Why ‘positive thinking’ can actually be working against you to feel happy.
In modern society, we are trained to ‘think positive’. Expressing our ‘negative’ emotions is often frowned upon and we cajole each other out of it. This leads to conditioning to avoid and suppress these feelings. However, experiencing these emotions has a function in our lives.
The ‘pursuit of happiness’ has almost led to a cultural phobia of feeling sad; but sometimes we need to feel sad. If we have experienced any kind of loss – the death of a loved one, a relationship break up or a job loss, for example – we are supposed to feel sad and to not feel it would indicate a psychological problem! With a loss may also come anger, frustration, guilt and a range of other emotions. However, many of us have been conditioned to be so averse to ‘negative emotions’ that we simply don’t recognise them, much less acknowledge them or give ourselves permission to feel and process them. This can be isolating for those experiencing such emotions and difficult for those trying to help loved ones through pain. Allowing the emotions to be felt is soothing and releasing. Research shows that crying and express emotion leads to a cortisol (stress hormone) decrease. Those that allow for the temporary experience of ‘negative’ emotion have improved attention to detail, perseverance, generosity, empathy and gratitude.
Suppressing emotions tends to actually exacerbate them. Read on to learn more including:
• Do not think of a pink elephant
• Reframe your experience of emotions as learning
• Find strategies that can help
Do not think of a pink elephant
Did you think of the pink elephant? Your subconscious mind will do is exactly that because it can’t process the negative ‘do not’, as it responds to the command. To not think of a pink elephant your mind wants to create the image of the pink elephant to be able to know what not to think of! The same can be applied to negative emotions. If you think to yourself, ‘do not feel sad’ or ‘I don’t want to feel sad’ your subconscious mind grabs hold of the ‘feel sad’ command because it needs to know what feeling sad means before it can ‘not do it’. So, these thoughts actually lead you to experience more sadness!
Reframe your experience of emotions as learning
So, what is a better approach? Firstly, I want you to relabel these emotions as ‘impactful’ rather than ‘negative’. No emotions are negative – they are all signals from the body that something needs processing, and that is a good thing. Reframe your experience of emotions as learning rather than something negative. Remember that emotions add meaning to our lives. Stop apologising for your feelings. Avoid alcohol, drugs, shopping, over-eating, hours on social media or other excesses used to numb feelings – this will simply lead to new emotions such as guilt and frustration on top of the ones being suppressed.
Find strategies that can help
Strategies that can help include journaling, managing expectations and simply allowing time for the emotional wave to pass over you. Review the Act Belong Commit goals of getting active (a simple walk-in nature can do wonders!), finding belonging and a safe place to share your emotions, and committing to activities that promote happy feelings while finding healthy ways to experience emotion.
Learning how to feel your impactful emotions could be the key to a happier 2021. Titch Haven has a variety of offerings to help you do just that – visit www.titchhaven.com.au to find out more.