Towards the end of a long hike, or if the trail gets really steep in the middle and we get tired, one of us will say, “Let’s use our affirmation.” And together, we’ll slowly chant in time to our footsteps: “I CAN’T do it. It’s TOO HARD.”
As ridiculous as it may sound, this negative affirmation always makes us smile and relax as we keep hiking. By admitting that we’re having a hard time, we’re doing the opposite of mentally bucking up like you’re supposed to when the going gets tough. Nevertheless, we always finish our hard hikes and so far have lived to tell about them; no harm done for having embraced the negative.
There’s something weirdly comforting about affirming the negative for a change. Instead of trying to hoist ourselves into a positive mental state, we affirm our reality exactly as it is. I find it soothing. The going may be tough, but at least I don’t have to add to that burden by pretending it isn’t.
Very few of the people I see as a counselor – all of whom are in emotional pain – start out wanting to affirm the negative. Instead, with steadfast determination they seek the silver lining on each black cloud. But if they manage to find it, what happens to the cloud? It’s still there, of course; focusing on the silver lining doesn’t make it any less black, or any less a cloud.
Trying to concentrate exclusively on the positive, or countering every bad feeling with a thought about something we can be grateful for, creates more pain than it heals.
When we feel bad, the pain is already in progress; no amount of ignoring or distracting ourselves from it will make it go away. Whether physically or mentally, when we’re hurt, we hurt.
Pain goes away when a wound heals, not when we try to forget about it. The body doesn’t ignore a cut finger; it pays attention and sends energy to that place. Why should our minds do something different with emotional pain?
Don’t be afraid to embrace the negative. Doing so, if only in the privacy of your own heart, will free you to heal and move forward in one piece.
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