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How To Have A Positive Attitude To Negativity

When Two Negatives Don’t Make A Positive

Are you at war with terrorism? Fighting for peace? Annoyed at how little people seem to care? Demoralised by the apathy you see around you every day? Maybe even avoiding negative people so they don’t affect – or infect – you? Forcing yourself to be more positive?

How’s that all working for you?

No, me neither.

Don’t get me wrong – I like positive thinking. In fact, I love it. Many of my passwords are made up of the initial letters of positive affirmations. So every time I sign in to the various sites I use online I get to think lovely positive thoughts. It’s a great way to start the working day!

What it feels like to be at war with negativity.

While in mathematics two negatives make a positive, the same does not apply to thoughts.

Having a positive mental attitude does not mean banishing all negative thoughts and people from your life. There is a huge difference between taking action for peace and waging war on terrorism. You don’t get peace by going to war, at least not lasting peace. Our world is proof of that. It used to be the communists the western world feared, and now it is Islamic terrorists. Closer to home, here on Hubpages, if an abusive Hubber gets banned, he or she can soon be back with another username, still raging. Or another one appears. The same is true with thoughts. When we go to battle with negative thoughts, we banish one and another one arises.

Which would you rather visualize?


Changing Self-judgements Into Positive Affirmations or Goals

Let’s imagine you’re not feeling at your best today, and you are having thoughts that could be classed as negative. If you believe you should always be positive, you may feel that you have failed, and try to make yourself change. Here are some thoughts you might have about your state of mind:

  • I shouldn’t be thinking such negative thoughts.
  • I don’t like my negative thoughts.
  • I must change my way of thinking.

All of these seem like reasonable beliefs, and that is their allure. But these thoughts all say that there is something wrong with what you are right now. And that is stressful, demoralising and depressing.

If it seems I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t make these judgements about your negative thoughts or shouldn’t aim to have positive thoughts – that is not the case. However there is a huge difference between having the intention to develop a positive mental attitude and trying to force yourself to do so.

In the first way, we open to change, and allow it to happen without feeling that we have to constantly be checking on ourselves and others. There is trust.

In the second way, we are being driven by fear – fear of what will happen if we don’t stay positive, and fear of how we will cope with the negativity of others. We try to control ourselves and others, and yet we feel out of control. Our bodies contract and it doesn’t feel good.

Likewise, trying to make our lives better by avoiding negative people is an action driven by fear, not by love or peace. Specifically, most of us fear how we will react with these people, or the way we will feel in their presence. It doesn’t feel good.

Some situations do call for getting out, for instance if there is are repeated or violent abuse. However it is not possible to cut every negative person from your life, and nor can we force others to change.

When we open to change, self-judgements are easily turned around. Let's look for the intention behind the thoughts we listed above and allow each to be transformed into a positive phrase.

  • “I shouldn’t think such negative thoughts.”

Intention: To think more positively.

The affirmation becomes:

“I am open to thinking positive thoughts.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  • “I don’t like my negative thoughts.”

Intention: to like myself more, to enjoy life more.

Affirmation becomes:

“I enjoy thinking positive thoughts.” Or “I love thinking positive thoughts."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  • “I must change my way of thinking.”

Intention: to find a way of thinking that is more supportive of my well-being.

Affirmation becomes:

“I am open to changing my way of thinking.” Or “I am open to thinking in a way that supports my well-being and that of others."

(Must implies “have to”, and creates resistance, whereas being open feels more relaxed and more possible.)

When you say these affirmations, or any that you create yourself, you may notice resistance and thoughts such as, “Fat chance.” Guess what to do with those thoughts?

You got it. WELCOME them!!


Why welcoming negative thoughts can neutralizes them

It may seem counter-intuitive, but by welcoming our negative thoughts and feelings we can begin to loosen their hold on us. Our thoughts and feelings occur to try to cope with situations we find difficult. Even negative thoughts are our minds trying to protect us.

Let Me Introduce You to My Good Friend Amy Gdala!

Actually there’s no such person, so instead I’ll introduce the amygdala, a part of the brain whose function is to protect from us from danger. The amygdala’s function is to assess situations and make the necessary connections to keep you safe. If you are attacked in a dark alleyway, the amygdala stores away the information that dark alleys are dangerous and will spark fear the next time you are near one, so teaching you to avoid them.

The Amygdala

The amygdala is shown in red. It’s small and powerful, and if you treat it well it will be a useful ally.

The amygdala is shown in red. It’s small and powerful, and if you treat it well it will be a useful ally.

But the amygdala cannot distinguish between truly dangerous situations and those you just believe to be so. If the fear response is triggered, it stores away information about the circumstances. Let’s suppose you have just had a tough day at work. You already feel tense when you stop at a supermarket on the way home, and you are running late for collecting your children from school. Then the checkout you are waiting for closes just before you reach it. This is the last straw, and you have an anxiety attack. Next time you are in a slow-moving line at a supermarket checkout the amygdala remembers this as a dangerous situation and a panic attack arises. You may not even consciously remember the reason for your anxiety. Soon any queue sparks the fear, and if the person in front of you is wearing a red sweater that then gets logged as a danger signal.

This is how fear builds up, and what we generally fear most is fear itself, or other strong emotions such as anger, so we try to avoid the situations that arouse these feelings, whether they are supermarket queues or ‘negative’ people. Understanding that this primitive part of the brain is simply trying to protect us means we no longer have to fight that, but can reassure it instead, in much the same way we would reassure a small child.

There is another drawback with trying to feel positive by cutting out negative people. When you think thoughts such as, “I’m hate terrorism,” or “I avoid negative people,” what images come into your mind?

Terrorists? Miserable people?

You’re not alone. Our minds conjure up images to match our thoughts. We might want to create images of happy peaceful scenes, but if our thoughts focus on what we don’t want that is what we will see. In essence when we think in this way we are visualising exactly the opposite of what we want.

Many studies show that visualisation can have an impact on our bodies, and athletes regularly use it as a tool to improve performance. Several studies on the impact of peaceful visualisations on side effects and quality of life of cancer patients suggest that visualisation helps improve mood, and reduce anticipatory nausea before chemotherapy. As a result, over 3000 hospitals in the USA now use guided visualization for cancer patients.

Visualization is something we automatically do all day long. Trying to control the thoughts and pictures that sneak into our minds can be exhausting and stressful. When instead we make friends with our thoughts and emotions we no longer feel we have to control ourselves or others.

So what can you do instead?

Below are two possible approaches when faced with a person in whose presence you feel uncomfortable.

Focus On Your Own Feelings

Often we feel uncomfortable because we think we have to say or do something in response to another person’s words. When we find ourselves thinking this way, it helps enormously to take a few moments to check inside and notice what we are feeling.

Julia has a brother who is gripped by paranoid delusions, but who doesn’t believe he is ill and so won’t accept support from mental health professionals. Julia used to feel very afraid around him, not knowing how to respond to his stories of persecution. Like most of her family, she thought she should get him to see that his fears were unfounded, but didn’t know how to do this.

Then on one visit as she struggled to think of a reply to his latest claim, she realised she was trying to stop herself feeling afraid, and instead silently said, “It’s okay to feel fear. I can welcome it.”

The pressure she’d been putting on herself dropped and she realised that she didn’t have to change her brother. Listening was the best thing she could do. While her brother’s mental state hasn’t changed, Julia is now able to be with him and remain calm, even when he gets agitated. She is also able to support other family members.

Focus On What Is Important To The Other Person

Another way to cope when you feel uncomfortable with someone is to notice what matters to him or her, and acknowledge that. You don’t need to agree with their opinion, just to let them know that you realise it matters to them.

Liza’s son is a member of an athletics club and she used to feel frustrated by a parent who seemed to constantly complain about the coaches. Liza felt the coaches were doing a good job, and said so, but that didn’t stop the complaints, so she tried to avoid this parent whenever possible. Then one evening they were the only parents spectating. Liza wanted to be able to enjoy the evening, and made the choice to use the time with this woman as an opportunity to cope better with ‘negative’ people. As she listened to yet more complaints about the club and about the children’s school, she realised that to this woman achievement was extremely important and that she wanted to be sure her children were progressing.

As the woman ranted on about the inadequacies of the sports club, Liza said, “It sounds as if it’s important to you to see your child progress.” The woman looked at Liza for a second and then nodded. “Yes.” After a few more exchanges of this kind she was considerably calmer. For Liza it meant that what could have been a nightmarish hour became a useful experience in learning to listen to others. The added bonus was that she now knew she could cope again in a similar situation.

A Work In Progress

I’d like to make it clear that welcoming negativity is a work-in-progress. It’s not something we do once and never need to do again. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight (except in some rare cases) and welcoming does require vigilance, but it has an entirely different feel to it than the kind of vigilance required to fend off negativity. Welcoming restores energy and enthusiasm, and feels joyous. I can best illustrate this with an example from my own life.

Recently I had a citation for jury service. As people cited are not always required, the citation included instructions to ring a phone-line the evening before. I did this, and learned that I was indeed needed. Yet the next morning I arrived at the court to be told I was not required. It was a busy week for me, so I felt delighted. I walked home on that sunny morning almost jumping with gratitude.

Yet, the first two people I told about the cancelled jury service said, “What a nuisance. You had to go all the way up there. Couldn’t they have told you the night before?”

I would have been like that years ago, too. This time I initially felt irritated at them for ‘dragging me down,’ and then I soon realised they were trying to support me, to empathise with what they imagined I might be feeling. So I felt grateful to them. This is how easily negative thoughts and feelings can be replaced with positive if we allow them to simply pass through us.

More to come…

The technique Liza used to empathise with the complaining parent is Non Violent Communication (NVC.) This article is part of a series. NVC, and other transformational techniques that start by acknowledging emotions, will be explained in more detail in future hubs.

Names and details have been changed in the examples above to protect privacy.

© 2011 Yvonne Spence