When we hurt or when we are in pain or sorrow, we reach for whatever comforts and steadies us.
Many people turn to practicing Positive Affirmations in times of need. Positive Thinking and Affirmations are staples in the self-help movement. They’re part of therapy and coaching sessions; seminars and meditation groups. They’re thought to lead us to great abundance, wealth, perfect love, physical, emotional and spiritual well being.
Some familiar affirmations you may have come across or even practice:
- I prosper wherever I turn and I know that I deserve prosperity of all kinds
- The more grateful I am, the more reasons find to be grateful
- I pay my bills with love as I know abundance
- Love flows freely through me
- I know that I deserve love and accept it now
Norman Vincent Peale, (1898-1993) minister and erstwhile psychologist, was the first to popularize the idea of “the power of positive thinking,” in his famous book of the same name.Some his exhortations are memorable; all are impeccably positive and may well have helped a nation find new attitudes and ways of resolving conflicts and believing in themselves more.
He provided what people needed: a way for them to develop belief in themselves, and restore faith in their lives.
But the “Think Positive,” or “Positive Affirmations” movement was eclipsed very recently with new trends and developments in psychology.
New ways of looking at the human psyche and spirit tended to stress an integrated self, a self that included and embraced the so-called “negative” emotions and thoughts, the very qualities positive thinking was trying to ward off.
Without the negative, the new cohort of psychologists and coaches said, there couldn’t be a positive; without the dark side there wouldn’t be a light side.
Who’s to say what exactly is a positive thought and what’s a negative thought.
Inevitably there followed newer trends in psychology that asked us to accept all of our emotions.
There are no good or bad feelings; no negative or positive ones.
Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener wrote, The Upside of Your Dark Emotions where they said such things, as happiness can make us sad; anger is ok and critical to our well being, and “negative emotions” like guilt, regret, anxiety are essential parts of living a balanced, integrated life.
- Anger rightly applied can correct injustices and protect the defenseless. Think Civil Rights movement.
- Jealousy might well be a primitive early-warning system telling us something is wrong with our relationship.
- Sadness is a natural part of loss, and loss, and needs to be held, respected and embraced.
So, if positive thinking led us away from distress, self-criticism, shame and discomfort, then Positive Thinking might be doing us a disservice. We need these negative emotions in order to be whole; more human.
Dick Schwartz (The Mosaic Mind), in his groundbreaking therapy approach called Internal Family Systems (IFS), boldly declared that we are made up of multiple parts, all eager to get to know each other, and to get to know the whole self.
All of each part of us is welcomed, accepted and needs to be befriended.
True, many “emotions or parts” do get out of alignment and overwhelm us.
Anger, shame, jealousy, hatred can dominate or flood us.
But that doesn’t mean these feelings are bad.
Or that they have to be dispensed with. In fact every part of us wants what’s best for us. Sometimes they go about it the wrong way and we need to help them by hearing them.
These “negative” feelings are vital parts of the wonderful mosaic of who we are. And they all have something to teach us; something they want us to know.
So, while affirmations can be very helpful, they ought not to be layered onto a self that may need deeper, compassionate companionship and guidance.
To learn more about about why affirmations don’t work, listen to a recent one minute session with me on my soundcloud channel.