Negative Thinkers Have It Right

I’ll cop to the link-bait headline, but it is not without merit.

The simplicity of the term positive thinking belies the depth and complexity of the topic. It causes misunderstandings from people on both sides of the matter, and the misunderstanding can be summed up as: don’t be negative. I suspect this misunderstanding is at least in part the result of people who are afraid of negative emotions co-opting ‘positive thinking’ in order to shame others for any negativity.

I’ve described this misunderstanding from the perspective of positive thinking: describing the value of negativity in Suppressing Anger is Not a Spiritual Value and Truth in Opposites in Three Stories.

Inappropriately devaluing negativity creates a backlash, and as with any backlash, there is a tendency to go too far the other way. James Coyne is one such example; I touched upon his misunderstandings in Psychologist and Professor Echoes Common Misconceptions About Positive Psychology. Another is author Oliver Burkman, particularly his book The Power of Negative Thinking. The title is compelling— negative thinking should be acknowledged— but Burkman goes too far. Acknowledging the value of the negative is a good thing, but when it is at the expense of positivity, such reasoning is no more balanced than that of the negativity-averse people he seeks to discredit. See The Power of Negative Thinking Misses The Mark.

So I was  thrilled when I came across this video by Teal Scott, Embrace Your Negative Emotion:

The whole video is worth watching, but here is a brief excerpt, in regards to negative emotions:

“You have been taught that negative emotion means that something is going wrong. This is one of the things I can’t stand about positive focus communities. It makes negative emotion/negative thought out to be something bad, shameful and uninvolved. This is simply not the case because contrast is part of everyone’s life. If you are denying these parts of life then you are denying part of yourself. Does that feel resistant to you in any way? We only seem like Pollyannas when we are ignoring, glossing over and avoiding negative emotion. We only seem like Pollyannas when we have gone into denial, and are currently rejecting and resisting the negative. Negative emotion is part of your guidance system, that means negative emotions are valid. Negative emotion is part of life for every person, and every being in existence. When we say otherwise, we are ostracizing each other. We are condemning them to be alone with their pain and in shame about their pain, as if pain is not bad enough. If we really had a comprehension of the way this universe works, we would be encouraging people when they felt strong negative emotion to embrace and explore those negative emotions before encouraging them to focus positively on something that makes him feel better.

“Many people would say that it’s a bad idea to focus on negative emotion because you create your own reality and so if you focus on something which causes you to feel bad you are reinforcing those bad things in your reality. But I’m here to tell you that if you are experiencing strong negative emotion, you are already focusing on those things. So all you’re trying to do, is to not do what you are already currently doing. You are resisting the resistance. It’s a contradiction.

“[Your negative emotions] have something very valuable to tell you. If you let yourself drop into the negative emotions you feel, you will always learn something from those emotions that is very valuable to the improvement of your life, to the progression forward. You deprive yourself from that lesson as long as you are running away from your emotions.”

Great video, a better use of 8 minutes than most of what you’ll find on TV.

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