As I just commented to Patient Anonymous, I should write a light and fluffy post given that I am coming out of 4-day depressive episode, but this post on Facebook caught my attention and I want to say something about it (I will do light and fluffy after).
I am not against positive thinking, but I am against the mandatory positive thinking and happiness we have created in our culture. Because of this, it is very hard for some people to see how promoting positive thinking could be invalidating and even abusive. An article I came across on Facebook called, 7 ‘Positive Thinking’ Mantras That Can Actually Cross the Line into Gaslighting echoed my concerns and gave it a name. If you are not familiar, gaslighting is a technique used to manipulate people into questioning their perception of reality. It is frequently used by abusers as a form of emotional control. I have been a victim of gaslighting. It is a horrible experience to be in and hard to undo (but possible). I am not saying that people who use and enforce these ‘positive thinking’ mantras are abusers or mean to be abusive, but gaslighting is deeply embedded in our everyday language. Ever been told you’re ‘too sensitive’? It plants the doubt in your mind that you are being unreasonable, hysterical even. Gaslighting also removes the responsibility the person or people have in being respectful and responsible because the blame is laid on the other person or sometimes whole communities.
Please click on the hyperlink above to read the article and see all of the mantras. I would just like to touch on a few, how they damaged my life and what I’m doing about it.
‘There is no use dwelling on the past.’
Saying this means that our past does not matter and that feeling upset about it means there is something wrong with you. In some cases, the part of your past you may be “dwelling” on is a traumatic event that shapes your present and may influence your future.
Encouraging someone to ignore their past pains isn’t helping them move on but potentially burying the trauma and making it worse. Trauma is complex and not ‘dwelling’ on it won’t make it go away. Possibly you just don’t want to hear about my trauma? Did it involve you? Does it make you feel bad? It’s not about you. It’s not like I want to remember and I really do have no control over when the memories surface.
When people tell me it’s in the past and that it shouldn’t matter I try my best to ignore them (if they are not significant people) or explain to them how the past is affecting me presently (if they are significant people). It is problematic that I need to explain this, but this is what I have chosen to do. Reading books about how our past affects our present as well as briefly seeing a therapist that believes our past influences our present, have helped me understand the value of my past experiences not just negatively (bad memories) but also positively (demonstrating my ability to survive).
‘We seek confirmation of what we already believe.’
I believe that this one hurt me the most. I have memories of crying on the floor of my ex’s home, completely terrified that what I believed was happening was not actually happening. What do you do when you cannot trust your mind to tell you the truth? Well, you put your faith in someone else, you surrender your reality to another because apparently yours is wrong and theirs is right.
To tell someone that what they believe is a preconceived notion instead of being based on their actual observations is damaging. This mantra devalues our thoughts, our intuition and our intelligence. Nothing you believe is taken seriously by outside parties or yourself. This is wrong.
I, personally, have found this particular gaslighting mantra to be difficult to overcome. After many years of being told that I was making things up, looking for bad things and creating my own problems I still find myself agreeing. What I have been trying to do to combat this is by reminding myself and others that our perception is our own and that by sharing it we can better understand where each other is coming from. I know that acceptance of someone’s perception is not agreeing with it, but it is the first step to being able to create a solution for everyone to move forward.
‘Smile’ (or ‘Don’t cry’).
Probably the most annoying mantra of all time and the most used.This is the mantra that children hear from an extremely young age that will emotionally debilitate them for the rest of their lives. I have heard parents, caregivers and staff frequently say this throughout my work with children.
Telling someone to smile or not to cry is directly telling them that they should be happy and not express the sadness or other emotion that they are feeling. ‘Smile’ or ‘Don’t cry’ encourages people to hide their emotions, propagates the belief that we are completely in control our emotions and that how we feel is someone’s business.
I cope with this through my own emotion-positive mantra which is, “It is ok to feel bad.” I do my best to validate my own emotions and the emotions of others. Learning about the brain and emotions has also been of great help in understanding where I do and do not have control and what emotions mean from a biological standpoint.