I recall sitting with my wife in a session with a woman that was going through an incredible amount of pain. Her marriage was in a rough place, her teen daughter was pregnant and the other children were lost in rebellion. As we began to roll up our sleeves and dig into the issues at hand, you could see very quickly that her pain threshold was very low. Respectfully, we didn’t pry anywhere she was not willing to go.
But the reason she was meeting with us is that she trusted us to go deeper and get to some core issues, so she could move into more healthy living. At least that was the initial motivation.
Yet within minutes we could see there were so many areas of pain, that denial had become her way of coping. Look the other way and maybe it will actually go away.
As we encouraged her to look to the circumstances at hand with honesty and sobriety, you could see the discomfort on her face. Immediately she exclaimed, “We just have to think positive, right!?”
This created an awkward collision in her, as it was obvious this mantra was a coping mechanism she had developed to avoid pain. Positive thinking was actually a work of denial in her life, keeping her from dealing with the issues she needs to face.
Positive Thinking or Denial?
I find that many use the term “positive thinking” as a means to avoid facing anything that causes discomfort or pain. Fear of pain can drive positive thinking into a habit that keeps us from going into those places that we need to face. Many people have been in classic denial all their life. Positive thinking can justify their denial patterns.
If positive thinking keeps us from facing the issues of our life, we can miss out on the transformation that is possible. Sometimes change happens the best when we face our problems head on and develop a greater resilience because of what we faced.
Sometimes we need to look in the mirror and recognize, “I am overweight and need to do something about it.”
Sometimes we need to realize, “I can’t sing, so I should probably pursue something beside a record deal.”
Transformational thinking gets honest. We may need to say, “If I don’t don’t make some changes soon, I may lose my marriage.”
Real change may say, “I need to take responsibility for how I parented or did not parent my children.”
Sometimes facing what will happen if we don’t change can be a healthy reality check to snap us out of our delusion.
I remember listening to someone who was addicted to heroin for years. He mentioned that the greatest danger of heroine was the psychological denial it put him in. He could be sitting in the gutter with nothing, but his drug induced state would convince him that everything was ok.
This is what “positive thinking” can do if we are not careful.
Getting Real About Our Circumstances
Positive thinking sometimes says, “Don’t give up on your dreams.” Yet I meet many people who should rethink the dreams they are following, because everything they are chasing doesn’t match who they are or the gifting they carry. Did any mature person give you solid feedback on these pursuits? Our lack of groundedness is causing some of our “God dreams” to look more like manic episodes, rather than strong steps of faith.
Before you object, I am not against positive thinking,
I am, however, against ignoring glaring issues of the heart that need to be faced. These areas will continue to spread toxicity in other people’s lives if we don’t face up.
The Opposite of Negativity
Negativity doesn’t serve us. So what we need to move into?
The answer lies involves learning to develop empowered thinking.
Instead of contrasting negative and positive thinking, I like to look at it from a place of disempowered versus empowered.
The antidote to negativity is actually empowered thinking. Negativity thrives on a disempowered environment, keeping us bound in our struggles and never breaking free into who we really are. Empowered thinking does not live in denial. It looks at problems square in the face but gains power from a place that is higher than the problem.
This is where the development of our hope comes in. Breaking through negativity actually involves moving into more empowering thinking, speaking and decision making. We recognize the problems we are facing, but we address them from a higher place in God, who can help us overcome anything that seeks to keep us stuck.
Question: In what way has positive thinking manifested as denial in your relationships? What do we need to do to start growing more?
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