Finding the Good in Negative Thoughts
It seems we can hardly take a breath these days without being reminded of the importance of positive thought. If we believe the fad all we need to find all the happiness and riches in the word is to just think positive. I find that often that strategy is almost presented as a genie in a bottle type thing, and I think that over simplifies matters way too much.
I do think that having a positive mindset helps us move forward. After all when we belief in and hope for better we are more likely to pursue and achieve our goals. When we only focus on the limiting circumstances of our life, how will we find any potential?
Having said that, negative thoughts and emotions do have a place and a purpose in our lives.
‘Positive & Negative’ and not the same as ‘Good & Bad’
Far too often are positive and negative emotions labelled as good and bad. That means we are now passing judgement on our emotional state, trust me that is not a good thing.
Positive thought and feelings are not any better or worse than negative ones. They both serve very real and very important purposes. See, although you may prefer pears to broccoli, they each add their own unique blend of nutrients to your life, and only ever eating pears (healthy as they are) will not make up for the lack of broccoli (or vice versa)*.
“Negative emotions also most likely aid in our survival. Bad feelings can be vital clues that a health issue, relationship or other important matter needs attention, Adler points out. The survival value of negative thoughts and emotions may help explain why suppressing them is so fruitless.” (From Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being by Tori Rodriguez)
Where positive emotions allow us to think creatively, to expand and improve on our lives, negative emotions are part of our survival strategy (and yes, I am aware that I am totally over simplifying here. Gimme a second and I’ll get to the point).
Negative emotions typically trigger the fight or flight response. Anger, fear… they’re what triggers us to fight, flee or freeze in place. A nifty little system that evolution installed in our base system. We need those emotions to tell us when we are facing a threat or a problem. When our external or internal life throws a spanner in the works… maybe we should think of our negative emotions as our check engine light (although not quite).
Survival mode is great, for a little while. Typically though, that state of mind only allows for short term planning. It is all about how to get passed that tiger in the jungle. It does not concern itself with where we want to be next year. Maybe we are fed up with tigers, and we really want to move out of the jungle all together? Our negative emotional state usually does not leave much room for this type of thinking. This is where we need positive thoughts and emotions. We need hope, love, interest… those are the building blocks of our dreams and aspirations.
So, Positive Thoughts DO Make Our Dreams Come True?
Well… yes. But, we still need those negative dudes too. How else will we deal with the tigers on our path?
We can’t just push away half of our emotional register and expect to be okay! Pushing negative thoughts and feelings away is to your emotional health what sticking your fingers in your ears, pinching your eyes shut and singing lalalala is to resolving a conflict.
Besides, by labelling one as better as the other, we will start feeling like feeling negative emotions as being failure. Feeling shame or guilt about any part of ourselves is detrimental to our health. Through your emotions you are having a conversation with yourself. You cannot simply ignore half of that conversation and think the dialogue will not be affected.
When we miss our buss that is frustrating. When we suffer a loss, of course we are sad. When we see injustice done to our loved ones, you bet we will be angry.
When we come home from our job angry and frustrated every day, maybe we are trying to signal to ourselves that something is not working for us. Is it the job? The company? A colleague? That is the question. Our negative emotions will help us figure that out. In turn our positive emotions will help us figure out long term solutions.
You Might As Well Face It, You’re Going to Have Negative Thoughts
“Instead of backing away from negative emotions, accept them. Acknowledge how you are feeling without rushing to change your emotional state.” (From Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being by Tori Rodriguez)
Our negative emotions are going along on the journey, and they are here to help. Trying to push them down is pointless, we need to feel them and process the situations that trigger them. Make space for them, and figure out how you can best use them in your life. Because, we are all different and one size fits no-one!
My partner for example does a fair bit of complaining about things. It is his way of venting his frustration, his way of processing the challenges he faces. Who am I to tell him he is doing it wrong?
“Even if more optimistic results about optimism eventually surface, a rosy outlook is unlikely to benefit everyone. Defensive pessimists, for example, tend to fret a great deal about upcoming stressors such as job interviews or major exams, and they overestimate their likelihood of failure. Yet this worrying works for these individuals, because it allows them to be better prepared.” (From Can Positive Thinking Be Negative? by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz)
What about Me?
I am a pretty positive person actually. Not forcefully, but just as a natural response. I have enough on my plate to drive me to despair sometimes though. How I deal with that?
- I regularly make time for tearjerkers on Netflix. Nothing makes me feel lighter than crying my eyes out over some super sad film. I have to be by myself though… well maybe, me, my blanket and my cat… and some chocolate… and gin.
- When I do feel negative emotions in my day to day life, I try to acknowledge them. I may ask some questions of myself, you know the regular why, what, how kind. Sometimes though, I just let them sit there for a while until I figure it out.
- Mostly I talk to my partner and my friends about things. They help me figure things out, or throw in some indignation on my behalf, which always helps. It is too easy to forget that we can talk about the more complicated stuff too (especially for guys I think). These days it seems we only share our holiday pictures and super romantic dates through Facebook. But that just isn’t real life!
* I am no expert on nutrition and only used pears and broccoli as a device to make a point. If you want to know about the health benefits of pears and broccoli you will need to keep looking. Just sayin’.
Originally published at www.holdthefluff.com on November 14, 2016.