In this day and age there are quite a number of people who use the “New Age” approach to handling difficult situations or emotions; such approach is centered on focusing on only the positive. Over time more and more people are realizing that the avoidance of emotions which are not pleasant, not only does not help the healing process but compounds the issues hidden within. Focusing on the positive is certainly good advice when one is living coherently otherwise it’s only used as an escape. Let me explain this further–the so called “stay positive” approach or “focus on the positive” only works when one is simultaneously facing “negative emotions”. It works great as a counterbalance and indeed can help speed the healing process; however just like focusing on the negative doesn’t work, neither does focusing on only what is considered positive.
Today I would like to introduce you to an old concept which Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung among others spoke vastly about but seems to have been forgotten; Introspection. Introspection is the art of looking in and facing who we really are. Not the person we would like to be or the person we pretend to be, or the person others would like us to be but who we really are at this given moment. Learning to accept who we are at any given moment shines light on parts of ourselves we keep hidden; by shining light on them we embrace those parts and start the process of healing.
In the past I have written about Introspection & Psychoanalysis. I have also written about Shadow Work & Philosophy. Today I will approach Introspection from a different angle. Today I would like to discuss “Positive Negativity”.
The best way to start explaining Positive Negative is by giving you an example: The youngest son of a gentleman dies and he finds himself very distressed. As it often happens those around him keep telling him the pain will stop, to focus on those who are still alive, to fight and live for the sake of his other two children. The more people try to cheer the man up the more angry he becomes, the more distressed and distant he becomes. Let’s examine this… Indeed many of the people who were giving advice probably had the best of intentions and they were trying to help in a “positive way” but forgot that not always what is called “positive” is best. This isn’t an invitation to always be angry or depressed; all I am trying to say is that sometimes when people are not feeling well, when they are hurting, when they are in pain, the worst we can do is to try to push them to “remain positive”.
In the opinion of many renown psychoanalysts and I agree with them, Paulo Coelho has done a lot of damage. Don’t get me wrong, I do like some of his phrases but overall his approach to life is like a castle build of glass; no real foundation, easily breakable.
Too many people bought into this “New Age Thinking” ; its appeal is the fact that one can avoid taking the responsibility to look within. Many people liked that, memorize the phrases and repeated them without even understanding the depth of their meaning. To repeat his phrases left many feeling as if they had found the cure for cancer yet they had no idea what the disease was. I am not trying to single him out, I am only mentioning him because he is known by many all over the world and because in reality with him started this whole new era of “Be Positive” “Stay away from negative people” “I don’t like baggage” style of thinking. Let’s examine those phrases shall we?
Be Positive.- The only way to truly experience a real deep feeling of joy and positivity, a feeling of transformation; not a fleeting moment of avoidance; is by looking in and resolving our traumas, healing our wounds.
Stay Away From Negative People.– I guess we should all stay away from each other because at one point or another we are all going to experience negative emotions. Advising someone to set boundaries and to try to stay clear of “Toxic” people is not the same as “Negative People”. As I’ve already mentioned in a previous article, during a conference of Psychologists/Psychiatrists it was addressed how data reveals that the most toxic people are usually found within those who like to smile and pretend to be all accepting while they stab you on the back.
No Baggage Please.- I have also mentioned this in previous articles; bluntly said unless you have been raised in a bubble all your life (even then) you will have baggage. We all do, is part of being human.
Getting back to the starting point, this “Positive Era”. With Paulo Coelho started the “Inspirational Era”, “Positivity Coaches”. If we look at the words correctly then one should understand that Inspiration doesn’t equate to Resolving, healing or to the Dissolution of wounds. Inspiration is but a band aid; it helps but it doesn’t heal the problem–it’s a tool.
In all the confusion, this band aid solution of “Being Positive” only managed to promote the obliteration of the eternal existential question “Who Am I?” . This very important question became less and less examined in exchange for the illusionary version positivism alone brought with it. I would like to use one of Paulo Coelho’s phrases which I find ironical when defining the existential crisis people are undergoing…“I know a lot of people who only manage to have an identity when they talk about their problems”.
Why do I call the above phrase ironic? because this era is ill with “Fake Optimism” “All Congenial” “All Accepting”. Of course a congenial personality will be promoted by the media as an ideal because being congenial often leads to people who are easy to control. People whose core values change as quick as fashion styles come and go. They do not like to think, they like others to do the thinking and make the decisions they are too afraid to make so they may avoid any responsibility. In other words, they have not grown up but they act as if they do because they can repeat what someone else says without understanding its actual meaning.
Analysts agree that a society full of congenial inspirational people are easy to manipulate and are by far the biggest consumers in society. It makes sense then that those behind the scenes would promote this new era of thinking vs old introspection. They don’t want a healed society; that would mean people would be willing to use critical thinking and be empathetic vs sympathetic; we all know the power of learning to think and feel for oneself.
Social media is the biggest promoter of “Fake Positivism” . It is where one can find lots of people exposing an irrational positivism; that is why upon close inspection therapists agree that those who exhibit an overly energetic, always positive attitude expose traits of psychological issues/illness. Just like depression is an illness, always being positive is one too; as there seems to be an exaggerated necessity to always seem pleasing. They seem to react overly happy even over the most trivial of things. They don’t even seem human, because to be human means to experience all array of emotions. They seem to believe personal development is achieve not by the healing of wounds but by the repeating of “nice words”.
According to Psychologists people who are always focusing on the positive tend to have many issues yet are further away from healing than the person who experiences depression; why? because they are so busy running away from their unpleasant emotions. They like to focus on things which will take their mind off the real problems hidden within while pretending to be all understanding, all accepting. They live so afraid to actually feel their negative emotions that instead of looking in they like to live seeking the acceptance of others. They don’t expose their emotions when they are face to face instead they wait to do so until they are sure they can hide behind something or someone.
The danger of fake positivism is that it leads to very toxic people who hide behind smiles and like to label those who are hurting as negative and toxic; yet the toxicity lies within. They feel the need to always put a smile on and confuse doing so with being strong. Being strong is being able to feel your emotions and having the self respect to accept yourself with your good and bad days. They don’t seem to realize that by hiding behind a smile all they are doing is fabricating a lie; on top of it by labeling it as “strength” they are negating their own natural emotions in exchange for fake acceptance. We laugh, we cry, we get angry, we love, we live, we die– For God’s sake WE ARE HUMAN!. My life isn’t perfect, nor yours nor anyone else’s. I have good days and bad days. I have struggles and wounds as do you, as does every person on this planet. Some of those issues will be resolved, some wounds will heal and others may take time, some issues may never be resolved; having problems and obstacles to overcome doesn’t make me or you less of a person it makes us HUMAN– it makes us REAL!
So let’s stop continuously telling others to stop crying, to stop hurting. Let’s stop telling others to be positive, to mask their emotions with smiles–it isn’t right or healthy. I don’t know if this has happen to you but there are times one can be having a very bad day and you come across a person who tells you to “cheer up and smile”; of course if throughout the day you have been processing your emotions then you might feel the need to refocus and move on; however if your day was really bad and you have not even had time to process your emotions, then having someone tell you to cheer up just feels like one more person who doesn’t understand or care for what is happening to you.
Psychologists, existential mentors, life coaches among others who understand that life is full of obstacles interrupted by great moments recognize the value of introspection. This means life has ups and downs and it is all part of experiencing, building or rediscovering who we are.
People like to say “Behind a crisis there is an opportunity”; couldn’t agree more; but we need to learn to be empathetic and understand that nobody can see the opportunity or the lesson while they are in the middle of a crisis.
Another thing we need to learn is to understand that positivity is great if it is spontaneous instead of pretentious. To obtain spontaneous positivity one actually needs to be at peace inside which is usually the result of healing that which is wounded. We may experience many moments of spontaneous positivity however it isn’t the same as always pretending to be positive.
I urge you, if you are hurting don’t go around pretending you are okay. I am not encouraging you to play victim but to seek the balance. By embracing your emotions your healing will come and you will experience real positivism. To try to hide your emotions in order to seem pleasing is as incoherent as trying to supress an orgasm. Those of you who have experienced an orgasm know what am talking about. When having an orgasm you don’t go deciding to stop it, you don’t go deciding to divide or administer the pleasure of your orgasm between one day and the next, you simply allow it to flow. You didn’t tell yourself that you needed to divide your orgasm in doses because others may not find it acceptable; then why in the world would you put so much effort on suppressing a natural emotion simply because out of fear of how others will perceive you?
When it comes to negative emotions the same approach you have towards an orgasm needs to be used; you don’t need to be labeling it as bad or avoiding it. Too many times by trying to avoid unpleasant emotions in order to seem pleasing the wound actually gets worst.
When we tell those around us who are in distress to simply snap out of it or to be positive; otherwise they may be excluded; that person only ends up in a worst place than before. How then is it a good thing to push a person towards positivism without facing the emotions?
When I was a kid I was really skinny; being skinny in a culture that embraces curves wasn’t ideal. Try as I might I could not put on weight. I talked to my grandmother who really shocked me with her answer because it was so simple yet so real. She told me about many people who complained about wanting to lose weight yet no matter how much they tried they could not do so, so she said “Sweetheart if it was that easy to put on weight or to lose weight we would all be skinny or curvaceous yet in this world one can find every shape of body; so stop obsessing because if we were all meant to be one shape, we would be that shape”...When I think back on her advice I can’t help but chuckle and wonder if she was the one who unknowingly set me on my path towards psychology 🙂 What I am trying to help you understand is this…Do not mask your emotions, if you are feeling joy express it, if you are having a bad day is okay don’t hide it, don’t put on a smile so others may feel better. Your first responsibility is towards you– if it was so easy not to feel pain then none of us would. If it was so easy not to feel anger then none of us would. If it was so easy not to feel fear then none of us would.
Psychotherapists, Psychologists aren’t all knowing or exceptional scientists (some are, for the most part however they are just caring people who seek to help you understand your mental functioning.) I would not consider myself a great mind but I do believe I have a great need to analyze things and to look in (I like to look at my own life; the good and bad. I look at the good times as I look at the times that I struggle within myself or with my family). In looking at my everyday life and those I have come in contact with, I can say that about 70% of people respond to a standard treatment. 30% percent of people (which is no small number) do not respond well to standard treatment. This means that if you tell a person within the 30% to stop being nervous or afraid, to visualize and to cheer on; it simply won’t work. More often than not those people are quite analytical themselves so the traditional approach will not work. To keep pushing a person to simply cheer up will only give rise to two problems instead of one; on the one hand the person will have the original concern for which they sought therapy, on the other hand they will have the added pressure of feeling not good enough or damaged because they can’t simply “get it together” and focus on rainbows and unicorns. To keep pushing that person to pretend to have a different emotion would only make me an insensitive idiot.
I have come in contact with a lot of people who suffer of anxiety; something I too experience at times. Anxiety doesn’t announce itself, it can show up when you least expect it and it seems as if it has a hold on you. When someone is suffering of anxiety, more often than not those around tend to tell that person to calm down, to relax, to cheer. When the anxiety is low to moderate, traditional therapy will work. More often than not that person will respond to mindfulness, but what happens if the anxiety is moderate to severe? In that case traditional therapy won’t work. It doesn’t work because it is no longer considered stress, as such all those things which seemed to work before won’t work or they will make things worst. For example: I want to relax but no matter how much I try I can’t, I want to sleep but I have insomnia, I want to distract myself but I can’t stop thinking; It can be horrendous. To try to force oneself to snap out of it can become quite a diabolical problem. I call it diabolical because the more one tries the so called positive approach the more the person sinks into depression. It’s like being in quicksand; the more you fight to get out, the faster you sink.
Thankfully there is another way and it requires introspection. This type of unique approach is called “Acknowledge what is happening” or “More of what it is”. Let me explain this in mathematical terms. If you have a positive number and you multiply it by a positive number the result will be a positive number. If you have a positive number and you multiply it by a negative number the result will be a negative number. If you have a negative number and you multiply it by a positive number the result will be a negative number. Here comes the big one (more of wat it is) If you have a negative number and you multiple it by a negative number the result will be POSITIVE. It is such a conundrum yet math proves it.
If I am suffering and I am being pushed to think positively I will end feeling even worst. Now here is where the paradox of math enters our lives; one doesn’t need to be a mathematician to figure this out, one just needs to learn to actually feel for others…
If someone is suffering it is best to validate the emotions than to belittle them by pushing that person to focus on the positive (This rule does not apply when someone seeks to victimize themselves) For example: I am having troubles with one of my kids and I am afraid I will not be able to reach that child. Instead of having someone tell me all will be well and to try this or that because it worked for them I want someone to try to understand my pain; if I am suffering all I will get from that is “I am a failure as a parent”. If on the other hand someone says to me “This must be a very difficult for you, you must be really scare for what is to come. You and your child will probably be judged by those who don’t know you or your circumstances. You are angry, be angry there is nothing wrong with that. You want to cry, it makes sense then cry. You can’t understand why this is happening, it must feel horrible to not make sense of it all. If you can’t reach your child there will be blame. All of it can’t be easy, no matter what happens it won’t be easy” That will validate my emotions in turn at the very least my anxiety will decrease. That approach tells others it’s okay to feel the way you do, is okay to be scare, its okay to be angry. It is only natural to expect the worst and be terrified for the future. That approach prepares the person for what could happen but from a collected, safe space. It won’t heal the wound but it won’t make it worst either. Little by little things will unfold in whatever way life intends them to and that person will be a little bit more mentally ready to handle it.
Negative emotions can be healthy; they are here to guide us, to help us integrate. People who are not always focusing on positivism are beautiful marvelous people and they do deserve as much love and respect. We should respect their ability to expose themselves as they are instead of being pretentious or acting as if they are saints who got all their shit together. Negative emotions or people who are experiencing negative moments are not the same as Toxic people or people who like to play Victim. People who like to be introspective, who like to think and truly feel, more often than not are those who don’t go around pretending to be happy, cheery, always ready to listen and help. No offense to anyone but even people with a “Sunny disposition” have bad days; its natural. Let us recognize that introspective people, people who understand what it is to suffer, people who guide remembering what it is to feel pain and joy, are the ones who have been the biggest contributors to the changes in our world.
This world needs different ideas, concepts, personalities; what it doesn’t need, what none of us need is to buy the idea that people need to pretend all is good at all times out of fear of being judged. Overly positive people could benefit from taking a break from running from their lives and to spend time looking within.
New Era positivism may pump you up for a moment but Introspection, Psychoanalysis, Philosophy will change your life permanently.
Remember that is always better to be liked and loved by the few who really know who you are, than to be liked and falsely accepted by those who only know your mask.