Why positive thinking never works and how to overcome negativity

positive thinking
Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

You’ve probably read many articles and heard countless speakers extol the virtues of positive thinking. Banish those dark thoughts with a blast of positivity to yield results, they say.

While changing negative thoughts to positive works for some people, it’s too simplistic for those of us with more emotional baggage than the average person.

While positive thinking works for some people, it's too simplistic for those with more than average emotional baggage. Click To Tweet

The power of positive thinking overlooks the deep grooves in our brains carved by past trauma. It creates more shame in us when we fail to overcome negative thought patterns and self-sabotaging behaviors.

Positive thinking bypasses the most important part of healing and that’s reflection. We must sit with our negative thoughts and emotions. We must acknowledge the information they give us in order to resolve our past and change our future.

Struggling with self-sabotage? Download the first chapter of It’s Not Your Fault free.

Toxic positivity

Recently, we’ve begun talking about toxic positivity and I believe that conversation is long overdue. God made us all different to serve the world and each other in unique ways.

It’s wonderful that some of us are inherently more upbeat than others. But my Enneagram 7 daughter says her relentless optimism sometimes works against her. She underestimates how long it will take her to complete a task and has missed deadlines as a result.

Those of us who are more inherently pessimistic are very good at problem-solving and analyzing situations. If we railroad over our natural thought processes with Pollyanna positivity, we lose some of that gift and much of our intuition.

If you are a highly sensitive person who feels things deeply, positive thinking mantras can cut you off from yourself. It’s something you do to make other people feel comfortable rather than for your own personal growth.

If you’ve tried positive self-talk mantras, you may have felt like you were fooling yourself. That’s because you were. Overriding negative thoughts with positive ones is a dishonest approach to healing.

I wrote a book with the subtitle “Subconscious Reasons We Self-Sabotage and How to Stop”. Positive self-talk fails to reach us on that subconscious level and that’s why it rarely leads to lasting change.

Those who benefit most from positive self-talk are those who already enjoyed healthy self-esteem. Those of us crushed by self-loathing from childhood trauma would not see the same benefits.

Those who benefit most from positive self-talk are those who already enjoyed healthy self-esteem. Click To Tweet

Telling yourself you are good and worthy while believing the opposite creates cognitive dissonance. You’re expressing something you don’t believe deep inside. Change will never happen while this conflict brews within you.

What to do instead of positive thinking

how to overcome negativity

If positive thinking offers no long-term solution to negative thought patterns, what does?

1. At risk of sounding like a broken record, I say again “self-compassion“. Go easy on yourself when you make mistakes. Remember everybody messes up sometimes. You are not alone.

2. Embrace your emotions. Instead of replacing so-called negative feelings with positive ones, acknowledge your anger or sadness and allow yourself to feel it. Notice what you do when these feelings come to the surface.

Do you run to your favorite coping mechanism (wine, food, binge-watching to forget)? Instead of numbing the feeling or denying it with positive thinking, embrace it.

Journal how you feel and allow your anger or sadness to give you the information it was designed to provide.

3. Be realistic. Rather than positive self-talk mantras that you disbelieve, make a list of your good qualities. Remind yourself of what you do well and what you’ve already achieved. Think about personal growth opportunities and who you want to become in the future.

4. Take action. Contrary to popular belief, Tony Robbins does not believe in the power of positive thinking. He espouses the power of taking massive action to change your life.

What can you do today to bring you one step closer to the woman you want to be tomorrow?

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