How being negative can be a postive thing
Aim to be unhappy Freud’s aim with treatment was “to change misery into common unhappiness”. The suggestion is that it is normal to feel some unhappiness and that it is unrealistic to expect life to be problem free. While positive thinking is a popular notion, recently people have been challenging this. The idea is by being prepared for things going wrong you fore-warned and not disappointed but instead are realistic that life is full of problems.
Some would argue that it is our expectations, rather than fortunate or unfortunate life events that make us miserable. For example, if your expectation is that other drivers are going to be inconsiderate and bad drivers you won’t end up stressed and frustrated by the driving you come across. Whereas the expectation that others SHOULD drive properly will leave you feeling angry and upset.
Being negative is a positive thing This is good news. It is easier to change our attitudes than to change other people! It’s a start to be aware of the “shoulds” you assume, and challenge them. This managing of your expectations to make them more realistic is different from a form of passive despondency that can develop from always thinking the worst of people e.g. “There is no point asking for something because they are bound to say no”. This is mind reading and is unhelpful, and often inaccurate. Instead the kind of negative thinking that is being advocated is one that helps you be realistic and problem solve. It’s the difference between allowing enough time for a journey and planning for possible delays, as opposed to the unrealistic expectation that it will be fine and getting frustrated when you run into problems. That kind of positive attitude can cause huge amounts of stress!
Let’s Move to France
So feeling stressed may be about your attitude and therefore changing the way you think and the meaning you give events can reduce stress. However it may be a sign that something external needs to change. “Life would be better if…. (I had a holiday/moved somewhere warmer/ left my partner)”. This might be a fantasy, as you do take yourself with you! Or it might be right to make a change to your situation.
It’s not always straightforward to know whether to change your situation if you are unhappy, or to change something within yourself and the way that you view your life, to reduce stress. In psychology “The Geographical Cure” refers to the fantasy that all your problems would be solved and you would be happier if you moved somewhere different, or if something was changed in your external world. It can be harder to look at you and what needs changing. At other times making a life change can be right.
How do we define good emotional health?
Freud said it was “the capacity to love and work”, and I think this captures the essence of it: to do work that feels useful and meaningful, and to have relationships that sustain us. Emotional health becomes an issue when problems begin to affect daily functioning or leave you feeling overwhelmed.
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