Dangerous Beliefs: Being Positive, Not Magical
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2019
The explosion of positive thinking into a fix all adaptation is a disservice to our emotional health and intimate relationships.
I am a fan of the positive thinking. Positive thoughts have been proven to affect action, improving relationships, and boosting health. With the weight of science, one might carelessly jump into forced positive thoughts, reciting mantras and condemning anything resembling negativity. We need caution—even with positivity; our thoughts must to be monitored for long-term effectiveness. The feeling effects stimulated through contact with the environment have purpose. Sorrow, grief, guilt, and even anger have a purpose in our survival. Our momentary well-being (health and peace of mind) sometimes must be shaken for greater benefits in the future.
Embarking on challenging and meaningful adventures in work and play stimulate our senses, challenge our resolve, and frustrating place us on the brink of failure. We gain from the precarious position of challenging our abilities and resources.
We have a proclivity to embrace beliefs that relieve anxiety in the moment; we accept teachings not grounded in reality if they grant immediate satisfaction. Some strategies have nasty side-affects—stagnation, discouragement, and depression. When futures are harmed in interest of the moment, later on when life imposes its harsh truths, opposing our fragile beliefs of how life “should” be, we crumble or worse, we create greater deceptions to compensate.
"Embarking on challenging and meaningful adventures in work and play stimulate our senses, challenge our resolve, and frustrating place us on the brink of failure."
You may be asking, “how does positive thinking fit into all this?” Positive thinking is a belief system. We create the framework to interpret the big outside world. We gently soften corners, disguise threats, and magnify our power to protect our delicate egos from facing the vulnerability of reality. The diversity of beliefs and thoughts processes we utilize are beyond conscious recognition. They flow uninhibited and unnoticed, filtering the world to fit our agenda.
The world presents an unlimited supply of fears that produce constant anxiety. I thought in retirement that my anxiety would dissipate. It hasn’t. New worries graciously filled in the empty rooms that work stress once occupied. We must live with some stress, utilizing helpful strategies to keep the weight manageable.
Life creates a constant barrage of obstacles that we bump up against, creating the friction and fear. Hans Selye wrote, “There are two roads to survival: fight and adaptation. And most often adaptation is the most successful.” (1974). Positive thinking is an adaptation, twisting the negative giving the difficulty a brighter color. That I understand. What is offline is pretending the difficulty doesn’t exist at all. That is deception, an unhealthy adaptation.
For a young child, creating a simple framework allows them to experience the world without cowering in the corner paralyzed by fear. As we mature, we see more of the realities. We begin to see a world full of rich and rewarding experiences but also many physical and emotional dangers that hurt. Hopefully, we become confident in our abilities to deal with the world with its riches and curses. Adulthood adaptations is a process of letting go of protective childhood beliefs and adopting a more comprehensive understanding. Most of us stumble and drift while navigating these new paths but we make it through with enough skills to survive in our communities, financial systems and intimate relationships.
Part of adult development, we encounter teachers and doctrines to assist. Positive thinking is one of these doctrines. Unfortunately, under the umbrella of positivity contains some noxious beliefs, beyond the reaches of scientific support. Long standing defense mechanisms, once only a product of the unconscious mind, are blatant proclamations of “truth.” They appear attractive because they serve the same protecting purpose as defensive mechanisms. They require little work while offering the believer momentary peace by offering the servitude of the universe. But underneath the immediate “feel good,” there is a costly trade-off. The belief can actually interfere with more sustainable growth, discouraging emotions essential to surmount challenges and nurture creativity.
In this mindless quest for positivity, many are encouraged to purge their lives from everyone that brings them down. In essence, suggesting those who challenge magical thinking, creating a reality check, are bad for our happiness. Does happiness require superficial relationships of smiles and fake optimism? Do we no longer have empathy for the downhearted or momentarily distressed and frustrated people? These are dangerous beliefs that create the loneliness epidemic that is rapidly spreading. I don’t need friends that quietly slip away when I my complaints are mildly taxing to their sensitive emotional systems.
"The belief can actually interfere with more sustainable growth, discouraging emotions essential to surmount challenges and nurture creativity."
Barbara Ehrenreich discusses this relational ailment in her wonderful book Bright-Sided, “There seems to be a massive empathy deficit, which people respond to by withdrawing their own. No one has the time or patience for anyone else’s problems.” (2010).
Continue to take time to acknowledge the wonders of the moments, look for the silver linings in difficulties but don’t be discouraged when all is not rosy or a positive reason behind a troubling incident isn’t readily apparent. Feeling discomfort is not always “wrong” and in need of correction. Sometimes pain is appropriate. We can feel angry, sad, frustrated and even disappointed being derailed. We may find that some of the more difficult emotions may be correlated with false beliefs. The reality of the world keeps knocking against a faulty belief system travelling at different angles and speeds. Collisions are bound to happen.
We begin the arduous work of implementing new beliefs when old beliefs fail. After the initial corrections and patiently working to integrate new frameworks, we will find less resistance and more satisfaction, until those frameworks become outdated and in need of adjustment.
Today may or may not be wonderful but if we reach beyond comfort zones, it most likely will bring a rich array of experiences to savor, adding to our rich collection of emotional interactions with life. We can appreciate the variety of experiences, understanding that some days are more difficult, presenting a seemingly impassable pinnacle, rather than a leisurely walk through a manicured flower garden. Yet, through it all, each day presents an opportunity to live, each moment a beautiful gift to embrace with the entirety of our being. Now that is positivity we can adopt.
Ehrenreich, B (2010) Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Picador; Kindle Edition
Selye, H. (1974) Stress without Distress. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1st edition
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