Can positive thinking "cure" your negative emotions?
November 6, 2017
There's a weird self improvement philosophy that takes positive thinking to the extreme by suggesting that we only experience negative feelings because our mindset is messed up. The idea is that if you can just look at the world through a positive lens, you can be done with negative feelings and transform your life for the better!
That simplicity sounds tempting, right? Unfortunately, the positivity-or-bust approach can start to look less like stepping into a transformed life and more like working hard to interrupt anger, sadness, and other emotions with optimism and affirmations, and feeling a bit guilty when it doesn't work.
After a while, that effort gets draining. It's also misguided!
Reframing self-defeating thoughts and working on critical self talk can be truly helpful, but expecting to eliminate categories of emotions isn't realistic or self care.
Your negative emotions, as painful as they might be, aren't a mindset failure. Experiencing the full spectrum of human emotions, including the uncomfortable ones, isn't abnormal or unhealthy or a sign that you're failing at self care. It's all just evidence you're human!
Pushing negative feelings down or leapfrogging over them straight into the positivespin doesn't tend to make those feelings disappear anyway. When we eventually feel vulnerable, as all humans do sometimes, it helps to be comfortable riding the waves of our emotions so we don't feel too overwhelmed or immobilized.
If we can give ourselves permission to experience all emotions without guilt or a sense of failure, we're better able to care for ourselves through them.
Learning to accept painful feelings instead of instantly correcting them is still hard, but self acceptance and compassion are the skillful, courageous kind of difficult that build up your strength to cope with challenging situations.
Affirmations, gratitude, and positive thinking have their place in self care and personal growth, but so do all of your emotions, including the ones that seem like they're glass half empty.