Why “positive thinking” does not work, A controversial take on things:
Many times clients tell me about certain difficulties they had on a particular day, some challenges, strong emotions, or negative thoughts that came up. They tell me about how much they struggled to think positive, struggled with themselves or their thoughts and negative feelings in order to “beat” them and think positive successfully.
They tell me this with pride or despair, depending on how they perceive it went for them. You can probably imagine the surprised face on their faces when I tell them to stop trying so hard to think positively.
“What? What do you mean. I thought that was the whole point of this process? Isn’t that the essence of spirituality, coaching, and therapy? If not that, then what? What’s the point of it all?”.
“Did it work for you?” I ask. “It mostly sounded like it was full of unnecessary effort.”
“No, it didn’t” they admit.
“Okay, so there’s no point in that from now on!”
You see, despite the popular belief and popular saying in our society, that a lot of icons, gurus and other people on the Internet and every day tell us about: “Just think positive and everything will be fine” or “Think good and it will be good”, in most cases when these sentences are used, it’s simply an awfully good way to repress our emotions and be inauthentic again.
If you are a human being like me, it once happened to you that you were terribly angry at someone/something and then someone came and said to you: “There is no point in getting angry it does not help, just think positive” and then either you agreed because it sounded logical and at the same time still felt angry (because rationalizations don’t help calm our emotions down) or you got even angrier and now also became angry about the person who gave you this terrible advice! (This is what I tended to do).
And the reason it does not work is simple: the reason we suffer is because we are not authentic. At a very young age we were educated and conditioned by the society around us to abandon our beautiful authenticity for the sake of a mechanical and fake behavior that is not us at all. We were taught to repress our emotions of fear, sadness, anger, love and joy in claims they are “childish”‘, “irrational”, “disturbing” or just plain too much for our parents and the adults around us to deal with.
The result is adults who are not connected to themselves and suffer from anxiety, depression, self-rejection and ADHD because they have learned to repress who they really are and how they really feel for the sake of a fake mask that society has built for them and leaves them miserable.
In fact, every time we try to think positively when we actually feel very upset, we re-enact our childhood traumas of self-rejection and repression of our emotions over and over again. And when people encourage positive thinking in this way, it’s because they have not yet learned to feel, accept and love all the emotions and parts of them, all their childhood traumas and they still live their daily lives wearing a “positive” mask to hide the unprocessed and unconscious pain that remains behind it.
“So what do you suggest Daniel, that it’s bad to think positive? That it’s not good? That it’s better to think negative? I don’t understand”.
I’m not against positive thinking at all, anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty practical and tend to smile and laugh most of the time. I simply suggest we be authentic to how we really feel, that we become real about it and that we do not have to lie and play pretend all the time.
Instead of lying that everything is fine with us, we can tell the truth that right now we are feeling “so – so” or even “bad”, at least we can start by admitting it to ourselves.
Because what my clients find out after I talk to them about it, is that once we explore together the source of their emotions, and once they allow their feelings completely, allow themselves to feel fear, anger, rage, to cry, to feel sadness or any other feeling… On the other side of it awaits great relief, great joy, great happiness and a deep sense of authenticity and integrity.
Joy is our natural state, we do not need to strive hard for it, rather just to let go of what stands in the way. And what stands in the way are mostly repressed emotions from our childhood. When we release and fully integrate those feelings, happiness and authenticity await us and give us a warm hug.
Because trying to think positive, when we feel very very negative, is simply self-rejection and it’s like covering a pile of poop full of whipped cream and saying it’s delicious now(sorry for the bluntness, but not really).
With love and compassion, and with a warm invitation to live from authenticity and from the heart, Daniel❤️.