Sunday, March 7, 2010

Positivity vs. Grief - Can the two Co-exist?

It seems everything I read or hear these days is connected to the positive thinking movement. Interestingly enough, even books I've had for years mention it before The Law of Attraction band wagon took off.

Yesterday, I read that neuroscience is discovering actual proof that we can permanently change our brains through a positive mindset. Scientists are able to actually see and measure the emotional regions of our brains that process joy, happiness and love, as well as depression, mourning, anxiety, OCD, etc. Apparently, even pessimists like me can be taught to become more optimistic.

This is all pretty amazing with the main point being that our emotions and feeling do get transmitted out into the world and we do have some control over what we project. Because what we send out, comes back to us. I like the example of a bummed out, dejected person with shoulders slumped, downcast eyes and scowling smile. Obviously, anyone encountering that person will react accordingly and probably not very favorably. Likewise, someone with a genuine smile and upbeat demeanor will fare better. This person might receive better customer service at a store, have someone give them a break or bend the rules, and so on throughout the day. These experiences will build on themselves - the better they are and the more of them will increase the likelihood of upbeat person staying in a good mood. Dejected person will probably stay down and out because their experiences will be downers.

I am intrigued by all of this and I have made a valiant effort to try and remain as positive as I can through these trying times. Keeping a gratitude list is usually one of the first strategies suggested. Surrounding yourself with happy, fun, optimistic people is another. Trying to fit in as many activities that bring you joy into your life as possible is another suggestion. So I do try and do all these things in an effort to attract more positives back into my life. The jury is still out on how successful this has been.

What concerns me about the logic of this theory and the books that are out there promoting it, is that there doesn't seem to be any comprehension or acknowledgment toward those people who really may be suffering seriously from grief/loss, depression, addiction, life changes such as poverty, etc. These books and even the theory seem to fit best for those people who are leading pretty ordinary, manageable lives. One book made a brief passing comment on this by admitting that yes, no one can be upbeat and super positive 24/7 and that when times are tough they have to be acknowledged. The goal then becomes how to walk through and face the challenges, as well as to try and learn from them.

I think there needs to be a book written for those of us out here dealing with many life complications that realistically paint a complicated and negative picture. "The Law of the Attraction for Those Grieving, Suffering and Dealing with Major Loss" might be one for starters. I guess what bothers me the most is the wiping the slate clean type of attitude I get from these books and the theory itself - that we can't and shouldn't be negative EVER. That grieving and worrying are bad because they transmit toxic, negative energy that will return to us threefold! This is just at such odds with my beliefs about counseling that center on staying with your emotions whatever they are and working through them. There has to be a balance between positive and negative emotions. If we as human beings have the capacity to feel pain, grief and sorrow how can they just be wiped away? Do the proponents of The Law of Attraction believe that those of us deeply grieving have to just shut those emotions off? Or do they believe that we should not grieve as deep or much? Maybe it is impossible to follow this theory period while someone is immersed in deep sorrow or anxiety. I don't know - I really wish I could call Wayne Deyer up and ask him some of these perplexing and vexing questions.

In the meantime, I guess I'll try my best to continue to be grateful, remain positive and upbeat when I can and do my best to smile and keep my shoulders up when out and about in public.

I Am Grateful:

1. That the birds are back - I heard birds singing again for the first time yesterday!
2. That no severe winter-type weather is predicted from here on in - yeah!
3. That all of us have had decent clothes and outerwear to get through the winter months.
4. That no one got the flu this winter - thank you Universe!
5. For the cheery songs of the birds.


  1. With your powerful writing style have you ever consider doing this book yourself?

  2. I appreciate the compliment. The only book I'd consider would be titled, "A Grieving, Depressed Pessimist Tries to Live The Law Of Attraction."

  3. Buddhists say that actions leave traces but the good or bad of these traces is subjective because life is merely a projection of our inner state/attitude.

    It is possible to be relatively positive and grieve. It's not easy though and a person shouldn't get too caught up in the "always" but maybe focus more on the "as often as possible".

  4. I have been reading your posts for a while and I keep reading because I am really hoping to see a positive change in your life. I have had much tragedy in my life, have climbed many mountains and it hasn't been easy a lot of the time - I want to blame it on certain things and I often look at people and think "If you only knew what I have been through" but then I realize that everyone has a story and most of them aren't all good or all easy. I work hard to not get lost in the labels of my life . I hope and pray you find a time in your life that you move on from how unfortunate circumstances have been in your life and instead know that you have been given a raw deal - a tragic horrible deal - but move on and be stronger because of it.

  5. Ah, yes the birdsongs in the morning are such a gift and so very welcome.
    You raise a very good point, and I can really understand the conflict. I need to share that the positive thought guidance has really worked well for me. With my body shaking with tears, and my hand barely able to write, I have made myself notes which I posted around the house with positive affirmations of good things to come. It really does work. I still acknowledge the grief and where I am, but the depths are less with the positive thought process. I try to catch myself mid-negative thought or what-if, and re-route my thinking to picture where I would like to be (sometimes that is not clear)or even just to envision my heart feeling light. Working on the chakras in meditation helps with this, too.
    An aside, I have watched my son-in-law post sticky notes around his office, room and bathroom, manifesting business to come his way, and seen it work time and again.
    You are in no way denying or ignoring your grief in taking this path. I believe that the fact that you are even considering it, shows powerful healing, as the deepest grief causes blindness.
    Sending you lots of clarity and peace.

  6. As I dyed-in-the-wool moral relativist, I am a firm believer in moderation in all things - and that applies to positivity as much as anything else.
    I am, by nature, a fairly sunny character and it has helped me a lot in getting through these past 19 months. It is good to strive to be upbeat, but I absolutely demand my right to sulk, cry, shout, grieve and be downright negative if the situation demands it.

  7. Annie - I have been reflecting on the Buddhist reference and find that to me it basically means that "life is what we make it." You raise a good point with the "always" trap. Striving for what we can do, most of the time, seems like a more reasonable goal. Thanks for the confidence that one can be both positive and dealing with grief. I'm just not sure how you do that so I'll keep contemplating this issue.

    Anonymous - Thank you for taking the time to relate such thoughtful responses to me. I would appreciate any strategies you used to help face your battles if you would care to share them. I agree that others have their "stories" and issues to face. But I really haven't come across that many who've had to face such adversity on their own. They may have lost their home, but they have a husband to lean on, etc. And then their family comes to their rescue providing at least emotional support not to mention other helpful measures. I live in a very upscale area of the country where most people have remained fortunate and have a lot of support and love from their families.

    I use my labels to describe my life and in an effort to attract others out there dealing with the same conflicts. I am a widowed, sadly divorced middle-aged mom struggling right now with major financial hardship. It is what it is. It is a tough time. It is an honest portrayal of who I am right now in this slice of life.

    Marcia - Thank you so much for commenting on this! You have given me some much needed confidence to throw caution to the wind and just start being and feeling more positive despite the pit I'm in right now on so many levels. But it does seem a little crazy!

    I had been thinking about putting up post- it-notes, just as you describe and now I'm going to do it. I am also trying to envision better things for the future, etc. We can choose to be miserable in our misery or positive in our misery and I guess the better of the two is having hope. At least that is where I'm trying to lean. But it is not easy and it takes a lot of work and effort to keep the spirit bright! Thanks again for relating your personal experiences and providing some of that hope.

    J - I admire your fighting attitude and spirit. I am a glass-half-full gal so this upbeat mindset often seems impossible for me to achieve. I do like your points about moderation and balance with all things - a good thing to remember and that you deserve the right to shout, cry, sulk and grieve! I read that the life coach Cheryl Richardson does this by giving herself a time limit for moping and being down - say for two hours. She can cry, scream, vent and so on during that time but then she shifts gears and goes on with her day. I haven't done this and I fear two hours wouldn't be enough time for me but it is an idea worth thinking about.

  8. I didn't lose my husband to death so you are right I don't know what it is like to be a widow. Although I thought I was going to know what it was like. You see I have three children who were aged 3,4,6 at the time. After many threats by my husband that if I left him he would 'kill himself and take me with him'. He showed that he was serious, I ran out of the house while he was loading his gun - I was holding three children not knowing if I was going to get a bullet in my back at any moment. Once I did get out of the driveway I drove barefoot in pajamas with three terrified children as far as I could - many states away. I couldn't go to anyone because I didn't have family in the area (they aren't in the position to help anyway) and he would have found me there anyway. I also didn't know if he had killed himself after I drove away. I had no money - an angel at a holiday inn felt badly for me when I walked in crying with three babies and no credit cards and about $40 is cash. That is just the catalyst night - I spent 4 years hiding from him, no child support, I was terrified to leave my children anywhere without me because I knew he would find them. I was embarassed as I lived in an upscale town and didn't want people to know. I remember a few years into this being at a YMCA where I qualified for a free membership. Exercise became my drug of choice it honestly saved my life, One day I saw out of the corner of my eye someone walk in the door at the gym who looked like my husband - I started to cry and my first and only thought was that I didn't want him to kill me here, not here, these people didn't know what was going on in my life and I didn't want them to. It wasn't a question in my mind if I would be killed or not it was just about my pride and not wanting to be killed in front of the other people at the gym. So although my story is very different because I still had a husband and out of respect for what you are going through I won't say anymore about that. I had no support emotionally or financially and lived in fear every second of every day. I lost my house, I lost everything BUT not my life.
    As I said exercise was what I used to get my brain clear, motivated and strong. I do believe I have faced a huge amount of adversity by myself but I think the difference was - I always felt fortunate, and that other people had much more difficult lives. That enabled me to try to show that I could do it. I didn't need a husband, I didn't need anyone helping me. You never have anyone but yourself that you can truly count on.

  9. Anonymous - You also are without a husband. Even though your husband was alive when you left, for all practical purposes, he was a husband on paper only. I am very sorry for all you have endured. You have experienced the horror of terror, which I have not. You have survived utterly horrendous circumstances on your own.

    Being on my own is very difficult for me - I have a hard time marching alone through life even when life is pretty calm. Add the adversity and it is an extremely painful situation for me to endure. I need people, especially for emotional support. I know what they say about only being able to rely and depend on yourself, but I sincerely believe that there are those of us out there faring better when in a partnership. I'm a team player at my core and don't have a lot of independence or personal drive.

    With that said, I'm not sure how I would have fared in your tragic situation, especially having to move many states away. I have received a pension, albeit a small one, whereas you had nothing to rely on financially. You had three small terrified children to nurture and comfort. I am humbled by your strength and fortitude. Your story gives me some pause in realizing there are those who have it so much worse. Sometimes when I read blogs of grieving widows not facing childcare or financial issues, I start to say to myself, "What do they have to complain about?" But then I stop myself because grief is relative, it is in the eye of the beholder. The pain being felt and experienced by others is just as legitimate as mine, although it is coming in a differing form. No one's grief or pain is less than my own.

    Thank you for all you have shared and I will think of your story often when my load seems too hard to bear. It sounds like life has been restored for you and is on an even keel - I pray that is so. I hope you are in someway sharing your experiences to give strength and courage to others and I hope you will reach some people through your comments here.