How to be Postive in a Negative World


When I was a young boy my father gave me Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking and told me that after I finished the book I could move a tree if I believed I could. I read parts of the book and was admittingly a bit puzzled. I understood the point about being positive but didn’t quite understand how I could actually make myself think positive and move mountains. The instruction book seemed to be missing although I liked the concept.

   In today’s culture we are bombarded with self help books, motivational speakers and CD’s providing instructions of how to be and remain positive. I don’t think anyone denies the value of being positive but most of us who follow the simple instructions aren’t quite able to maintain this positive state as easily as we are instructed. What is the missing ingredient?

                                       Awareness of Your Story

   Negativity is almost always based on inaccurate interpretation of reality. One of my group therapy clients joined our sessions due to being overly stressed and struggling with self consciousness about his self image. Two aspects of his life embarrassed him greatly, the blue collar town he grew up in and the so-called mediocre college he attended. Over time he let us know of his embarrassment. After several months of sessions he has learned that his perception of his inferiority was a distorted view he needlessly carried with him for several years. As he unraveled his negative story so did others. One woman talked of not being pretty enough, we determined this perception was not true. Another woman thought she didn’t speak well, not true. A few of the men talked of thinking their balding hairlines make them unattractive, not true. One man talked of his superior intelligence, also not true. Whether distortions about oneself are positive or negative the truth must be discerned in order to remain positive in life. You can’t be positive with consistency if you’re not dealing with reality. The foundation of your sense of self has to be solid and stable. Distortions create road maps that take us to the wrong destination with the wrong people.                            Over the years of doing group sessions I have heard these types of stories over and over again. The emotional distress of negative thinking is profound and if you don’t become aware of where your biases originated you are doomed to continue living in the prison of pessimism.                                

                                       The Truth Expands our Vision

        Knowing the truth about who you are is a process that can’t occur quickly or without significant effort. Just trying to think positively won’t work for long if your old story is embedded in your psyche. It takes time, patience and persistence to change negative views to more realistic perspectives.

    First we must become aware of our biases; of course we need other objective rational people to help us come to accurate conclusions about ourselves. Then the hard work begins. We have to change the view we established early in life for the new view we have come to learn as adults. We were quite impressionable as young people; taking in the views of others later in life is not easy even if the feedback we are receiving is complimentary. It takes time and trust to come to believe that the negative views we held about ourselves may have originated through our relationships with biased caretakers, coaches, teachers and other significant authority figures as well as peers.

       Eventually, with courage and determination, the new view replaces the old negativity and we are finally in a position to live our lives with a positive, realistic view of ourselves. The truth has freed us from the past once we integrate new information in our heart and mind. I emphasize heart as many of us know that our negativity is not rational but it persists as it is recorded deep in the emotional parts of the brain. Change means we have to re-arrange ourselves emotionally as well as intellectually, which is why it never occurs quickly or easily. We can understand without changing. Change has to be an active process involving behavior, intellect and emotion.

    Once we have done this work the negativity in our environment and in the world has far less impact on our outlook. When we are at peace within we can tolerate the chaos around us without being effected in major ways. We have reached a state of calm allowing us to tolerate the stress outside of us without becoming overly stressed ourselves. We have then become models for balanced living.


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Arthur Ciaramicoli PhD

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