When Positive Thinking Isn’t Helpful
“I try so hard to stay positive and be grateful, but I just keep falling into these despairing thoughts. I know this is why I keep getting sick.”
I recently heard this from someone I was working privately with and it really broke my heart. This is a woman who has worked for many years in therapy to overcome feelings of unworthiness and shame stemming from having been sexually abused as a child. She has made great strides, and has been exploring energy work as a way to continue and deepen her healing. Her journey has led her to many valuable teachings that have helped her to shift her thoughts towards the positive, and to manifest more love and beauty in her life.
But now, she felt she had hit a wall, and it was sending her back into feelings of self-blame. She blamed herself for not being positive enough, for not being able to rid herself of negative thoughts, for ‘giving in’ to feelings of despair.
This is when positive thinking – and related law of attraction teachings – may lead us astray. When they become another ‘should’ in our life, and create a standard we measure ourselves against, always coming up short. We may begin to feel fear whenever a thought we deem ‘negative’ arises, afraid that it will manifest something detrimental in our lives. Then we fall into old patterns of self-blame or unworthiness, triggering an internal battle. For those who already struggle with these feelings (abuse and trauma survivors especially), this can be particularly detrimental, and prevent them from exploring the darker emotions that need to surface as part of any transformative or therapeutic process. From an energy perspective, this just piles on more shame, which specifically impacts our sacral chakra – my favorite chakra as most of you know!
This isn’t meant to discount teachings on positive thinking, the law of attraction, manifesting, or co-creation. All of these are tremendously valuable teachings and practices. When we first discover the power of our thoughts, and our ability to consciously shift them to align with greater happiness and love, it is an amazing epiphany. But in my view we need to know when to focus on them, and when to focus on self-compassion, acceptance, or exploring our shadow aspects. As the Sirius Black quote above says, we all have both light and dark inside of us. Bringing the light forth is not a matter of shutting out the dark, but about acknowledging both and making choices. And when we do this honestly and courageously, what we once thought of as ‘dark’ often transforms, and we discover the strength hidden within it, just waiting to express itself in a new – and in fact positive – way.
Here is what can happen when we try to ‘force’ too much positivity – see if you have ever experienced a phase in which these patterns surfaced for you:
Feelings of self-blame inhibit self-compassion, and often the latter is what we really need to heal. Berating ourselves with thoughts of ‘I must just not be thinking positively enough’ or ‘I must have a negative vibration that is causing this’ just pulls us down further. Often this is like piling rocks on top of an already wounded sense of self and blocked subtle body. Focusing on acceptance of our darker feelings (not the same thing as wallowing) and offering this part of ourselves compassion in response, cuts through the tendency to create an internal self-war. Tenderness and gentleness can go a long way.
Blame the Victim
When Farrah Fawcett announced she had anal cancer (from which she eventually died), I was participating in an online energy healing forum, and several people posted something along the lines of ‘This is what happens when you are in a toxic relationship for too long’ (referring to her admittedly tempestuous relationship with Ryan O’Neal) or ‘She just has too much negativity in her life.’ Of course I don’t completely discount these theories – the foundation for chakra and energy work is the assertion that all levels of our being are interdependent, and this of course means that the energy of our environment, our relationships, and our thoughts impacts our physical.
But acknowledging interdependence is not the same as assigning blame or determining ’cause.’ We all want to believe that we can control as much as possible of our lives – that we can in fact prevent anything bad from every happening to us or those we love. But the tendency then is to seek definitive reasons why bad things have happened to other people, so that we can believe that since our life is different, they won’t happen to us.
I haven’t found someone yet, for whom this worked. Life is not fully in our control, and no amount of changing our thoughts will make it so. And unfortunately, when we focus on blame, we distance ourselves from others in a way that inhibits compassion. Compassion is born of equanimity, and an ability to accept without judgement. Ultimately, compassion is based in the knowledge that we are in fact all in this – in life – together, and all equally vulnerable, and equally mortal. And that’s ok, because we are all love too.
Problems can also arise when we try to use positive thinking to push away feelings we don’t want – but need – to face. Deeply held mental and emotional patterns often need to be explored and surfaced in order for us to shift them – just moving our attention away from them won’t stem their tide. They will simply build up inside us, and explode when the ‘lid’ we’ve created won’t hold any longer. Then we often spiral down into even deeper cycles of self-blame and regret. Repressed emotion is also linked to stress levels – the more energy we put into trying to control or hide parts of ourselves, the more anxious we feel in our everyday lives. Allowing and acknowledging all of our feelings, without judgment, creates an internal space in which we can accept, forgive, and transform.
Fixation on Outcome
This arises when we are completely focused on aligning our thoughts with a particular outcome – what we want to have happen. This is a powerful tool, and it’s true that when we put the power of our full mind behind something, it’s amazing what we can manifest. But we can also become so fixated that we lose the flow of life, and potentially miss other possibilities. So many of the best things in life are unexpected! Allowing space for this to happen, opening to the universe and allowing it to show us a different way, often yields happiness we could never have imagined – or manifest- on our own.
Of course part of the reason teachings on manifesting and positive thinking have become so popular is that we increasingly feel bombarded by negativity online and in the media, and we seek an antidote. We face on onslaught of fear and cynicism, and shifting our thoughts – and ultimately our consciousness – in a positive direction provides a powerful and necessary counterbalance. Research increasingly shows the value of this as well, in terms of both our physical and mental health. This is in fact a bedrock of my own way of living, and so I am not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater in this post.
But personally, I find that the most important question to ask myself each day is ‘Am I opening more? Or am I constricting?’ There are times when consciously shifting our thoughts in a positive direction, performing affirmations, or working towards manifesting a specific life goal, is empowering and creates a joyful momentum. Then these practices create an opening, an expanding outwards, in our thoughts and emotions. And then there are times when this approach actually constricts our awareness, triggering us to fall into patterns of judgement and blame. In those phases, we may need to pause and look – really look – into what is arising inside of us, and give it some compassionate attention. Once we have done so, we will naturally begin to open again.
For what we all seek is happiness and love. Opening is the path to both, but boulders sometimes block our way. Ignoring the boulders rarely makes them disappear! But so often they dissolve as soon as we are willing to sit with them, and inquire why they’re there.
Please feel free to share your own thoughts on this. I wish you much happiness, love and yes – positivity! Namaste-
P.S. The next Energy Healing for Sexual Trauma and Abuse Teleseminar begins this Sunday, you can still register if interested. And be sure to check out this month’s Meditate Like a Girl- I have continued my chakra series with an article and meditation for the heart chakra, and a good friend of mine is the guest artist – check out her amazing and beautiful paintings of the feminine divine!