‘Be positive’ is such a natural and common sense advice we hear from people around us. whenever we have any negative feelings or thoughts, it becomes the quickest solution suggested to us. Statements like ‘be positive’, ‘don’t think so much’, ‘everything will be fine’, ‘whatever happens, happens for the good’ are told to the person who is disturbed about a particular event in life so as to reassure him that life still moves on and he or she doesn’t need to worry much. Sitting in my clinic I hear so many clients/ caregivers asking to how to become positive or just not think anything negative at all.
What’s so wrong about such statements?
How is it possible for a girl, who has had a bad relationship, ‘not to think too much’ or to think that ‘everything will be fine’. Won’t it mean that she should just stop bothering about it or shouldn’t be cautious about the next relationship. How callous it would be to Say ‘Be positive, don’t think negative’ or ‘everything will be fine’ to a person who is in depression. These so called Re- assuring statements or positive statements can backfire in a big way.
Firstly, it usually gives the person in question a sense that probably others giving her such an advice don’t understand her or her feelings. That’s why these people get angry or irritable and don’t want unnecessary advises from anyone or everyone.
Secondly, if the person who has had a bad relationship really starts and tries to do positive thinking like everything will be fine, if I will be positive all good will happen, etc she/he would just not be cautious for the next relationship or even be concerned about not repeating the earlier mistakes in the hope that everything good will happen in life. And how realistic is that! Sadly, everything cannot happen ‘good’ always, and whenever there is some unfavorable life event, chances of these people going back in depression or taking huge stress are more than people who learn how to deal with such stresses by thinking logically or rationally.
In Another instance, most of the times we tell our children before exams that ‘everything will be fine, you will do well, don’t worry’. I understand that we want to encourage and boost their confidence. But if the child doesn’t really do well, he would either think my parents lie or would get depressed seeing the result. Rather, it is always better to tell them “Do your best in terms of studying and relax and attempt your test”. It is a way of projecting that the effort counts and right now it’s not useful to think about result beforehand as it’s far in future and thinking about it would arouse anxiety in the child.Thus, This puts their thinking away from the result which of course is also not totally in their hand in contrast to their efforts.
Thirdly, positive thinking makes a person surrender to circumstances. It further increases the conviction in luck, etc. the sole responsibility is outside and not within the person and thus, helplessness that nothing is under our control. For example, if one is depressed about a situation, usually he/she thinks, time is a big healer. They try and distract themselves and thus wait for the right time or some miracle to happen when they would start feeling better. It’s necessary to understand that people don’t get fine on their own, they need to work to get better.
Fourthly, another extreme result of be positive is the person creates imaginary world for oneself where she thinks all positive things can only Happen in their life. They stop working toward their goals as they think they will have everything good and positive in their life. Let’s take an example where a person thinks before an interview that I have to be positive. I can do it, I will get this job definitely specifically according to law of attraction. Do u think the person would study 100% for this interview. And if he doesn’t get selected he would rather feel more sad about it. But if he thinks he only needs to concentrate on his efforts himself for preparing for the interview, at least he won’t regret that he didn’t put his best efforts for the interview even when he does get rejected.
Thus, we need to be careful while using the so-called positive phrases which can do more harm than good. Instead of saying ‘Be Positive’, replace it with ‘Think Rationally and Realistically’. Replace ‘Everything will be fine’ with ‘things can go wrong in life but we have or can build the strength to cope with such events’. It’s a myth again that everything that happens, happens for good. How is a terror attack good? How is someone being raped or assaulted good? We are being ignorant or I must say we are denying accepting such unfortunate happenings in our lives. Yes, bad things happen in life but we can build the strength to tolerate them and yet live a reasonably happy life. The most inspiring examples I can quote here are of acid attack survivors, rape survivors, spouses of 26/11 attack victims, and the women who stepped out of their conservative cultural boundaries to become successful in their professions. None of them were just positive. They were RATIONAL, Logical, and knew emotional regulation to withstand the unfavourable circumstances in their lifeand come out in flying colours.
In words of Albert Ellis,
‘Rationality is the royal path to authentic happiness’
So let ‘B+’ remain for blood groups only and from today let’s our mantra for a relatively stress free life be
Author: Dr Shreya Pahwa
Advance in RE&CBT, Albert Ellis Institute, New York