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Personal Growth Today: Positive Thinking and Gratitude

Not that many years ago humanistic psychotherapy was considered a 'new therapy', mostly because it challenged 'the expert approach' and gave people back a sense of responsibility for their well-being. Today, a new wave of psychological approaches headed by life coaching, positive thinking and motivational lambasting has emerged. Quick fixes may not always be integrated or stable, particularly in the inner world of human psychology.
Therapy, psychotherapy or even personal growth - in the seventies sense of the term - seem to have moved over for a new wave of psychological approaches headed by life coaching, positive thinking, motivational lambasting.

This makes me feel uneasy. You might say that since I am a psychotherapist, of course it does. But I am not an analyst, a behaviorist or particularly aligned to traditional schools of psychology and psychotherapy. Not that many years ago the discipline I was involved in - humanistic psychotherapy - was considered a 'new therapy', mostly because it challenged 'the expert approach' and gave clients back a sense of responsibility for their well-being.

Today with the modern tendency to write off the old in favor of the new, the waves of fashionable therapeutic approaches have turned fast and hard. People are more inclined toward newness. But newness may sometimes be a retrograde move. Quick fixes may not always be integrated or stable, particularly in the inner world of human psychology.

For example, positive thinking suffers from a basic flaw, which has been conveniently glossed over by its adherents. Positive thinking undoubtedly has positive results in a culture that is as negative as ours. I am wonderful, the world is good and so on are surely to be welcomed in place of I hate myself and they're all out to get me. But since thoughts do provide a conceptual framework for our experience of life, it is crucial that we know and understand what we are thinking before we begin to change it.

Merely floating positive thoughts in our consciousness often means denying or pushing away deeply held negativity. Masked by life enhancing positivity, negative patterns of thinking and experience suppurate and toxify in the depths of the unconscious. There can be no knowing how damaging the process of positive thinking may then be. It is like painting over a damp wall and being surprised when a little later the damp patches come through and the new paint job is seen for what it is - a waste of time, an insufficient solution.

The strain of positive thinking can be seen on the impossibly alive and optimistic adherents of its philosophy. It is a kind of psychological botox. Who can be that positive all the time? Or want to be? Without detracting from the health benefits - both inner and outer - of positive thought, let's not forget that we sometimes have what are called breakthroughs, insights, spiritual revelations even, after a bout of depression, struggling with inner conflicts or a dark night of the soul. Who would want to forgo these for a lifetime of Stepford wife behavior?

Solutions to deep-seated problems are never easy. The problems of the human condition, viz. depression, anger, frustration, anxiety and jealousy, call for a mature, intelligent response that is both realistic and undaunted by the depth of the task.

The process itself is the practice that heals, rather than a quick fix or cure. In facing ourselves honestly and squarely we learn to savor life in its abundance of challenges and rewards. Life is not just something to manipulate or get out of. Positive thinking is balanced and defined only in contrast to negative thinking; both together comprise a total process of mature evaluation.

The person who has learnt to evaluate clearly and objectively is one who can live with a sense of deep respect for all aspects of life, knows what he or she honors and cultivates reverence for all aspects of the human condition. From this reverence a lifetime of meaning and significance is born: a mature interrelationship with the world and to others is possible, one that transcends judgment, criticism and sometimes even personal preference.

From the acceptance of things as they are, rather than wishing or hoping that things should be some other way, we learn to grow and cultivate one of life's greatest treasures, which is gratitude.
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Published: 5/23/2011
Bouquets and Brickbats