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Is there a downside to positive thinking? Over the last ten or so years the positive thinking movement sometimes feels like it says if you think positively you can achieve anything, but is this really true?

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Melanie Greene

Is there a downside to positive thinking?

What do we mean by positive thinking? I was not born a positive person and it certainly took me into my early 30s before I realised that I could actually start to take charge of what I thought, and the fact that my thoughts had an impact on how I felt and behaved. I now see and feel the benefits in my life of managing my mind, rather than letting it manage me. However, there are people who believe that with positive thinking you can achieve anything you set out to achieve, including preventing or curing all of life’s ills.

When a colleague was diagnosed with breast cancer she said to me, ‘I know I should be positive, but….’. I said that it was important that she allowed herself to feel whatever she felt, rather than thinking she had to feel a certain way. She is not the only cancer patient who has commented that the positive thinking movement either makes them feel that they got cancer because of the way they thought or that the only way to be cured is to think positively.

This has got me thinking about the downside to this positive thinking movement.

What are the downsides? Currently I know many people facing a range of challenges from redundancy; cancer; supporting parents with dementia; bereavement; financial problems which might lead to the loss of their homes; as well as the challenges of children leaving home to go to university, new babies in the family, etc. Even supposedly happy events can, after all, also have their challenges. So what happens when we think we ‘must’ or ‘should’ be positive to any challenges we face?

  • You can end up feeling guilty about what might be very real and natural negative emotions that you are experiencing.
  • You can end up suppressing your true emotions, and when you suppress your negative emotions, you tend to suppress all your emotions, including any positive ones.
  • You can end up storing up your feelings leading to bigger problems down the line.
  • Your true emotions can leak out in your interactions with others or explode out in an outburst of all the pent up negative energy.
  • If you have an inner critic it can latch onto the fact that you are not reacting positively to whatever is occurring and give you a very hard time about it.
  • Some people end up lacking compassion towards, and even being impatient with, those people who are feeling down or depressed about the situations they are facing.

As I write this Clare Rayner’s death has just been announced and there was a clip of her speaking about her anger at the positive movement approach to cancer, where you are told to fight it. She said that if someone had a broken leg, you wouldn’t say to them cheer up, you can fight this!

Have you experienced any of these downsides to positive thinking? What can you do to acknowledge how you truly feel?

‘Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?’ Fanny Brice

How can you think positively while still being grounded in reality? – In my experience I can ‘turn poison into medicine’ and be positive about challenges only after I have acknowledged, faced and processed all the other emotions that might come with the situation I am facing. In fact, the quicker I do face up to how I truly feel, the quicker I am able to move onto a more positive place.

I went through many years of having both my parents suffering from a diverse range of illnesses. When the next health issue presented itself I would always go through a foot stomping phase of, ‘oh no, not more, why oh why is this happening now!’, before I could then start to deal with the situation we were facing.

You are human and you experience human emotions, desires and dreams. It is OK to…

  • feel whatever you are feeling, however horrible it might be.
  • think whatever you might be thinking: ‘Why didn’t this redundancy happen to X rather than me?’; ‘I just want to run away from all of this’; ‘If only I could win the lottery everything would be OK’.
  • reach for the negative supports before you can start to feel, think and behave more positively in the face of whatever challenge you are up against.

What can you do to process your emotions to move to a more positive place? – If you want to rise to the challenges you face then it is important to do some of the following:

  • Let yourself feel whatever you feel, don’t beat yourself up about it or fall into the trap of keeping busy in order to avoid the feelings.
  • Release your negative emotions in a positive way: cry, go aagghh, shout at your sports team on TV or use exercise as a positive release to your emotions.
  • Crying can be hugely cathartic, but we are told from quite a young age that ‘big boys and girls don’t cry’ and many people can believe this, when actually crying is a natural response to painful or sad situations, and it can act as a release to all those pent up feelings.
  • Talk to someone you trust: a friend or family member or a counsellor or coach. Having over the years either had a coach or counsellor to provide me with on-going professional and personal support there is something about ‘being heard’, having someone impartial listen to and acknowledge your feelings, having someone with whom you can be truly honest with your thoughts and feelings.
  • Take action sooner rather than later. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re too busy dealing with the issue in hand to find the time to support yourself in this way. Or you don’t have the money to invest in yourself. However, the sooner you get support the quicker you will deal with the emotional aspects of what you are dealing with and move to a more positive and productive place.

Moving through stages of transition – Elizabeth Kubler Ross who studied people’s reactions to bereavement and loss found that in many cases people go through a similar cycle of emotions in response to loss. While the positive thinking movement would like everyone to go from shock to acceptance in a nano second, all the research shows that people do go though the stages of transition, whether in response to bereavement, serious health issues, redundancy or other life changes. Some will go through the stages quickly, while others can get stuck at certain points or even seem to skip them. I wrote about this in the May 2009 issue of Inspire, click here.

‘Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.’ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

For more information about Grovelands visit our website: or call Melanie on 01865 377334 or email by clicking here.

Coming soon - an exciting new product: Mastering Your Inner Critic Online Learning Programme

If you bought Master Your Inner Critic, Release Your Inner Wisdom book, but never got around to reading it. Or wanted to attend one of my public workshops based on the book, but could never find the time, then this is for you….

An online training programme delivered straight to your email inbox, which supports you over a period of time to master your inner critic.

It will be a series of e-books and video clips (yes, you will get to see me in action!) based on the book. Watch out for a special edition on Inspire, which will contain an introductory video clip and more information coming out in late November.




Team Development Programmes – recent participant feedback …

‘Taking a step back as a team to positively focus on our direction.'

‘Chance for the team to be together. An open environment to discuss concerns, very positive.'

‘Able to look at team's strengths and difficulties. There was a positive atmosphere, though concerns were raised, it didn't dampen the mood.'

‘We really bonded as a team through the exercises.'

‘Able to set goals for the team, a chance to discuss things outside of the office.'

‘Good way of getting the team to talk openly and honestly.'

‘Everyone had a chance to speak, felt at ease. Very useful day, we need more!'

‘Good style of presentation/facilitation, not put on the spot, encouraged to participate.'

‘Excellent information, structure, people and time management.'

‘Enjoyable and practical, great tone and depth of content.'

‘I enjoyed the activities and training, and learned from them.'

We work with senior management teams, as well as front line teams. If your team is coping with change or uncertainty, needing to work more effectively or efficiently or needs to set clear goals and actions then we can create a programme to suit your team's needs.

If you think your team would benefit from a team development programme or a team action planning day, then call Melanie in confidence on 01865 377334 or email by clicking here




For more details about the work that Grovelands Associates carries out in organisations visit




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