A prominent theme in pop psychology is the notion of positive thinking and its purported health benefits. We’re told that if only we think positively, good things will come. We’ll become rich, we’ll have girlfriends, and we’ll attain all of our hearts desires by simply forcing the universe to bend to our wishes through thoughts; I can’t conceive of anything more absurd, and I’ve tried intensely to. In my humble opinion, to persistently think about things in a positive manner is just as toxic and delusional as continually ruminating in negative ways. One’s power and her or his ability for development lies in their ability to see the world, and themselves, clearly; to perceive both truthfully.
I’m going to start with negative thinking, as it’s more toxic and harmful to one’s well-being than its positive counterpart. Negative thinking can be defined as: a perception of the world and/or oneself that is biased in an overly pessimistic manner; it’s an excessive focus on “the whackness” of one’s world and an over-generalization of people and events in more cynical terms. Negative thinking is linked to various mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, and sustains their existence within a cycle in which disorder and thinking maintain and feed one another. As stated in an earlier post titled The Toxicity of Self-Esteem, negative thinking and its symptomatic complements are helped through the use of labels, essentially overgeneralizing one’s failures or shortcomings in broader terms to define oneself (e.g. I failed a test; therefore, I am an overall failure.) The toxicity of negative thinking can be seen in girls who believe they’re ugly because they fail to meet some socially constructed and unhealthy conception of beauty. It can be seen in boys who believe themselves to be weak and feminine if they aren’t muscular enough. And it can be seen in our college students who label themselves as failures when their GPAs fall beneath 4.0. Our culture has efficiently worked toward the creation of self-ideals which must be engendered through any means and at any cost, and which must often times be sustained through the use of toxic reminders. Children learn to verbally assault themselves, labeling themselves as a manner of coping, and of trying to become better than they believe that they are. They erroneously accept the notion that their labels can help motivate them to become smarter and stronger and better looking, even through the sacrifice of their own emotional well-being.
Through the use of labeling and negative thinking, we often believe that we’ll drive ourselves to become better versions of our seemingly insufficient selves; but, fail to acknowledge the effects of our thoughts and cognitions on our actions and long-term goals. Negative thinking and labeling, although apparently productive, tend to increase and sustain depression and anxiety, rather than contribute to the creation of our perfect, and consequently lovable, selves. Through verbal repetition and the persistent failure to meet impossible standards, our core beliefs become ingrained, and our conceptions of ourselves become hardened and less open to challenge and analysis. We believe ourselves to be ugly, fat, and stupid, accepting the impossibility for change; eventually, we give in and give up, allowing those terms to define our seemingly impenetrable characters, effectively eliminating any hope for personal development. It all becomes a self-sustaining, vicious cycle from which escape is inconceivable.
Through negative thinking, we torment ourselves with impossible standards and toxic labels; but, through positive thinking, we preclude our meaningful journeys and block our roads to greatness. Whereas negative thinking erodes emotional well-being, positive thinking precludes development; to think that everything is okay, or even wonderful, is to say that there’s no need for change, or to even attempt to do so. In contrast to negative thinking, positive thinking is defined as: a perception of the world and/or oneself that is biased in an overly optimistic manner; it’s an excessive focus on “the dopeness” of one’s world and an over-generalization of people and events in more favorable terms. “Isn’t life just grand?! ” “Everyone is so amazing and wonderful!” Outside of being obvious sources of annoyance, such beliefs and verbalizations preclude problem solving and, even more importantly, awareness of danger, whether it’s of the physical or emotional kind.
In ancient times, it was widely known why suffering and tragedy were so significant; it was accepted that both features, although often times immensely unpleasant, precipitated personal growth. Challenges and obstacles, even when seemingly too difficult to bear, present us with opportunities to become the best versions of ourselves, not the unattainable versions we believe that we’re supposed to aspire to. Through challenge, through hardship, through the pain and all of the fucking tears, we learn how to endure and how to thrive; we learn how to access something within that we didn’t know existed before. Through all of that torment, we become who we really are; we become ourselves. And to negate our difficulties, pretending that they don’t exist, is to take away some of our most significant moments and to prevent the development of our immature, yet blossoming, selves.
Whether it be one or the other, to perpetually engage in either one of these forms of life-denial is equivalent to robbing our lives of their many possibilities and robbing oneself of a full existence. So, as I’ve always told my patents, the best form of thought is the one that’s based on reality; it’s the one which allows an individual to consider their positive and their negative traits, and the one which affords acceptance of life’s inevitable challenges. For, if you allow it to, life will present you with a great deal of unexpected gifts, which may not appear to be so at first glance. Could this perhaps be a sugar-coating of suffering? Maybe. Or it can be an accurate assessment of suffering’s bright side: that being the maturity which it can spawn, or more accurately, the maturity that you can create. In the words of the great Ronnie James Dio, “If you have the courage to cross the Rainbow Bridge, there, you may find the Sacred Heart.”