Balancing the Positive and the Negative: or Facing Reality

It seems like it is easy to get into a frame of mind where everything looks pretty bad: the economy is fragile, we have worries, our relationships are suboptimal at the moment and so on. Other times everything seems just fine: the weather is getting better, the economy seems to be sputtering toward stability, and after all, the people we love are more important than day to day ups and downs. A positive frame of mind makes things seem possible. It generates visions of a better future. It’s motivating and energizing. But it can also lead us to avoid problems and discount the seriousness of situations that need help. On the other hand, a problem-focused frame of mind can be discouraging, but it can also push us to address situations we have been avoiding, generate solutions, and work for change.

Avoiding the negative is no more healthy than avoiding the positive. It is probably more detrimental to take a polarized, all-or-nothing perspective than to become aware of the complexity and variation around us. The trick, it seems, is to be able to hold in mind a version of reality that is as close as we can get to what we believe to be true, including the many disparate pieces. It is more difficult to allow the complexity of the world than it is to see it in polarized terms like good guys and bad guys; truth and lies; us and them.

When we are focused on being right, we get into an extreme position, taking a stand, arguing our point. We are righteous and noble. And they are stupid and self-serving. The more we are trying to convince someone of our singular truth, the more we view each side of the perspective as distinct. But this can be a disadvantage. We need diversity of viewpoint, and we need the pluses and the minuses. What works best is the flexibility to be willing to look at different possibilities, different frames of mind, and different points of view, and to accept that, even when we prefer some over others, we can make space for diversity–both in our internal experience and in our external world and relationships.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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