Provided by Jo Harkness, blogger of I Need to Say This
I’m making the deliberate and unpopular choice to not live positively. I’m not saying I am choosing to live life negatively as an unhappy grump. I am choosing to live with my emotions, both negative and positive, and not force either one on myself.
I was transferred from the abusive job into another position seemingly to support my professional goals. I’m sure it was our department chairperson’s best intentions to make this transfer. But it wasn’t a good transfer, and it was clear from the beginning that this transfer was not going to work.
I had two new supervisors: my immediate supervisor Heather and her supervisor Susan (names changed). Before the transfer was official, I was required to meet with Heather and Susan to discuss what I would be doing. Susan made it clear that I was not wanted in my position.
“If we don’t like you, we will have to let you go,” she said while Heather sat silently behind her desk. I think my face betrayed me. I know that you cannot simple let someone go because you don’t like them. Susan quickly recanted, “If we don’t like your work or think you work fast enough, we will let you go.” Then she reminded me multiple times that my current job was being eliminated, and if I didn’t take the job with them I would not have a job.
I felt defeated and I hadn’t even started the job. I told my husband and my best friend this exchange and how it made me feel. They encouraged me to give it my best shot and not to worry about the past. Think positively, be confident, don’t give in to the negative thoughts in my head. My therapist at the time said the same thing but she believed more in the “what you put out into the world is what you get back” theory.
In other words, “mind your own thoughts, stay positive and focused on your goals, ignore self-doubt and criticism, visualize and concentrate on what you want and you will eventually have it.” Mark Manson, “The Staggering Bullshit of ‘The Secret’”
In the end, the situation didn’t get any better, no matter how often I told myself that I was a strong, creative, and smart woman and this is the job I wanted! I felt very much alone in my supposed negativity because the negativity I was feeling was wrong, or so I was being told.
Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author, wrote this about positive thinking: Positive Thinking could be considered the high fructose corn syrup of the thinking world– when forced. It’s not necessary, natural, and research has found that it’s not good for us when we have to sell ourselves on it.
Jordan Harbinger, journalist and podcast host of The Jordan Harbinger Show (Best Podcast of the Year 2018, Apple Podcasts), writes in his article The Downside to Our Upside: The Problem with Positive Thinking: This is the movement (the Cult of Positivity) that says we need to grit our teeth and smile, commit to unshakable optimism, deny difficult facts, and suppress any thoughts or feelings that don’t conform to the expectations that the positive belief system demands.
For six months I kept my office minimalist. My co-workers and my therapist would encourage me to decorate my office. I just smiled. I didn’t want to be the person carrying a box of their things out of the office to the surprise and chagrin of their co-workers, and I felt certain that this would be in my future. I wasn’t wrong.
Chansky’s article is the best at addressing balancing positive and negative thinking. She writes, “Negative thinking starts with some kernel of the truth — for example, let’s say we aren’t happy with how we look one day, or with news we receive — but then it extends, expands and sensationalizes that news into a whole new theory about ourselves, casting doom and gloom as far as the mind can imagine…Our job is to not buy into the National Enquirer version of our lives…instead cultivate a different interpretation or spin on the story, soliciting the factual if dry Scientific American version. We will be feeling better because we’ll be thinking more accurately.”
So how do I make sure I’m not giving into complete negativity? Chansky writes, ”If we are taking ‘truth’ as our barometer, of course it’s ok to be positive — because genuine joy and happiness–dispersed in wonderful though fleeting installments — is authentic… These feelings are not manufactured or tinkered with, not labored over in the fields or factories of our minds, they are spontaneous. So, welcome spontaneous positive thoughts, but don’t knock yourself out trying to fashion them out of thin air when they just aren’t there.”
Harbinger encourages us to embrace all our emotions, even the negative ones. He writes, ”When we cherry pick positive emotions — or suppress the negative ones — we end up missing out on a number of highly useful “negative” feelings.” He uses anger as an example; anger propels us forward “searching for innovative solutions, and develop new ideas.”
He admits that anger can be counterproductive, just like negative feelings can be counterproductive. But if we process and apply our emotions correctly, our emotions can be useful to us. Harbinger writes that we have to accept that our emotions are part of our experience as a human.
I may have wallowed in self-doubt and worry in that old job, I did get something right. At my worst I asked my husband if it would be okay to just do the best I could do and still fail. He hugged me as he said that if I did my best I wouldn’t fail. He wasn’t blowing smoke or forcing positivity. He was being honest. If you do your best work, and it still doesn’t meet expectations, what else are you supposed to do? That’s the rationalization I need instead of forced positivity.
Fuck the law of attraction.
*Originally posted on I Need to Say This*