When we obsess over positive thinking, it’s easy to forget the lessons that our difficult thoughts have to teach us. Let’s learn the healing power of negative and positive thinking. It’s all about how we work through it.
The importance of positive thinking is fundamental in our recovery from addiction and mental illness. We learn that feeding our negative thought patterns can make us more depressed and anxious, overly worried and stressed out. We know any of our challenging emotions can be triggers for us to relapse, and so we try as hard as we can to commit to positive thinking. The problem with this, though, is that we often don’t believe the things we’re trying to affirm to ourselves. We find it hard to encourage ourselves when we’re feeling so down on ourselves. It can feel next to impossible to be cheerful and optimistic while in the midst of depression. It can start to feel disingenuous to “fake it until we make it.” However, if we don’t believe the affirmations we’re telling ourselves, we won’t actually be reprogramming our minds to think and behave differently. In other words, we won’t see any positive results from our positive thinking if the energy of our belief isn’t behind it.
We can use positive thinking, affirmations, and mantras as replacement default mechanisms for our anxiety. We use these tools to replace the addictive behaviors we once used to cope with our anxiety. For example, if we’re nervous or feeling anxious, we’ll immediately repeat an affirmation or mantra. This can be problematic for many reasons, especially for those of us who have mental health issues. Repeating affirmations and mantras reactively any time we’re feeling a certain emotion, especially if we’re doing it forcibly and repeatedly, can function similarly to a compulsion or compulsive behavior. For those of us who suffer from anxiety with compulsive behaviors attached or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), this kind of automatic repetition can serve as just another compulsion. Additionally, it’s possible to use repetitions and mantras as a replacement for actual healing work and self-reflection. We’re not looking at the root causes of our anxiety, nervousness, or depression. We’re simply repeating thought exercises rather than performing deep self-analysis. Also, if we don’t truly believe the words, repeating affirmations doesn’t penetrate our subconscious minds well enough to let the healing process commence.
In recovery, we learn to find positive ways to manage our negative or difficult emotions. Positive thinking doesn’t mean we never talk about anything difficult, painful, or challenging. It doesn’t mean we forcibly cheer ourselves up if we’re feeling down, or tell ourselves to “just get over it” and engage in toxic positivity. When we learn to think positively, we’re able to take our negative thoughts and feelings and learn from them, then work to transform them. As a result, we actually feel better. We’re redirecting our energy towards positivity, but we’re not neglecting the healing work. We remain open to learning the lessons our negative emotions have to offer us.
Within our most challenging emotions lie so many opportunities for growth and expansion. Our mistakes are how we learn more about ourselves, our lives, our loved ones, and the world around us. Shame, anger, and forgiveness teach us about human nature. When we experience the full spectrum of human emotions and learn to cope with them in healthy ways, we’re able to truly grow and find empathy. We’re capable of manifesting the lives we want for ourselves through aligning our thoughts and our energy with our desired outcomes. For those of us in recovery, our desired outcomes might be a meaningful life, lasting recovery, happiness, and inner peace.
When an emotion arises that we would normally want to reject and try to push away, avoid, or deny, let’s try and drop our resistance to it. It’s normal to panic when we feel something we don’t want to feel, something that induces fear or anxiety. However, let’s remind ourselves that we’re stronger than anything that might challenge us and we can move through any emotion, no matter how painful or intense. These are spiritual tests and we can pass them.
The more we face our pain head-on, the easier it is for us to handle. The more we expose ourselves to whatever is most triggering, anxiety-inducing, or fearful for us, without backing down from it and giving into it, the less power it holds over us. We want to develop a relationship with our emotions wherein we can feel acceptance for them rather than resistance. Whatever we resist becomes more painful over time. When we accept our difficult thoughts and feelings, we can more easily detach from them and come to terms with them. If we’re fighting and resisting them, it’s much harder for us to let them go. When these negative emotions circulate in our systems, they can drive us crazy.
Positive and negative thinking doesn’t have to exist on opposite ends of the thought spectrum. We don’t necessarily need to avoid negative thinking at all costs and magnify positive thinking. This doesn’t feel natural to us, and it doesn’t lead to real healing. It ultimately hurts us more to suppress and deny our feelings. We want to accept and embrace our difficult thoughts and emotions for the lessons they’re trying to teach us, not banish and fight them. We want to let ourselves feel them, move through them, learn from them, and make peace with them.
Riverside Recovery is committed to helping you get back to the life you love. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops, and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information.