3 Reasons Negative Thinking is Good For You


"Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know." - Pema ChodronLast week, I saw a Facebook conversation about the Law of Attraction, which is a popular framework in the personal development world.This particular discussion was about LOA's approach to the the concepts of positive and negative thinking, namely that if you think negative thoughts then you will draw negativity to you in life, and vice versa with positive thoughts.It makes total sense that if we go around thinking "My life sucks, no one likes me, I'm a total failure and I'm no good at anything" (and acting on these thoughts), then we're absolutely setting ourselves up to have those beliefs confirmed.At the same time, however, I do think negative thoughts, and I feel 'negative' feelings. And, overall, I am very happy with my life - not despite these negative thoughts and 'negative' feelings, but because of them.Like I said in last week's email , we are all made up of multiple, seemingly contradictory parts. Except they're not contradictory, because on one level or another, they are completely rational. When I think a negative thought or feel a negative feeling, that is a big flashing neon sign that I have one or more unmet needs, that I'm not living in a way that is aligned with my values, or that I am encountering external situations or people that aren't in line with my values.In other words, negative thoughts and feelings are useful.The mega issue with 'positive thinking' movements like the Law of Attraction is that there is a huge danger in wilfully pushing away negative thoughts and feelings. Negative things happen. We experience crappy life events, we meet negative people, we have negative days where, through no fault of our own, negative stuff just happens that feels very negative.And at those times, we feel angry, hurt, sad, frustrated and a myriad of other so-called 'negative' emotions - not because we have trouble letting go of these thoughts and feelings, but because we're human.Newsflash: This is healthy. Anger is a healthy response when someone has wronged you. Sadness is a healthy response to perceived loss and longing. Frustration is a healthy response to unmet needs. When we try to 'let go' of these emotions, we lose a vital part of our internal communication.

But aren't we just going to become bitter, twisted, and filled with unprocessed rage?

Some people love negativity. They thrive as victims, and get a kick out of being able to best other people when it comes to the worst thing that happened (of course they don't really 'love' it, it's just where they feel most comfortable). Some people get trapped in spirals of negative thinking. They internalise childhood messages and repeat that script to themselves as adults. They end up believing that they're not good enough, not smart enough, not capable and not loveable. Some people project their own negative feelings about themselves onto the world around them. They use social interactions to morally position themselves above others by bringing the people around them down a notch or two.Noticing your negative thoughts and feelings doesn't mean that we have to fall into any of the above categories.The trick is in honing our ability to differentiate between negative thoughts and feelings that are serving our authentic living, and negative thoughts and feelings that aren't serving our authentic living.Remember the states that negative thinking can indicate:

  • Unmet needs
  • Living in a way that isn't aligned with our values
  • Encountering external situations or people who are treating us in a way that isn't aligned with our values

When we start questioning what our negative thinking is about, we learn to identify what we can do about it.  After travelling for several months, I recently started feeling lonely. To me, that's a sign that I need to better meet my need for connection - something I take for granted at home, but isn't so readily available on the road.For some of us, negative thinking can start to feel very comfortable and safe. It feels too risky to think positive things about ourselves or the world around us - especially if we're used to people bringing us down again. In that kind of situation, negative thinking might indicate a need for security. It could also indicate that we're in an environment that isn't conducive to our needs, or that we're not living in a way that's aligned with our values.When we're comfortable in our negativity, or if we're finding it hard to identify the unmet needs behind our negativity, regaining a balance between the positive and negative can be tricky, so it can be useful to get outside support from a trusted friend or counsellor in the process.In the short-term, the fear-based "don't dwell on negative thoughts or you'll invite negativity into your life" approach might feel easier. In the long-term, though, those negative thoughts and feelings you've swept under the rug will still be there. And they will make themselves heard, because they have a purpose.What is your negativity telling you?

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