Everywhere we look in our society today we are encouraged, even exhorted, to think positively, look on the bright side and to subscribe to the belief that whatever situation we find ourselves in, the force of mind over matter will support us to deal with it. Having the right attitude is all we will ever need to get us through life successfully – or so we are told...
Observing the outplay of these beliefs across a variety of situations in life brings the awareness that this approach may be deeply flawed - to our collective detriment.
A cursory glance into any gym, a place where a positive mental attitude is very much an applauded, even a necessary attribute, reveals a haven for a relationship with the physical body that is based on pushing way past the body’s own capabilities to the point of overriding all bodily messages, including pain i.e No pain, no gain! This usually results in a variety of repetitive strain injuries, wear and tear on joints and body tissue, manifesting throughout one’s life. The ability to push ourselves into drive and the resulting disregard comes from this allegedly positive mental attitude of accomplishing our goal of having a fit and healthy body.
It is ironic, is it not, that in the process of striving for a fit and healthy body, we inflict all manner of injury and illness upon ourselves for our efforts?
When it comes to our health and well-being, the vast field of medicine similarly offers a fertile ground for this mindset to flourish. The World Health Organisation states that 80% of all chronic diseases are attributable to preventable lifestyle choices.
In light of this fact, there is the obvious need to consider and understand the breadth of medical options available. However, of equal importance to these necessary practical steps in addressing the realities of what the body is dealing with, would it not also be wise to reflect on our own part in the aetiology of our condition?
This reflection process allows our relationship with the medical profession to be one of true collaboration in which we responsibly, contribute our understanding of our own part in the disease.
By contrast, our current relationship with the medical profession is generally one of handing over responsibility for the disease to the doctor, negating our part in it.
When we refuse to acknowledge our lifestyle choices as a causative factor in our disease, we are laying the ground to take a number of different routes. These routes include mental denial (that we are sick in the first place), or going into the mindset of ‘beating the disease’ with a positive mental attitude.
From personal observation in clinical practice, the honesty required to develop fully an understanding of one’s role in the aetiology of disease or sickness, is greatly hampered by a reliance on a positive mental attitude. What occurs with this mental attitude is actually a denial and a diminishing of what is going on inside one’s own body. Donning our rose coloured glasses camouflages the dysfunction and turmoil that is part and parcel of our state of ill health. This attitude is consistently applied to all ill health conditions from the common cold and flu, through to exhaustion and even to terminal illness.
In this sense, could it therefore be said that this camouflage allows us to continue in the same self-destructive lifestyle patterns that contribute to, or cause, our illnesses in the first place?
We live in a society of throw away lines like, “ At least I don’t have…..” “It could be worse …”. These lines reinforce an attitude whereby we see ourselves as better off than others who have a worse, or even terminal, condition in comparison to our own. This cements in the foundation that the majority of our bodily diseases and injuries do not warrant our full care and attention and that a positive mental attitude is all that is required to address them.
Such throw way lines also bring a denial of our own responsibility in the causation of our own illnesses through the mechanism of this dishonesty. This dishonesty precludes us from looking at the very lifestyle choices that brought us to this state of ill health.Moreover, we collectively endorse this dishonesty as a society and are actively pressured to push through, and past, the body’s messages of distress. Oftentimes, we even ridicule those who are honouring these messages with put down terms like Toughen up, buttercup!
Viewed in this way, our positive mental attitude may not be quite so positive as we continually bank on. In a very real sense this attitude actually keeps us in a holding pattern, not allowing us to address with honesty what is in front of us and make the lifestyle changes needed to fully address what ails us.
What we are calling positivity is a way that allows us to have our props, our addictions, our acquired tastes and to chase our desired goals, all the while overriding a significant aspect of ourselves, our physical body and its supportive communications.
Moreover this attitude is so deeply embedded within our psyche that it is now introduced to children as young as 5 years of age via our education system.
Through the recently emerging discipline of Positive Psychology, the value of a positive mental attitude are circulating in our schools through initiatives like Growth Mindset and its associated GRIT attributes. The GRIT acronym (Guts, Resilience, Intensity and Tenacity) has a variety of applications but at its core is about toughening up, hardening, drive, ambition, boldness and fierceness. In short, it is about pushing through at any price, regardless of what the body is saying or, indeed, irrespective of the child’s innate disposition.
We need to consider the possibility that positive and negative self talk are from one and the same source. Positive self talk – building yourself up – is talking yourself into something that you are not actually feeling. Such positive self talk actually confirms and cements the underlying negative state because it brings the illusion that you’re exiting the negative state. This is false: we are merely overlaying it with ostensibly ‘positive’ and transitory thoughts. Hence, the need to keep feeding it with ongoing positivityin order to sustain the overriding of the truth being felt by the body.
This leaves us to ask and to consider - what is a true state that will support us through life, as opposed to a merely positive state?
Our true state is already known to us as it resides within our physical body.
If this is indeed the case, then all we need to do is to re connect with, and listen to, our physical body – to develop a whole body awareness. With this whole body awareness there is an equality within the entire body, a democracy of all its parts, if you will, and no longer dominance by the mind to the exclusion of our whole body messages. In this equality, the mental drive to push through is mitigated and balanced by the body’s messages about what truly supports it as a whole. This results in a natural development of true self care based on the solid foundation of the body’s own intelligence.
When there is no discordance between the mind and the body in this way, there is no need to override the body with mental constructs like ‘positivity.’ Rather a sense of harmony pervades; thoughts do not need to be ‘positive’ because there is a sense of ease in the body – a contentment and a deep settlement within. This connection offers a natural state of being – our true health from within.
Written by Coleen Hensey & Jenny Ellis
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