Is negative thinking something we should be ashamed of?
All over social media, the internet, and within countless books we hear of ways to “stop,” “banish,” “eliminate,” and “eradicate” negative thoughts.
We even see more noble and spiritual posts out there aimed at helping us to “overcome” and even “transform” negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
While all of these blog posts, advice columns, and step-by-step guides may be written with good intentions in mind, what they are really doing is deepening our suffering and causing us to fight against ourselves under the guise of “self-improvement.”
The reality is that trying to get rid of your negative thoughts is a reactive and mentally confused approach towards increasing your happiness, calmness, and well-being. Those that advise you to replace your negative thoughts with positive thoughts aren’t actually helping you in the long term. In fact, if anything, the positive thinking approach does more harm than good. In this post, I’ll explain why.
Why Positive Thinking Isn’t the Answer
Undoubtedly, positive thinking makes us feel good – temporarily. We can even train ourselves to adopt a more positive mindset, which helps us to see life, ourselves, and others through a more optimistic lens.
But while trying to transform our negative thinking patterns into more positive patterns feels good, and may temporarily make us feel better about ourselves, it isn’t the answer. In fact, if anything, positive thinking is actually a form of spiritual bypassing because it is used by people to avoid their deeper issues such as persistent unhappiness, deep-rooted anger, and emptiness.
There is a reason why positive thinking makes us feel nauseous and overly optimistic people annoy us to no end – and that is that, deep down, positive thinking feels fake and disingenuous to us. Metaphysically speaking, positive thinking is still playing by the black and white rules of duality which is a way of seeing the world in a fractured and unrealistic state. In other words, when we think negative thoughts, our knee-jerk reaction is to believe that the opposite end of the spectrum – positive thinking – is the answer.
The problem here is that we are still puppets of the mind – we can’t see that there is actually a third way that transcends thought altogether, a way that doesn’t involve identifying with thought at all.
Positive thinking also involves a tremendous amount of judgment. When we want to “think positively” we are essentially condemning the rest of our negative thoughts and trying to be a way which we think is “better.” Once we have condemned our negative thoughts as bad or undesirable, we are actually creating more negativity, but this time painting it with the pretty face of “positive thinking.”
If you have tried positive thinking before, you would have also realized (if you were self-aware) that positive thinking always comes with a sense of subtle underlying anxiety. Because you believe that thinking positive thoughts will make you happy, you are scared deep down that you’ll lose your ability to see the world optimistically – and therefore lose your happiness. This undercurrent of fear and anxiety leads to demonizing negative thoughts, and any form of negativity, in passive and phobic ways.
Have you ever seen “positive-vibes-only” types of people passive-aggressively react to any source of negativity? These anger-phobic types of people seem vibrant and happy on the surface, but the perceptive person will always be able to see an undercurrent of fear. This fear comes from resisting life and anything that is perceived as being “bad,” toxic or negative.
While it’s understandable that anyone would want to keep negativity out of their lives, positive-vibes-only people seem to be particularly phobic and resistant to the darkness. Ironically, this fear of negativity and underlying obsession with staying positive actually generates massive amounts of suppressed emotion leading to an unstable psyche and personality.
The truth is that positive thinking always involves some level of resistance to the negative – that is simply how the game is played. Unfortunately, it is very hard for many people to realize this as they’re so invested in positive thinking as the miraculous panacea to all their problems. However, if you honestly examine positive thinking with an unbiased mind, you can see that it creates more harm than good.
3 Reasons Why You Need to Stop Fighting Your Negative Thoughts
The thoughts change, but not you. Let go of the passing thoughts and hold on to the unchanging Self.
– Sri Ramana Maharshi
Here are the three major reasons why you need to stop fighting your negative thoughts:
1. You cannot control your thoughts
Do you really control your thoughts? Yes, you can give yourself the impression that you are “controlling” them through positive thinking. But actually, you’re not controlling your negative thoughts – you’re just superimposing positive thoughts on top of them. Yes, you can train your brain to have more positive thoughts through repetition and habit, but at the end of the day, you cannot truly remove your negative thoughts. No matter how hard you try, you will always have negative thoughts.
Why is this the case?
The truth, realized by countless sages through the ages, is that we cannot control our thoughts at all. Our thoughts simply arise and fall, like waves in the ocean. One moment we have one thought, the next, we have another.
Can you honestly say that you know what the next thought in your brain will be? Or the next, or the next? If you could truly control your thoughts, don’t you think you would choose to think 100% feel-good thoughts all the time?
Sit in silence, bring awareness to your thoughts, and find out the truth for yourself.
2. You are not your thoughts
We tend to assume, automatically, that we ARE our thoughts, without truly inquiring into the origin and nature of our thoughts. This is why we become so obsessed with “thinking positively” – because we believe that WE are the ones creating our negative thoughts. Not only that, but we believe that we are our thoughts. In other words, we automatically identify with our thoughts and believe whatever any thought says is true. Identifying with our thoughts is actually the root cause of our suffering.
How can you create your thoughts if you don’t even know what the next thought in your brain will be? How can you be something that is so transitory and passing?
The truth is that you are not your thoughts. If you cannot control your thoughts because they spontaneously arise in your brain, then there is no need to fight them because they mean nothing about you! Your thoughts only mean something when you assign them meaning.
3. Fighting your thoughts increases your suffering
Trying to control, get rid of, or eliminate your negative thoughts actually feeds into the illusion that “you are your thoughts” which creates more suffering. When you believe what your thoughts say, you feel emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, insecurity, self-hatred, paranoia, and countless other emotions.
Even subtle and disguised forms of fighting such as practicing positive thinking feed into the illusion that “you are your thoughts” and your thoughts mean something about you. Instead of trying to think more positively, why not simply see that a thought is a thought, and it means nothing about you unless you believe it? Learning to stop fighting and suppressing negative thoughts, and instead, learning how to witness and disidentify with them, is much better in the long term. There are great teachers out there such as Noah Elkrief and Byron Katie who specialize in helping you to see thoughts as simply thoughts.
Instead of Fighting Your Thoughts, Learn to Observe Them
As we’ve just seen, negative thinking isn’t the problem: the real problem is identifying with your thoughts.
Solutions such as practicing positive thinking actually create more harm than good because they fuel the illusion that you “are” your thoughts, your thoughts mean something about you, and therefore cause you to suppress and condemn whatever isn’t deemed positive.
For thousands of years, sages and awakened people have known that the solution to our suffering is learning how to witness and detach ourselves from our thoughts.
In fact, the premise of many powerful spiritual practices such as meditation and self-inquiry is to help us see thoughts for what they truly are: temporary fluctuations of energy. We don’t need to believe these thoughts, instead, we can simply learn to witness them without identifying with them.
Here is how to practice witnesser consciousness:
- Give your thoughts names. During meditation or even during any moment of the day, notice the types of thoughts you’re having and give them a name. For example, you might say “sad thoughts,” “angry thoughts,” “busy thoughts,” “depressive spiral thoughts,” “judgmental thoughts.” By giving your thoughts names, you will be able to create more inner space and distance so you don’t identify with them so easily.
- Practice meditation. This point is pretty obvious, but nevertheless still important. If you have struggled with meditation before, experiment with a few different approaches. For example, I like to start my meditation practice with a mindful body scan and finish it by observing my thoughts arise and fall. If meditation is a big “eh” for you, try to do a bit of research and experiment some more with different techniques.
- Slow down and prioritize. Moving quickly causing us to get lost in our thoughts very easily. Find ways of slowing down during your day.
- Use your emotions as triggers. Whenever you’re feeling anxious, sad, angry or depressed, notice what thoughts are behind your emotions. Then, question your thoughts by asking “Do I know that is 100% true?”
By truly understanding that you only suffer when you identify with and BELIEVE your thoughts, you have the freedom to find profound inner peace and contentment – no matter how positive or negative your thoughts are.
I hope this article has helped you to understand why you need to stop fighting your negative thoughts, and what to do instead. Please share any of your thoughts or feelings below about this topic.
I have been going through a horrible time. My Twin Flame and I have separated. There is much info on this, some say that at some point we will reunite, others that this is the course most TF’s take. Feeling negative is an understatement. And I have been trying to over come this, as the pain of losing him feels like it is killing me.
I love the Lord with all my heart soul and mind. I meditate on the Name of Yeshua day and night. I write “Christian Poetry” The Problem, I am a homosexual so to say, I fear telling this for I have been slandered by the Church and told I am going straight to hell. Three therapists tell me it is okay since it is obvious I love the Lord and write inspired poetry. Would you agree with the church or the three therapists who say I am an incredible man for writing inspired poetry and songs. Which group, out of curiosity do you favor? this has heaped a heavy burden on my shoulders and I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders for being homosexual and watching gay porn. Would appreciate your answer. Afraid of others finding out.
Brilliantly said! I agree totally. Been saying this my whole life. And the reason why the obsession with the law of attraction and the resulting disappointment for most is rampant- spiritually bypassing, judgeing ourselves as imperfect when we don’t control our thoughts and not accepting what is. Really well said. Love your work! I’m an aussie too and appreciate your commitment to truth despite that it may at times be unfashionable to the New (C)Age and Its often very unhelpful beliefs. Thank you <3
Just starting to realize this over the last few years. There is an amazing book called “Emotional Clearing” by John Rusk that really, really helped me understand this better and work through this. I started working with ‘negative thoughts’ in meditation, and after 30 years of repression have finally felt like I’ve been able to process them. It is ok to feel down. Our thoughts and energy are like the moon… waxing, waning, constantly changing. I have really learned to explore this thoughts deeper without (as much) judgement on myself. Absolutely love all of your articles, thank you for sharing your wisdom <3
To own now is a gift that is found in the present, whether that now is positive or negative it is what it is, to own it gives the holder the opportunity to keep hold of it or let it go,
Letting go of trauma based thoughts, or Tauma based thoughts (as I like to view mine) is no easy task, all the positive affirmations are worthless if you cannot forgive yourself or others, and well like me if your thoughts are negative, because of the trauma You have caused on your journey, then articles like this, can be as detrimental as positive thinking, I mean who really wants to identify with negative thoughts about themselves or others?
OWNNOW and you ve WON is what reading this article reminds me of.
Granted Trauma Anger Fear Pain are all present in The now, and really only needs to be identified with in the present, if you are the cause of them, if your not!! Open your Present and OWNNOW&UWON..
Thankyou loner wolf.com I do love your work.
One thing that sticks with me is a saying I heard many years ago, “what you think now, you future will be.” So how does that work? Don’t thoughts create your life sort of?
I am told I am negative by friends, family (when they we’re alive), well, I have lost friends because I don’t see the world the way they do, with blinkers on. I see and know evil. I even work with some unfortunately. (that a whole other story) I did like this article and will use the technics to work on my negative thoughts. It is a relief to know our thoughts negative or positive are not who we are.
I have been reading your articles for a couple of years now and have shared your site with others. I am an indigo old soul. You have helped me so much. Thank-you both.
This article is gold. Aletheia, both you and Mateo have a beautiful way of crystallizing difficult concepts in your writing and I so appreciate it. Keep up the good work, please!
When talking to my children and even to others on the subject of having thoughts my advice or my opinion, however you want to look at it, is that we all have them and that we should be able to recognize them for what they are. They are just thoughts, we have a right to think them, feel the feelings attached to them, to look at the thoughts and emotions behind those thoughts but to not let those thoughts control us. If we let our thoughts overrule us, to control us like we try to control them then we remain in a negative state of mind even when we’re trying to remain positive. To examine our thoughts is what we need more of. This is a much better way of life than trying to suppress negative thoughts.
Thank you for this article Aletheia. I’ve been waking up since 2015 and am just getting to the point of understanding how to be a silent witness. I’m involved in a 12 week Divine Keys mentoring group. This week we are learning about Divine expression and how it’s important to express all your emotions and get them out of your system (in a way that causes no harm). I’ve been suppressing my anger and sorrow since 9-11. I’m finding that screaming and punching into a pillow to express instead of repress, feels so much better. Maybe if I can learn to not associate with my thoughts in the first place, the anger wouldn’t build up and the poor pillow could have a break!! Thank you for sharing your wisdom :)
I am a psychotherapist, and I read your blog faithfully – and sometimes recommend you to my clients. Today’s topic made me nervous until the very last bit, where you suggest questioning those negative thoughts. This is the number one most helpful and healing practice a negative-thinking person can learn. I always tell them it is very rare for that negative thought to be totally true, but on the off chance that it IS true, then that’s important information to have. It give you the option to start doing something differently in order to make it not be true, or to accept it as your preference. Either way, it’s empowering, not victimizing.
Thanks for a great job!