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Can Positive Thinking be Bad for You?

July 3rd, 2011 7:51 AM by Lehel S.

Can Positive Thinking be Bad for You? - By Sylvia Lafair ***
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Are you a lemonade kind of person? Is your glass more full than empty? Do you see blue sky through the rain clouds? Did you say sometimes, most of the time, almost never? Look, we know that accentuating the positive is good for us. And there are lots of studies that show those who have a positive outlook have better health, happier relationships, and more success.

Well, sort of! Most of the studies show us separate, little slices, just chunks of life. For example; one study had college students form two lines, go into rooms with people pouring water into glasses. In one room the experimenters said "Please drink this half full glass of water." In the other room, "Please drink this half empty glass of water." Of course, the glasses contained exactly the same amount of water.

Now comes the interesting part. The groups then entered another room where they were asked if they wanted more water. Yup, no half full or half empty just would you like more water. 
Anyone want to guess the outcome? I'll bet most of you were right. The "half empty" contingent was thirstier than the "half full" folks.

Proves a point; look for blue skies or a pony in the manure pile (if you don't know that story email me!), stay positive.

So, why would I say that being positive can be bad for you? Ah, now we have to look at context, not just content. When we are unwilling to experience all of life, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful, we can become deniers and avoiders. We run away from the pain and hurts that are there for us to learn from and these often traumatic situations go deep down into our nervous systems and still bedevil us no matter how much we want to suppress them.

I promise you they will come out at work or at home in unexpected, unpleasant ways. This happens when stress hits the hot button and now, in our complex and troubled economy, more of us are reaching max on the stress meter.

An example: I am coaching an executive who informed me she was severely beaten as a child. Her father would take her and her brother to the woods near the house, a place where no one would hear them and discipline with his belt.

She told me this in a matter of fact, no big deal kind of tone. She had forgiven her father and while they had not seen each other in years, she loved to send him "happy cards" (her words) at holiday time. She prefers, she informed me, to focus on the positive. Something was off, it was a rehearsed speech. I thought we should explore this, she said no.

Weeks later I was called by the CEO worried about his star employee. There had been a tense meeting where deadlines had not been met. Another senior executive suggested the problem was this woman's responsibility. In the meeting, as it was told to me, she smiled and played the lemonade card.

However, and here is where it is important to listen closely, after the meeting, sometime in the afternoon, she "lost" it. She started from a sweet we can do it together conversation with her colleague. He would have none of it. It was her fault and it was her responsibility to fix it. The discussion turned to a win-lose debate. And, without realizing, she dug her nails into this man's arm to make him stop "abusing" her.

There you have it. All the positive thinking in the world had not erased the unfinished past that was there, just below the surface.

All of us have hurts and issues from the past. I suggest that they be faced, discussed, and then released. To go to happy face too soon just keeps the patterns of fear, betrayal and injustice lurking under the surface ready to erupt.

So, of course, look on the bright side. Also, however, be real, tell the truth and include the light and the dark. That is what being whole is all about.

** To comment on this article or to read comments about this article, go here.


About the Author:

Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D., author of the award winning book, "Don't Bring It to Work", "Working Together" and "Pattern Aware Success Guide" e-book, is President of CEO, Creative Energy Options, Inc., a global consulting company focused on optimizing workplace relationships through extratordinary leadership. Dr. Lafair's unique model has revolutionized the way teams cooperate, relate and innovate.

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Posted by Lehel S. on July 3rd, 2011 7:51 AM

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