The Positivity Paradox

Positivity Pooped?

In her introduction to The Undervalued Self, Dr Elaine Aron (author of The Highly Sensitive Person) reminds us that despite years of work on improving low self-esteem, the undervalued self and low self-esteem are still with us.

We learn that the undervalued self can make us doubt ourselves and our abilities, can leave us feeling shy, anxious or depressed and often comes to the fore just when we need to make an accurate estimation of our value. And we undervalue our worth.

So what’s the antidote?

Should we be sure to engage in only positive thinking? Positive psychology underpins of lot of thinking in the coaching and personal growth communities and it can be a great tool for exploring different perspectives and their impacts on our wellbeing.

Sometimes, however, positive thinking and affirmations can backfire especially among people battling with low self-esteem and a backlog of trauma. Dr Aron points to research which has shown that, “positive thinking and self-affirmations can make those with low self-esteem feel even worse about themselves.”

I’ve seen this written about in lots of articles on social media sites, particularly with reference to people suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorders.

So, what is one to do?

You don’t want to wallow in low self-esteem. You want your boundaries to be respected and honoured. You know that the worse you feel about yourself – the lower your “rank” (or perceived rank) the easier it becomes for those with higher rank to to step on your boundaries. And the more you will feel obliged to yield and give them your time and energy and respect with no expectation that they will reciprocate. This playing field is not level.

Yet there is a delicious paradox.
There is a way of feeling more positive without regurgitating dry and potentially meaningless affirmations.

An early exercise in the book is to make two lists; one lists the people who you generally feel good around and the other is the people who tend to make you feel bad.

The list you choose to focus on can shift your mood. If you focus on the list of people who make you feel bad, you will be reinforcing and digging ever deeper into that groove. And your mood drops.

If you choose to focus on the list of people who make you feel good – with whom you feel connection, reciprocity, “linkage” and love – you will lift your mood. Your confidence improves also.

When looked at from this standpoint, the positive thinking brigade are correct. By choosing and shifting who to be with or think about – you can consciously shift out of one response and mood to another.

So be careful who you choose to think about!

With all my love and best wishes for a thriving and flourishing 2018

© Annie Wigman – January 2018

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4 Responses to The Positivity Paradox

  1. Judy Rich says:

    Very well written Annie.
    Judy Rich

    • annie_admin_name says:

      Thank you Judy – I hugely appreciate hearing that from you. It means so much to me.
      I hope all is well with you and wishing you a wonderful 2018!

  2. Asha says:

    Hi Annie- I’ve definitely found positive psych frustrating, because I feel a need to have the negative stuff acknowledged and heard, instead of being swept away in the aggressive reframing! I do think it’s important to focus on the right people though- I remember writing a soc media post a while ago about having neglected my true friends, because I’d focussed on the people who were neither receptive, nor interested in me. Shifting that focus (and apologising to the people I’d neglected) made a difference. Keep writing, Annie! xx

    • annie_admin_name says:

      Thank you Asha!

      Yes I absolutely get that need to “have the negative stuff acknowledged and heard, instead of being swept away in the aggressive reframing..”

      When we feel that things are censored, not allowed out into the open and to be seen and heard, we can feel dismissed, neglected, ignored and even abused.

      Of course if we constantly rehearse the negative stuff and make no room for any positive vibes, then we aren’t doing ourselves much good either – as we simply dig ourselves deeper into the mire.

      I am all for giving voice to what concerns us – being at liberty to do so – and being witness, acknowledged, seen and heard. And making space for other perspectives, and seeing the other’s perspectives – with sensitive as opposed to aggressive reframing.

      Glad you got back in touch and reconnected with your true friends – and let go of the drive to connect with those who were neither receptive nor interested.

      And thank you for the encouragement to keep writing! I shall 🙂

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