By Jenny Peterson
(For an audio version of this blog, listen to episode #53 of my podcast)
Your thoughts are important no doubt. When doing mind body work, there can be a misconception that this work is just about thinking positively.
While I wish that we could just sit and say positive words to ourselves all day and it would solve all our problems, the dear old subconscious mind doesn’t work that way.
Today I am talking about the benefits and the downside of positive thinking and essentially why it can’t resolve your chronic symptoms.
A common question I hear from people is “so you're telling me I just need to think positively and then I will heal?”
Well, not really. Yes, we use the mind to heal but it is not all about positive thinking. The mind is a very complex system and most of your problems connected to your chronic symptoms are not connected to your conscious thinking. They are connected to the subconscious.
Despite the fact that a majority of the work that is needed to heal is all in the subconscious, there are times and places for positive thinking.
After years of working with clients, I have seen where it serves people to use positive thinking and where it doesn’t.
WHERE TO USE POSITIVE THINKING
Let's first talk about where it can be helpful and where I encourage you to incorporate it when it comes to your healing.
When people have chronic conditions, there are so many thinking patterns that need to be addressed. What started out as a simple symptom has turned into years of frustration, trial and error, and a spider web of thoughts that now all feed off of each other.
Years of trying to heal has led to not so healthy thinking patterns, that really would benefit from shifting to being more positive.
Here are some areas that I recommend positive thinking to help support your healing:
When you want to use the word “I can’t”. Like I can’t go for a walk today. Instead of using this, I want you to replace it with “Maybe I can.” Maybe it can be a short walk, 5 minutes is doable.”
When you say things to yourself like, “I can’t heal, there is something wrong with me.” Kick this negative nancy language to the curb and replace it with “maybe I can heal, maybe my body isn’t broken and it is working exactly how it is designed.”
When you focus on the future being scary. Shift this to thinking about what you want in the future instead. Put a positive polly spin on it! Write down and rehearse what you want your future to look like, not what you fear about it. Every time you rehearse what you fear in your future, you are literally telling your subconscious that is what you want.
When you focus on deadlines or expectations. These are the biggest joy killers when it comes to your healing. Forcing yourself to be better by a certain time or having expectations of being in a certain place with your healing will only take away from you seeing all the progress that you have made. Shift your focus to the positive things that you are seeing in your healing, and not just symptoms either. Focus on how you see yourself responding differently to situations, how you are talking differently to yourself, etc. These are all signs of progress and honestly should be the main focus rather than looking at how your symptoms are changing.
How you start your day. So many people start their day in a negative nancy way. Scanning their body, predicting how the day will go and basically programming their subconscious that it's going to be a shitty day. You are the only one directing your subconscious so why don’t you give it better directions? This is again where being positive will serve you. I have been telling myself for 4 years now, “today is going to be a great day” the second my feet hit the floor. I encourage you to do the same and see the difference it makes in how you start your day.
So these are the areas that I consider positive thinking the most beneficial when it comes to healing.
Next up, toxic positivity.
What is it?
Basically it's when you use positive thinking as a solution to all things, or you avoid feeling “negative” emotions. Or you could even be expecting others to be positive around you.
In this case, you could be avoiding real harm because of this positive filter. Or you could be causing harm to others.
So for example, if a person treats you poorly, you put a positive spin on it and basically act as if its ok and you let them continue to treat you that way.
You also could be putting a smile on your face when really you are feeling sad, or hurt which would be suppressing your emotions, which is also harmful to you.
In a relationship, toxic positivity could destroy communication and the ability to solve relationship problems as well.
Forcing someone to express only positive emotions can stifle their ability to communicate and make them feel bad about themself for having negative thoughts.
You can avoid toxic positivity by:
recognizing negative emotions as normal and an important part of the human experience
identifying and naming emotions rather than trying to avoid them
Learning how to process negative emotions in a healthy way
WHY HEALING IS MORE THAN POSITIVE THOUGHTS
Now lets talk about why this work isn’t all about being positive and what it really means to do the mind work.
I think this is best explained using symptoms as examples.
Lets say someone has anxiety, IBS and UTI’s.
According to GNM, anxiety is about not feeling safe (feeling powerless and fearful), IBS is that you can’t digest something that happened to you, and UTI’s are back to boundaries.
If you were to resolve these symptoms using positive thinking, it would never work because of 2 reasons: 1. symptoms are caused by perceptions of past events and 2. the subconscious needs to be on board with any new perceptions that you have, because if the conscious and subconscious are not in alignment, the subconscious always wins.
So let's look at anxiety. Anxiety is connected to not feeling safe (not just physically but also emotionally) and you think “well then I will just tell myself that I am safe instead. I will repeat it over and over so my mind starts to believe something else.”
But your subconscious says “hold up, what you are saying is not true. We have lots of proof that you are not safe since you were born and by saying this over and over, we just won’t buy it. The evidence of not feeling safe is stacked way too high for us to get on board with what you are saying.”
To truly resolve anxiety, a person needs to look at how this has become a coping mechanism from childhood and how they can build trust and safety within themselves in order to no longer feel unsafe. That is going to require working on past events, triggers, core beliefs and daily action to shift those old survival patterns. This is how you rewire the subconscious. Positive thinking will never do any of this.
Next lets look at IBS. You may learn that IBS is connected to a situation that was indigestible to you. You may say, well I’m over that, it doesn’t bother me anymore and I’m just going to tell myself that I am fine, smile everyday when I wake up and choose to be happy rather than angry when something happens to me.
Here again, nothing about the past events, triggers or patterns of how this person adapts to life has been addressed. The subconscious is still hanging onto the memory connected to the symptom because the perception of the event hasn’t changed.
It still thinks that situation is a threat. This person will need to shift perception around the situation that started this, make connections to the core beliefs driving it and make connections to how this way of responding to life has been wired into their subconscious so they can prevent having it show up again in the future. Again, positive thinking won’t do any of this.
Lastly, lets look at if you have chronic UTI’s. In GNM this is connected to a boundary issue. Something was in your space that you didn’t like. Often for women this boundary issue is back to intimacy but it also can be back to other things like a co-worker in your space, a parent telling you what to do, a neighbor on your property, etc.
Here again, there is no positive thinking that is going to resolve this symptom. You have to do the work that is needed to establish your territory. Most of the time this means having to speak up, take action etc. to take back your territory. This sounds easier said than done because when it comes to setting boundaries, the subconscious is again going to step in.
If there is proof that speaking up or establishing a boundary of any type comes with rejection or any type of scary consequence, then setting boundaries won’t be so easy. Maybe when you were a kid, speaking up for yourself ended up with criticism or you were told that your voice didn’t matter. This will be enough proof that speaking up to set this boundary will come with discomfort.
This is why all the work matters, not just the memory or perception shift work. Oftentimes, we can’t shift the perception of a memory or situation when there is proof in the subconscious that making those changes are risky to our survival. A risk to survival can be rejection, judgment, or abandonment for example. You have to remember that your brain is primal and its focus is always survival.
Positive thinking can also cause resistance within the subconscious. I already gave some examples of this but I want to make sure that you understand how this works.
Let's say, for instance, you say to yourself daily “I am lovable and worthy of being loved.” While this sounds great and is a good thing to tell yourself, if your subconscious has enough proof that you are not lovable or worthy of love from past experiences, there will be resistance.
Its going to say, “sorry I don’t believe you, our proof wins.” Because that proof in the subconscious that you were not lovable in the past was a survival pattern. It held onto that experience to flag you in the future. So until you make the changes in your subconscious, no matter what you say consciously, the subconscious will win. The conscious and subconscious need to be on the same page.
As you can hear, this work isn’t about positive thinking. It requires shifting perceptions, identifying old subconscious patterns, core beliefs and rewiring new healthy ways of coping. When this rewiring process is done, the body no longer is getting messages that feel like a threat. It can finally calm down and complete the healing process.
Speaking of shifting perceptions. If you are wondering, does shifting perceptions mean that you need to see the situation as being positive to heal?
In some cases seeing a situation as being a positive learning experience is helpful. But in most cases its much deeper than that.
What I prefer to do instead, is look at all the limitations that you and the others involved had that prevented things from turning out a different way and then create a plan moving forward of how you can respond to similar situations in a healthier way in the future.
In addition, there is a core belief, or several, that is driving our perceptions that needs to be found as well and shifted. This type of perception shift will create biological changes on a deeper level than just turning it into a positive learning experience.
Healing isn’t all about positive thinking. Yes, your thoughts are important. But most of all, healing is about stepping into your authentic self. That may involve, and most of the time does, not always being so positive and happy with everyone. It may involve speaking up, setting boundaries, learning to stand up for yourself, stop people pleasing , not giving a shit what people think about you, ending relationships that are not helpful for you, etc. This is really what healing is about more than anything.
Use positive thinking where it serves you most. In the areas I mentioned at the beginning. Those are the areas that you will benefit from being in that mindset. Don’t become a positive Polly where all you do is respond to everything with positivity, there are areas that this thinking is useful and where it's not.
Positive thinking will not solve subconscious patterns that are showing up in your body as symptoms and as problems in your life. You have to do much deeper work than that. While I wish it was that easy, its not and on some level its a good thing otherwise we wouldn’t learn all that we need to learn to heal!
The easy work never creates long lasting change anyway!
We get it, you're desperate to have your illness be a thing of the past, not something that defines your days. But trying to heal WITHOUT a custom plan is costing you precious time, money and energy!
You are unique, your symptoms are connected to very specific patterns within your subconscious.
Without a plan unique to you, you will continue struggling and miss out on the life you deserve to be living! To help you get started on your long-lasting healing journey, we would love to provide you with a healing plan that is unique to you. Get your custom healing plan today!
You can also download my free healing guide, “Why Can’t I Heal” where you will learn the 5 reasons that you haven't healed despite everything you've tried. These are the missing pieces to your healing and the key to resolving your symptoms for good.
Jenny Peterson is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Rewire (MBR). She teaches those that are overwhelmed with trying to heal chronic symptoms how to simplify their healing by focusing on just one place, the subconscious mind. Learn more about MBR here.