes.”

As licensed psychologist Nancy Sachar Sidhu, Ph.D., explains, this habit goes back hundreds of years. “The U.S. culture is heavily influenced by its Puritan history of holding in our feelings and not discussing them.”

In essence, we’re denying the complexity of our emotions. At the first sign of sadness, we immediately try to repress it and feign positivity through immediate gratification from social media and other sources.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to be happy, but we need to reconsider that it’s a “positive experience all the time”.

Accepting what we can’t control.

One of the problems with the positive thinking movement is that makes us believe that happiness is 100% in our control. But the reality of life is that there isn’t much that is in our control. According to psychologist Hefferon, “It is not healthy to force one’s self into trying to feel anything at all, and happiness is no exception.”

“Attempting to be happy or force others to be happy constantly is to oppose our biological, neurological construction. This will no doubt inevitably cause further despair.”

So, what’s the solution?

The first step is realizing that you can’t flip the switch on your emotions, no matter how hard you try to be perpetually positive. It’s better to acknowledge your true emotions and then be strategic about how you react to them. We all experience negative emotions. However the difference with an emotionally healthy person is that they don’t dwell on their negative emotions or allow them to take over.

Here is a 6 step process to mindfully deal with difficult emotions:

1) Stop, turn towards

Once you become aware of a negative feeling, stop and turn towards it. Don’t suppress it or try to conquer it . Just be with it.

2) Identify that emotion

Acknowledge what the emotion is. If it is anxiety, you can say “I know there is anxiety in me”.

3.) Acceptance of what is

When you are feeling a negative emotion, you don’t need to deny it. Instead, accept what is present and mentally acknowledge that you’re feeling this way. Embrace the feeling and be open to it. You don’t need to blame yourself for it. By creating this space you’ll discover that you are not your anger, your fear or your pain. You are much larger than that.

4) Realize the impermanence of all emotions

Emotions are impermanent. They arise, they stay for a while and then disappear. They come and go. All you need to do is accept that you’re having this emotion, watch it and eventually it will disappear.

5) Investigation and response

When you are calm enough, you can look into your emotion and come to an understanding for why you’re feeling this way. What is causing your discomfort? You may realize that your thoughts aren’t reality and that you don’t need to believe them.

6) Trust yourself to choose the appropriate response.