Issue 62 / The Negative Side of Positive Thinking

The Negative Side of Positive Thinking

Sep 15, 2016


Positive thinking is something engratiated in our pop cultural mentality as something that needs to be done. However, you need to be aware of the negative effects positive thinking can have on you.

So you wake up and give thanks for the beautiful sunrise, your health and the privilege of being alive. You write out positive affirmations, preach “The Secret” to the painter you hired to give your home a splash of yellow and pink. You’re improving your life. You’re a positive person.
But does your cheer have a downside?
Well, psychiatrist Mark Banschick says, “Too much positive thinking can actually be a sign of a mood disorder.”
. . . What?
Banschick says that excessive positive thinking could be a sign that you are currently experiencing a state called “mania” — which tends to happen when you suffer from bipolar disorder. In this state of sheer positivity you may be prone to reckless behavior, which can be very, very bad for your safety.
Now, obviously not everyone who feels those moments of extreme zest is bipolar, but that doesn’t mean they’re in an optimal state either.
Banschick goes on to say, “People who use positive thinking as a defense are trying not to feel anxious when they should.”
And why should you? Because in your attempt to shove away negative thoughts, you may also be shoving away your basic survival tools.  
If you see a yellow snake in the grass, and it’s slithering towards you with fangs out, then is it best to mentally will yourself into thinking it’s not going to bite you?

Taking stock on what you have is great. But to a limit. 
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“The sooner we take action, the less likely anxiety is to interfere with whatever it is we’re trying to do,” says psychology professor Julie Norem, author of The Positive Power of Negative Thinking.
Bugger that. Who needs to take action when I can just affirm to myself that things are the way I will them to be? I’m smart, I’m confident and I’m funny. Doesn’t matter how many people laugh at my jokes, I affirmed it to myself 5,000 times every morning so it must be true!
Oh, those positive affirmations. A study published in 2009 from University of Waterloo psychologist Joanne Wood found that participants who were regarded as having a high self-esteem felt a boost in in mood after repeating some positive affirmations. No surprise there. However, amongst the low self-esteem crowd the positive affirmations backfired. Their moods worsened. Wood and her colleagues concluded that in the minds of the low self-esteem group, quick doses of positivity only reminded them of failed goals and unwanted life circumstances.
Or perhaps the positive self-esteem group was simply telling themselves truths when repeating positive affirmations, and the low self-esteem group was lying to themselves. This would no doubt cause a bit of stress within the body, leading one to feel worse.
So you’re telling me I shouldn’t see the glass as half full? I can’t see the bright side of tomorrow?
Of course you can, but learn to think positively and negatively.

Balance out your positive outllook.
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Saras D. Sarasvathy, who is a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, has found that entrepreneurs who harbor a good dose of self-doubt and insecurity are just as motivated and no less successful than the confident, positive thinking types.

And take author Gabriele Oettingen. She encourages people to visualize their goals in vivid detail. Pulling up to your mansion in your brand new Mercedes, walking passed the marble water fountain in your front yard, opening the fine oak door to your home . . .  and then think about all the potential problems you encountered to get there. “The solution isn’t to do away with dreaming and positive thinking,” she writes. “Rather, it’s making the most of our fantasies by brushing them up against the very thing most of us are taught to ignore or diminish: the obstacles that stand in our way.”

And if you need one more reason to feel bad about feeling good, consider this: Joeseph P. Forgas, who is with the University of New South Wales, has found that, “Numerous experiments demonstrate that negative affect can improve memory performance, reduce judgmental errors, improve motivation and result in more effective interpersonal strategies. These findings are interpreted in terms of dual-process theories that predict that positive affect promotes more assimilative, internally focused processing styles, whereas negative affect promotes a more accommodative and externally focused thinking strategy.”
Forgas also found that, “Negative mood increased and positive mood decreased people’s skepticism and their ability to detect deception.” Meaning you’re more likely to be deceived and/or manipulated if you’re too happy. You become gullible. The world is such a magical place. What can go wrong?
So always be sure to look at the potential horrific pitfalls in your life, and you too can find bliss. Namaste. 

Main Image Photo Credit:

Taras Babiak


Taras is a freelance blogger, video editor and screenwriter. He is the co-writer of "Made In Bali," which recently won Best Short Film of the year from the Director's Guild of Canada. 


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