Many of you know that I’m an advocate for neutral thinking rather than positive thinking. I’ve come to this realization because life includes aspects of positive and negative experiences, both of which can enrich our lives. Life isn’t just positive experiences. Death, grief, and suffering give dimension to our lives and thus it’s important to accept and be present for these experiences. 

This video, The Shadow of Toxic Positivity, digs into this subject. The narrator makes some interesting points, one of which comes from Epictetus the Stoic philosopher: 

“Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible.”

  • Life consists of both the positive and the negative. Rejecting the negative means we reject 50% of what makes up life. (Think about that)
  • Toxic positivity creates a thick, dense shadow, which will surface when we least expect it. (Do you want to be surprised this way?)
  • Toxic positivity forces us to be happy, instead of letting happiness reveal itself at the proper time, when we feel it. (“Feeling it” means you’re in tune with your body. Are you paying attention to it, to the state your body is communicating to you?)
  • Helpful positivity is having a mindset of acceptance and willingness to engage the dark events when they arise. It’s the middle way of navigating both aspects of life and fluctuating between them. (If “helpful positivity” is the middle way, then why not just call it neutral thinking?)
  • Consider what we’re doing when we deny negativity in ourselves or others. (What are you doing when you deny this?)
  • How can we help others when we deny them at the same time, deny their authentic experience? (We should ask ourselves the same question)

If we deny the negative and repress it, then it comes back stronger. Everything–beings, emotions, and thoughts–want to live, want expression. By repressing the negative we make the negative stronger until it overwhelms us. It’s better to be present for the negative experiences when they occur and focus on how they realign our lives. They tend to realign us to important aspects we’ve ignored along the way. 

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. matteo

    nice to hear this…not so common…I suggest a nice book about this….”Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy”…the title is a bit provocative…but the content is not not so dark….

    1. Arno

      Nice Matteo. I’ll check out the book. Arno

  2. Phil

    I am very pleased to read this as positive thinking should not be forced. One’s emotions do not need denial but understanding and attention. Emotions are real and experienced, but with awareness I think we understand our emotions and can do something about them. Denial, however, is needed with thoughts. If our thoughts are not sane and take us down roads that cause us unwanted emotions, denial is necessary.

    If I say I am a great person and that builds my ego and increases my emoting feelings of strength just based on thought, I am not living in the now and this is dangerous in any endeavor. Incorrect thought can be changed and hopefully one’s friends point out one’s fallacies, and we listen if we can’t see it for ourselves. I find that listening to truth about myself leads to denial of the thoughts whether it is positive or negative thinking and thus change occurs.

    1. Arno

      Hi Phil, thanks for your post and insight into thoughts and emotions. We can live a more full life if we connect with our authenticity. What you’re describing helps us do that. Arno

  3. Kai Ewert

    Neutral thinking – I like that approach, and I feel it’s a breath of fresh air for you to direct people towards that over “positive thinking”. From what I understand from your post, neutral thinking = being present for whatever thought and emotion arises, and then not dwelling on it. Trying to dwell on positivity takes one away from presence, just as dwelling on negative feelings or thoughts does.
    Thank you for your weekly doses of mental training food for thought, I’ve recently been more committed to reading them all and am enjoying it.

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