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When Positive Thinking Becomes a Bully

Yesterday, someone posted a quote image that said something to the fact that we should stop talking about our problems and just talk about our joys followed by the statement, “Let’s stop trauma sharing.”  This post made my blood boil.  Because from my perspective, yes, sharing our joys is a wonderful practice but you know what we need to do more of….share what’s really going on in our lives, both the joy and the challenges.  We need to be honest with ourselves and stop berating ourselves into thinking positive all the time.


Finally, you have some peace!! You are on your way to meet a friend for coffee. Driving your car solo, you start reflecting on your life, you notice the tightening of your chest and your stomach flip as you think about:

  • Your Dad, who was diagnosed with cancer.
  • The upcoming presentation you have to give and your terror of public speaking.
  • Your husband’s announcement that he is getting a bad feeling about work and might lose his job.
  • The failure of your weight loss resolution and the extra 20 lbs that make everything tighter and uncomfortable

Wow, you think, “I have a lot going on, ” and you practice digging deeper underneath the anxiety to the emotions.

And then up rises that nasty “think positive” monger.

  • “WOW, aren’t you a crybaby…you think you have it tough! Get it together.”
  • “Everyone loses a father you aren’t the only one suffering.”
  • “You can’t lose it now everyone is counting on you.”
  • “Don’t let them see you sweat.”
  • “Suck it up and get back out there!”

Ouch!  That is some nasty self-talk.  This voice is what I call the bully of Positive Thinking. Positive thinking is designed to help us feel better not to shame and belittle us. When it becomes a way that we bully ourselves, we need to take notice. 

So, you walk into the local coffee shop and are greeted by your friend. After fancy coffees are purchased, and hugs are exchanged, you settle in to share what has been happening.  At your insistence, your friend goes first and starts sharing her stress with her kids, aging parents, diet disasters and work dynamics.  With each story, you nod your head and express heartfelt empathy and compassion. You completely support her and would do anything to help.

You think to yourself, “Wow she really has it tough, and she is so strong.  I so admire her strength and openness about her life.” And then your positive thinking bully shows up, “No one wants to hear about your stupid problems, compared to her your problems are nothing….quit complaining and be grateful.”

So, despite your respect for her truth-telling when it gets to be your turn you to share, rather than unloading your various stressors, you share benign anecdotes about your life.  Throughout the conversation your friend prompts you with “how is your dad?” or “are the kids doing ok? and “how’s work?” To which you provide a neutral answer.

At the end of the ‘coffee date’ your friend walks away feeling refreshed and re-energized, she is a little concerned that you never share anything with her, but she knows that is just you.  You leave feeling more drained than when you got there because you didn’t share a thing and hammered yourself the whole time in the spirit of positive thinking.

I know I have been guilty of such behavior in the past.  A part of me would blame my friend for not listening to me or not being supportive when I never even gave her a chance to try to help!!

One of the best ways to decrease your anxiety is to share your truth (both the joys and the challenges) with trusted people.  Notice in the example you didn’t judge your friend or think she was weak–in fact, you thought she was strong for sharing her story.  But on the way there you believed all your mongers who told you to be strong, don’t share, suck it up, etc.

It is ironic that we respect and admire when other people share their vulnerability and openness but ridicule it in ourselves.  Letting go of anxiety requires opening up and sharing with yourself and others the truth.

The fact that you are constantly thinking about your dad.

The fact that if your husband loses his job, you will freak out!!

The fact that you regularly feel like a crappy mom even though you are trying so hard.

To have your story witnessed, to have a friend across the table nodding and agreeing with every sentence.  Nothing is as amazing and anxiety-busting as having a friend hold your hand and nod their head and say, “I get it! That is so hard! What do you need?”

Positive thinking is awesome but not when it keeps us away from owning our truth and sharing it with those closest to us.

One of the hardest things to do is share our truth. The first rule is to pick someone safe, someone, who knows you and understands how hard it is for you to share.  Then ease into it, share something sensitive but not SUPER sensitive, something vulnerable but not TOO vulnerable and allow them to support you. Allow them to catch you, to give you space and love.  Allow them to be there for you.

Life is challenging.  We all have stressors. Positive thinking is not going to make those go away the ONLY way we will Live Happier through the journey of life is to open up and honestly share our struggles and our joys with other safe people.  The more we hold back our truth, the more we get stuck in our pain and the more miserable we will be.



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