• Gregory Gannon, LCSW

Just Think Positive...or Don't.

As I journey into the realm of social media and the infamous #qotd hashtag, I find myself overwhelmed by the staggering amount of inspiration quotes, motivational memes, and general "advice giving" out there on the web. Some of these are from well-meaning providers, like myself, but I must confess it can become a little cliche when all I see are posts related to the "power of positive thinking."

I get their purpose; I know they are designed to help motivate a person into action, or to overcome whatever mental/emotional hurdle burdens them and let go of negative self-evaluations.

To that end, they're wonderful and do provide a little boost to self-esteem and for some people, a little boost is all they need. Sometimes it just takes an intriguing phrase, a different perspective, or an insightful suggestion and they're back on track. For others, they might receive of few moments of clarity until crippling self-doubt creeps back in or the same old frustrations come back.

Then they're left wondering, "Why can I just think positive?" or "Why can't I just let it go?"

While I find inspirational quotes and positive self-statements to be uplifting, mood boosting, and necessary when considering people with anger management problems, I also believe that, when used to excess, can be another form of denial.

Call me a realist, but one of my biggest suggestions to my clients is to not ignore their feelings. It's easy for someone to say, "Just think positive." Some even will give you a wonderfully poignant quote from Confucius, but, to me, it's along the same lines as "Don't worry" or "Don't be sad."

The reality of this was highlighted to me when I overheard someone saying to a friend, "I shouldn't feel this way. I should just be happy." The therapist in me heard the conflict behind those words. The emotions were so painful and so clear.. The pain on their face, the tone of their voice, even the way their eyes darted back and forth between the "painful thoughts" and the "here's my reasons to be happy thoughts" told me "I need to work something out here."

I won't lie. I cringed just a bit when I heard the reply, "It'll be OK. Just think, there's always someone who has it worse."

My answer to that is the same: If we all ignored our own personal pain in favor of someone who has it worse then who will ever be able to talk it out?

Being unable or unwilling to express our pain, anxieties, frustrations, anger, etc., leaves us in a constant state of tension that left unchecked can eventually lead to all sorts of issues. At best we simply become anal retentive or put on a fake smile and live a blissful life of denial. At its worst we can become self-destructive and stuck in a never ending cycle of emotional turmoil.

How do I know? I know because I've seen people depressed while wearing a fake smile, but that fake smile does little to propel them to reach their goals. I've seen a person's eyes seething with rage, but holding it in like they were containing an explosion.

And in today's society, expressing any emotion other than one that is considered positive is almost seen as blasphemous.

My advice is simple: let it out. Cry. Scream. Pout. Stomp your feet. Whatever you need to do. Our emotions are signals try to tell us something. If we ignore them then we will never hear the message they're trying to send.

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