Positive thinking for the slightly unhinged

In theory, positive thinking ought to be a good thing – by its very definition if you do it well, it’s got to be good. All too easily, it becomes a way to explain the people who aren’t winning, rather than looking at wider factors (poverty, access to resources, education, opportunity, disability, race, sheer bad luck and all other such things of that ilk). It can be a way of denying what’s going on.

I can track a process, where I fall into dark and destructive thinking. And then, as part of that process I notice what I’m doing, and I recognise that I’m on a real downer, pessimistic, defeatist, and the like. I can readily latch onto this as an explanation for why everything’s going awry. I am causing it to go awry (like attracts like, right?). The problem is that I’m not grateful enough, blind to the good stuff, looking the wrong way, focused on the wrong things.

And so my own lack of positivity becomes a stick to beat myself with. Because underneath it all is a self-destructive inclination that will use any weapon it can get its grubby hands on. And I can turn anything into that sort of weapon. I suppose that if your urge is to find a means to push away, or put down the inconvenient and the uncomfortable, then pointing at the lack of positivity is a comfortable solution, and so there can be a quiet complicity between those who wish to explain the damned and those who do not know how to do other than damn themselves.

I can only be genuinely positive if I start from where I am, in a state of honesty about how I feel and what I’ve got. From that honesty I can recognise the good bits, without getting mired in bitterness, resentment, or being too down to see anything good. When I recognise where I am, I have more scope to be hopeful about the room for productive change, and see the potential for good bits. I don’t convince myself that all will be well and glorious, but I can get a sane balance between the hope and the anxiety, and I can be passably functional.

If I try to make myself be positive about things where I don’t genuinely feel it, the results are generally messy. Fake positivity brings on the bitterness, the self-loathing, and a keen sense of futility. The attempt to seem, or to foster a sense of positivity can breed in me the most toxic reactions. ‘Fun’ can start to sound like a threat.

A measured, realistic kind of positivity makes it possible to appreciate the good bits, without going mad. As with most things, its about balance. For me its also about what’s socially acceptable, and it’s about putting down the weapons I’ve been using to hit myself with, and recognising that maybe I don’t have to keep beating myself up for not being cheerful and carefree enough.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Positive thinking for the slightly unhinged

  • angharadlois

    This is very wise, thank you for sharing.
    I’ve been taking SSRIs – what I often jokingly refer to as my ‘happy pills’ – for a couple of weeks now, and keeping a diary to monitor my emotional and spiritual experiences as closely as I can (part of the pact I made with myself when I decided to give them a go). One of the first things I noticed was that I stopped feeling grateful to the same degree – or perhaps it is better to say that the quality of my gratitude changed. It’s hard explain in a single comment. Beforehand, I felt grateful in an almost abject way for everything that made my life bearable; I felt no entitlement to anything, some days (and I apologise if this is triggering) not even to being alive and taking up space and time and resources in this world. Now, although I still feel grateful for good things, I also feel a bit more entitled to existence and happiness, and less prone to blame myself when things are hard, which also makes it easier to admit when I am suffering. So, yes, it is hugely important to be aware of the limitations of positive thinking, and to practice gratitude in a life-affirming, not self-abasing, kind of way – as I am slowly learning!

  • sophiaschildren

    Thanks, Nimue.

    Honesty and awareness seem to be the keys here.

    I’ve noticed that in the more fundamentalist or new age ‘positive thinking’ sectors that ‘blame it on one’s thinking’ can be used as a way to avoid depth or empathy, like when someone blame’s someone else’s hardship on his/her ‘negative thinking’ so they don’t actually have to empathize, think about the more likely factors causing the hardship, etc. Have you ever noticed that?

    And I’ve also noticed that definitely, having honesty with various emotions and feelings, and also awareness that I’m not spiraling into some habitual neuropathway zone, seems, well, more honest. 🙂


    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve noticed that too – the failure to recongise good fortune and privileged, and not wanting to go into that seems to result in a ‘blame the victim’ mentality. If all that is good in your life can be framed as ‘deserved’ I guess that reduces a sense of obligation to others, and that must be a comfort improver for some. I think often material wealth and affluence depend on not having too much empathy and never looking at the wider cost.

  • sophiaschildren

    p.s There’s also the factor that, for empath sensitive types anyway, some of those rollercoaster emotions, etc. are part of what we’re picking up. So there again the discernment or awareness become helpful. j

  • druishbuddhist

    I have an aching distaste for most “self-help” that I’ve come across, mostly because it all tends to be “rah-rah, you can do it if only you believe!” bullshit. No. I’m a depressive. I’ve lived with diagnosed major depression for something like a third of my entire life.

    I’ve also spent most of the last 10 years or more on SSRI and SNRI medications, and had a stint with cognitive behavorial therapy, which didn’t help too much (I was entirely too grounded in what was going on in my head. I already knew that depression lies and negative self-talk can be deadly, both literally and figuratively). What helped me the most, though, was when I discovered and started to study Buddhism, because it helped me come to grips with my emotions.

    I came to understand and accept that they are, more or less, temporary states (though in the depths of a long and deep depression, it can seem endless) and that things WILL change, no matter what else happens.

    these days, I give myself a set period of time to wallow in self-pity then start to actively change whatever has set me off, if I can tell. If I am mentally active about changing my status, it helps a lot.

    But not all the way, and not every day.

    • Nimue Brown

      I really like that idea of a time allowance, giving time to being with whatever it is before rushing to try and ‘put right’. I shall explore that, thank you.

      • druishbuddhist

        I hope that it helps! It was a lesson that took me a long time to learn, and I’m still learning to be gentle with myself.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Absolutely. Right on the ball with that. It’s can be all to easy to go into denial about the ill effects of something because we are too hooked on positivity. I dig your down to earth writing style it’s refreshing. Many thanks!

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