Is It OK to Be Positive All The Time?
Being positive is good and people usually try to be positive or look good at all times. People feel good through their thoughts or behaviours. This is part of human nature.
However, is it realistic to be positive all the time when we consider life’s negative events? To answer this question, we need to understand what is being positive and its importance.
Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, said people want to feel and behave in ways which are consistent with their self-image (how they see themselves) and their ideal self (which is the best version of themselves). The closer their self-image is to their ideal self, the more congruent they are and the higher their sense of self-worth will be. A person experiences difficulty in remaining congruent when his or her authentic self is rejected. For example, when a boy is expected to be strong and unafraid and that he must not cry because he needs to be tougher than a girl, he learns to suppress his sadness and fear. When he matures as a man, though he continues to experience sadness and fear, he has not learnt the ways of managing them except to continue suppressing them since these emotions are unacceptable to him. This creates a split between his authentic self and his self-image and ideal self. Splitting as a defence weakens a person’s self-worth, which inevitably is detrimental to his personal and social functioning.
Carl Rogers also said a person whose self-image is incongruent with their real feelings and experiences will defend themselves because the truth hurts. For example, if said boy cannot hold his tears due to sadness, he will experience guilt and shame because he thinks he did something wrong. Guilt and shame are feelings that defend against his primary feeling, which is sadness in this case. He feels wrong, not because of what made him sad, but because he cried. To prevent feeling guilt and shame, he may use defence mechanisms like denial or repression of sadness in order to feel less threatened.
Carl Rogers believed that people need to be regarded positively by others, by feeling valued, respected, and treated with affection and love. Rogers made a distinction between unconditional positive regard and conditional positive regard.
Unconditional positive regard is love and acceptance of the person for who they are. The giver of unconditional positive regard does not require any action from the receiver to justify the giving. The receiver is not required to do any good, does not need to be perfect or right all the time, but simply to accept. Unconditional positive regard is not withdrawn if the person does something wrong or makes a mistake.
On the other hand, conditional positive regard is given only when the receiver behaves as expected. If a person does something in order to get approval and value from others without being in touch with his authentic feeling, he becomes an incongruent person.
When an incongruent person overly focuses on how others respond to their behaviour, their ideal self would be shaped based on the condition of worth – they strive to become what others want them to be. In the process of doing so, they lose self-respect because of the incongruence between their authentic self and self-image (what they think of themselves is not what they truly are). When their ideal self is measured according to social expectation, it gives rise to the feeling of “never good enough” since they can’t please everyone. This feeling of inferiority could hinder self-actualization. Carl Rogers believed that humans have one basic motive, which is the tendency to self-actualize such as to fulfil one’s potential and achieve the highest level of ‘human-beingness’. He also believed that for a person to achieve self-actualization they must be in a state of congruence. This means that self-actualization occurs when a person’s ideal self (who they would like to be) is congruent with their self-image (actual behaviour or how they perceive themselves).
In order to enhance congruence and achieve self-actualization, a person needs to practice self-acceptance and replace the reliance on conditions of worth with unconditional positive regard. Acceptance is about accepting who they are and also accepting what they feel or think about themselves. According to Rogers, having at least one relationship where they are totally accepted and supported regardless of what they do, think or feel will help to establish the state of congruence.
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When they accept negative emotions, they will become familiar and know how to react to those emotions. Negative or positive emotions are of the same importance. People need to learn and experience both in order to get balanced perspectives and congruence in life. Emotions are never wrong, they are value-neutral. Instead of judging emotion, the focus ought to be on evaluating the appropriateness of the manner emotion is expressed. For example, it is offensive and socially inappropriate if we laugh at someone’s funeral. Expressed emotion has to be mediated with sensibility.
Being positive is not always about feeling positive emotions or thinking positive all the time. It is about applying unconditional positive regard to ourselves and to others. Accepting things that happened in life; positive or negative, live with it and learn from it. This will create a balance and congruence in our life, between self-image and ideal self.
How to Handle Negative Emotions
Negative emotion is not a bad thing. We need to know what negative emotion is and how to handle it correctly so we can accept and live with it.
Knowing what exactly we feel is such a blessing because a lot of people struggle to know and understand what they feel. Before we know what we feel, we need to be aware that negative emotions are not bad things and it is normal to feel it. Once this awareness is cultivated, we will be more comfortable to deal with negative emotions. Self-awareness may induce us to dig deeper into our emotion to know the reason behind those negative emotions.
After understanding the reasons for those negative emotions, acceptance is the next step to dealing with them. Accepting those emotions may lead to self-compassion and a better understanding of them. This self-compassion increases our tolerance for the negative emotions as we have established that they are just temporary.
After the acceptance of emotions, we need to acknowledge and honour them. We can feel these emotions but be cautious to not let them define us. For example, we can acknowledge that we feel useless at a certain instance, but we do not let ourselves acknowledge that we are a useless person.
4. Consider What The Negative Emotion is Telling Us
Negative emotion helps us deal with reality. For example, fear and anxiety signal the need to build self-protection. McGonigal shows how viewing one unhappy condition—stress—in a kinder light can turn it into something that improves, rather than hurt, our health. Those who accept feeling stressed as the body’s natural response to a challenge are more resilient and live longer than those who try to fight it (Goleman et al., 2018).
After we understand, accept, acknowledge, and consider our negative emotions we can choose our next move, what to do, and how to behave appropriately in such situations. The degree of emotional intensity can be low, medium, or high depending on the situation. We can administer short intervention to de-escalate our emotions, either positive or negative so that they won’t become too intense. In short, when we know how to regulate our emotions and act appropriately according to them, we will have a good balance and congruence between what we think (mind), what we feel (emotions) and what we do (action).
When Does Negative Emotion Become Problematic?
We feel emotions all the time, and the intensity of our emotions can be unpredictable. Sometimes it can be too much to handle and it may mean that there is something deeper that needs to be discovered. Annie McKee (Goleman et al., 2018) warned that negative emotions are also contagious, and they are almost always destructive if unchecked and unmanaged. Experiencing negative emotions in several situations and at different intensity is normal but experiencing on-going negative emotions in the same situation repeatedly may be a sign that we need help.
Annie McKee (Goleman et al., 2018) also said it is not just negative emotions we need to watch out for. Extremely strong positive emotions can have the same effect. Some studies show that too much happiness can make you less creative (psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found that too much positive emotion makes people inflexible in the face of new challenges) and prone to engaging in risky behaviours (e.g., excess alcohol, drug consumptions or binge eating).
If you feel strong emotions have been bothering your life, interfering with your day-to-day functioning and causing trouble in your relationships, kindly talk to your therapist, counsellor or psychologist for help and support so you can work this out together.
Goleman, D., McKee, A., George, B., & Ibarra, H. (2018). HBR Emotional Intelligence Boxed Set (6 Books). Harvard Business Review Press. https://www.amazon.com/HBR-Emotional-Intelligence-Boxed-Books/dp/1633696219.
McLeod, S. A. (2014, Febuary 05). Carl rogers. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html
Seltzer, L.F. (2016, October 27). Emotionally upset? 20 ways defeat negative feelings. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201610/emotionally-upset-20-ways-defeat-negative-feelings
Kennedy, T. (2020, April 9). Why negative emotions aren’t that bad (and how to handle them). .https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/how-handle-negative-emotions.html
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