Negative effect of positive thinking

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Negative effect of positive thinking

Trying to replace “bad” thoughts with “good” thoughts and drown out anxiety is most likely far from the best idea. Why does this method not work and what really can help us?

Psychotherapists and experts in the study of anxiety and depression, Martin Safe and Sally Winston are convinced that attempts to “chat” their anxiety ultimately lead to its strengthening. Exploring the nature of these processes, they came to the conclusion that “positive thinking” is a false path.

They emphasize that people often find external causes for their anxiety: “Meetings drive me into a trap and cause concern”, “Highways cause me panic attacks”, “I can’t even be near this slippery type.” But in fact, we excite ourselves when we meet with triggers and problems, and the degree of our suffering largely depends on ourselves, experts say.

One of the ways in which people strive to reduce suffering is to “correct” their thoughts. When anxiety arises, alarming ideas and images are replaced by positive efforts with willpower. However, in practice this does not work. When we read such recommendations on the Internet, it may seem that they sound reasonable and promising, and understanding why they are still not effective can be quite difficult.

Why is this not working?

People who are inclined to loop, have their own recurring scenarios, according to which frightening, catastrophic thoughts are pumped. In fact, it is not so much the thoughts themselves as their alternation with the game of imagination (“What if …”) and efforts to cope with this state. Alas, this effort has a temporary effect and unpleasant consequences. Ultimately, they only multiply anxiety.

Trying to replace negative thoughts with positive ones can lead to temporary comfort, but anxiety is more likely to intensify in the long run. Trying to apply the “positive thinking” method, many substitute pop-ups in the head for “What if? you can leave. “

Internal conversation

For clarity, Safe and Winston offer to present an internal conversation, dividing it into three “voices”: Alarm, False comfort and Wisdom. False comfort is the very voice that tries to “think positively.” Every time he seeks to calm Anxiety, its “what if? ..” intensifies. Here is an example of a typical dialogue.

Anxiety:

– What a cute kitten. And so tiny. What if I strangle him? It is so simple…

False comfort:

“You will never do that!”

– Watch how easily your fingers twisted around the neck …

– This is ridiculous. You love animals!

– How do you know? Yesterday, I had a fit of rage on the road. What if I can’t control myself?

“You’re angry, but you’re not doing anything wrong.” Stop thinking like that! Nothing of the kind will happen to you.

– Everything ever happens for the first time. Maybe something is wrong with me? Otherwise, why did I even have such a thought?

“Just think of something else.” Let’s leave the kitten. You have some crazy thoughts!

– Aha! So you think I have crazy thoughts?

In every effort to avoid discomfort or doubt, we use any tools to combat anxiety

So, according to the authors, an attempt to use “positive thinking” looks like. Here is another example.

Anxiety:

“I’m worried that the stove in the kitchen remains on.”

False comfort:

– Don’t be silly! You always turn everything off because you remember safety.

– Yes, but two years ago it already happened – I almost left, but, fortunately, I remembered that I hadn’t turned off one burner.

– Well, no one is perfect. Do not be so hard on yourself because of an isolated incident.

“But I could burn the house and stay on the street!”

– Seriously? And what do you think the chances are that this will happen? In my opinion, they are negligible.

– Once will be enough! I really need to make sure the stove is off.

– Well, maybe you should return from work and check to know 100%.

– Well, but the last time I left work to check the stove, and I was in trouble …

In every effort to avoid discomfort or doubt, we use any tools to combat anxiety: avoidance, “safe behavior”, positive thinking, rationalization, calculating probabilities, avoiding triggers … But they all, like the voice of False comfort, simply can not calm down alarm: for experiences there are more and more new reasons.

The benefits of self-observation

Noticing and even labeling these inner voices during an anxiety attack can be very helpful. “You don’t have to think that you are not coping and that you need to make more efforts to argue the persistent voice of anxiety in your mind,” Safe and Winston recommend. – Try to backtrack and watch what happens. It will change your relationship with anxiety. ”

To listen to the voice of Wisdom and observe the process, rejecting False comfort, is much more useful than getting over Anxiety. We are talking about conscious and uncritical attention to one’s experience, a presence that allows mental events to unfold. Time passes – discomfort and doubt come and go, the desire to urgently do something, fix it, change it.

Understanding why “positive thinking” does not work relieves us of the burden of a difficult relationship with our experience of uncertainty and helps to accept and release anxiety when it comes.

About the experts: Martin Safe, a psychotherapist and Ph.D., Sally Winston, Ph.D., experts in the study of depression and anxiety.
Prepared by: Elena Sivkova
Photo Source: Getty images

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