What do you need to hear from people when bad things happen?
Encouragement to realise that ‘everything happens for a reason’? Advice about how to think more positively? A reminder that ‘you might not see it now, but when a door closes, another one opens’?
Or do you just want them to stand next to you and say something like, ‘wow, this sucks, I’m sorry’x?
The world is full of absolute guff that poses as ‘positive thinking’. But much of it is barrier thinking. Driven by a fear of difficult emotions and situations that can’t be controlled. This type of positive thinking is often used as a protection against grief, anger, and other ‘negative emotions’, which are necessary if we’re going to move with mental fitness into the future.
We mistake this stuff for positive thinking.
But it’s not positive to tell someone that ‘everything happens for a reason’, or ‘good always comes from bad’. Whether you believe them or not, it can be a damaging message for someone who has just experienced profound loss, illness, or breakup. A person who needs to rumble in the pain before coming to their own judgements about how they will see and use the situation as part of their story in the future.
I’ve never known anyone to adopt a new way of thinking because they’ve been told to. In fact, it makes us less likely to think positively if we feel like we’re not allowed to feel and think the stuff that’s there within us.
Real Positive Thinking
Real positive thinking is rooted in accepting reality. Rumbling with it, and grieving those emotions we have in response to the stuff going on in life. It is the voice that allows the initial impression of something to breathe.
Be honest about how you feel and what you think. If you’re disappointed, angry, or devastated, then be those things. The alternative is to push those emotions down beneath an insincere smile and a mountain of bitterness, resentment, and pretence. And to project the same things onto others.
A positive healthy mindset allows the truth to sit there, to rumble, to grieve. None of this is negative thought, it’s real, it’s authentic, and it’s necessary.
In time, as your brain begins to come to terms with this plot twist, you can begin to ask yourself how you will choose to respond to what has happened.
Are you prepared for failure? For disappointment? For pain? Or will it come as an unexpected shock?
The statement that ‘everything happens for a reason’, has an unspoken narrative of disempowering drive beneath it. The implication being that god has caused this thing to happen so that you will learn some great lesson or have an opportunity in the future to use it to change the world. This always strikes me as a troublingly egocentric view of the world (the universe revolves around me), while stripping all agency on the other hand (my life is being controlled by another being).
Things happen for a reason. The reason is life. And life carries pain, death, and change. Nothing we can do about that.
Are we ready for those things? Prepared so that we aren’t taken by surprised when they occur. Rather than faffing around trying to find meaning in the inevitable, are we ready to give ourselves the permission to feel (grieve). And then to accept (reflect on and acknowledge reality as it is). And finally, to respond (choose how to use the experience in a positive way)?
The positive thoughts we obsess over, are usually rooted in our most entrenched limiting beliefs. It’s impossible to think your way out of them. The more you try, the more draining it is. And the more disconnected you become from yourself.
A Better Side of Positivity
I am currently working on qualifying as a personal and small business coach. I was drawn to the philosophy of the school I’m learning with because it rejects the surface level aspirational stuff (think yourself rich, thin, successful). Rather than selling myths of success, it is about helping people set their own agenda and going deeper into uncovering their values, the goals beneath the goals, and unpicking the entrenched limiting beliefs that underpin their self-talk.
It’s about taking action to begin building a life that rejects all the stories and messages we’ve been encouraged or told to believe. So that we may begin designing and building life upon our actual values and move within the story we want to write instead.
Over to You
How do you feel about the idea of ‘positive thinking’? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave your response in the comments below.