Keep positive thinking positive – review of Kim Hill’s interview with Barbara Ehrenreich

After reading the Listener article “Down with Positivity” (March 20-26th, 2010) and Kim Hill’s interview of Barbara Ehrenreich (3rd April), I am concerned that many readers and listeners will throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to positive thinking. They will buy in to the “down with positivity” perspective rather than realising that constructive positivity, at the right stage, is a powerful tool for overcoming adversity.

Barbara’s challenge of positive thinking and its lack of sincerity ring true in many situations. However with all her calls for a scientific, well validated viewpoint, she does not appear to offer one herself. She simply picks at the proponents of positive psychology without giving a viable alternative.

Thus I thought it useful to summarise a few points from reading and listening to the material:
– There is no arguing a persons individual battle to overcome a major adversity such as cancer, major illness, losing a job or death of a loved one. Each person goes through an individual emotional experience to get through to the other side.
– There is a cycle that people go through when dealing with/ managing adversity, similar to a cycle that people go through when handling grief.
– Prescribing “positivity” at an inappropriate stage of this cycle does do more harm than good. I call this Toxic positivity. A related example of this is told by John Kirwan on his depression advert of his mates saying “harden up”, when hardening up is not what you need to do when depressed.
– Seeking help, being easy on oneself, getting love, support, & encouragement during the first stage of adversity are useful.
– At a different stage in the cycle, once people have the mental/emotional space to look at their options, is of merit.
– During this phase trusting that things will get better, taking responsibility for what can be done under the circumstances are part of the puzzle to recovery
– Taking into account the facts of the situation into account and choosing to take the best possible option given ones circumstances and options is what I call CONSTRUCTIVE POSITIVITY.
– From my experience of working with clients – taking this approach does have beneficial effects on a person’s sense on well being, prognosis of recovery and ability to handle adversity.

In conclusion – it is important we do not throw the baby out with the bath water and mix toxic with CONSTRUCTIVE positivity. Taking an approach that is a “one size fits all” runs the risk of alienating people against taking a positive viewpoint at all.


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