Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Power of Negative Thinking

Amidst all the holiday cheer, we all know that this is also a time where many people suffer depression as well. There are also many who may not categorize themselves as "depressed," but put themselves in the "bah humbug" category about the holidays. Maybe because they don't have a lot of money (particularly this year), maybe because their children won't be home for Christmas, maybe it's a harrowing holiday-related past event or maybe it's a sense of isolation that feels like a bubble setting one apart from all the warmth around you. When someone tries to express this feeling, it's usually met with some variation "try to concentrate on all the positive in your life." Now, if you're the person expressing these feelings, you may experience some guilt for not appreciating what you have. Doesn't really inspire happiness. Sound like I'm speaking from experience? Absolutely!

Last holiday season was really difficult for me. I was very frustrated, as I reflected on the past few years, and felt like I wasn't nearly where I wanted to be at this point in my life. There was also some stuff going on that's not important now, but didn't help at the time. Every holiday event was, to me, ripe with opportunities for tears and frustration. Even my kids' excitement was like a knife in my heart, mainly because I felt guilty for not feeling the same way and feeling like I was failing them by not embracing the spirit.

I got through it, which I realize is more than some people do, but not without its scars. As I entered the new year, I began to look at things a new way. I began to dread get-togethers and parties as much as possible. I was definitely looking at the glass not just half-empty, but completely empty. I made the decision beforehand that it was going to be miserable, and just to embrace it.

And you know what? Crazy as it sounds, it helped.

Instead of feeling guilty that I didn't appreciate things, I began to actually appreciate every time I didn't feel depressed, every smile, every cause for laughter, every moment of kindness that someone gave me. I genuinely appreciated it, not just felt like I should.

Oh, there were still (and most likely always will be) things said or not said that can hurt. But certainly, it can hurt a lot less if you're expecting it. I still live under the assumption that there's not a lot of people I can let in too close, but I do know that there are some people that will always be there for me, and when I stop and think about it, there are more than I thought I'd have, and I deeply value each and every one of them.

My dad always told me, "hope for the best, but expect the worst." For years, I concentrated on that hoping for the best part. But expecting the worst is really the key.

I've passed this on to a few friends that are anxious about certain events in their lives, and try to talk themselves out of it with "it'll be fine." When I advise them to think that it won't be fine, that it'll be horrible, they nearly always come back and say, "that wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it'd be!" And I smile, because I know what they mean.

I also warn against thinking things can only get better. They usually get worse first. It's better, I believe, to be pleasantly surprised than horrified. So long as you keep going, everything passes.

I look back now at last holiday season and wish I had thought of this sooner. I'm trying not to think too much about the events coming up, lest I experience optimism about them. I'm just putting them on the calendar, and so long as I show up, I'm doing my part. If they're horrible? Yeah, whatever. If they're okay? Then that'll be better than I expected.

Negative thinking, in my opinion, has gotten a bad rap.

Originally posted on LA Moms, Dec. 9, 2008

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