Just think positive! (and why this is crappy advice)

I was getting ready to head to the office when I noticed a fiery knot tangling in my belly. 

Emails were flying around the night before, and I knew I was walking into a category 3 shitstorm.  

My mind raced with all the ways in which this day was guaranteed to go sideways:

Ethan would do that passive-aggressive thing that always gets Sela super riled up, and then I’d have to…

And on and on it went. 

I tried to explain some of this to my husband as we were saying our morning goodbyes, and as I heard myself stress rambling, something in me locked down like a steel trap, and I forced a grin:

“I’m just going to think positive!” [cheery thumbs up]

Years later, I’m still thinking about this scenario…

…because as it happens, it marked a turning point that I was totally unaware of in the moment. 

The turning point was one in which I shifted from:

I will only be okay if other people act a certain way (e.g. if Ethan doesn’t get passive-aggressive, Sela doesn’t fly off the handle, etc.)

To:

How can I respond from a place of internal wholeness, regardless of what other people do?

Previously, I’d find myself jacked up on anxiety, wondering what was going to happen if so-and-so did such-and-such. 

And this became mentally framed in stark terms: Are they a good person? Can they be trusted?

The Doom Loop

I felt wracked with doubt if they did anything that seemed challenging or “bad” (Can I really trust them??)

…and then I’d agonize over whether my perception was accurate or “all in my head.”

If they did anything to contradict my assessment (and they invariably did–humans are complex, after all), I’d be back to the hellish drawing board, trying to figure out whether or not they were good and mentally “building my case.”

No surprise, this drama played out internally as well, and I constantly evaluated whether I was a “good” person or not, all based on whether I had a perfect track record of so-called goodness.

If anything tarnished it, like, you know, my human fallibility, cue self-recrimination.

This is a loop I was lost in for years, and it felt impossible to step away because–my thinking went–if I wasn’t asking these questions, I could end up letting people treat me like crap. 

The saying, “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow,” rang in my ears, urging me to analyze relationship dynamics even harder to keep myself safe.

Of course, there’s truth to that saying, but how I was going about it was a wee bit problematic. 

The Replay of Powerlessness

My anxiety circled around the (often unconscious) belief that I would only be okay if I could anticipate and/or control other people’s behavior.

And life, being largely un-anticipatable and uncontrollable, kept getting in the way. 

This dynamic kept me stuck in a childhood pattern, one where I was powerless to control, or even really impact in many cases, the events around me. 

As an adult, by adopting a stance that required me to do the impossible–fully anticipate and control other people’s actions–I was guaranteed to feel the way I did as a kid: powerless.

Over and over and over again. 

In the childhood scenario, my power was taken away, and with it, any sense of responsibility. 

So it was miserable, but it was also comforting, in a weird way.

Whatever horrible things happened weren’t my fault because I wasn’t given any choice in the matter, thus I could remain safe in my innocent “goodness.”

As a kid, this made a sideways sort of sense. As an adult? Not so much. 

As an adult, I do have choices, I do have responsibility. 

And by focusing on other people, I was abdicating both. 

Making the Shift

It’s our responsibility to choose how we want to respond to the unpredictable circumstances of life.

When we short circuit this process by tossing a blanket of “Just think positive!” over everything, we give away our power, which can only lead to resentment. 

Instead of:

Can Ethan be trusted or will he do that stupid passive-aggressive thing again?

We can take back our power by asking:

If Ethan behaves passive-aggressively, what are some ways I can take care of my wellbeing in this situation?

And then, we need to do the work: to develop those possible responses, to work with our inner world so we feel capable of actually using those responses in the moment, etc. 

All of this juicy work is easy to overlook when we’re focused on what the other person is or isn’t doing

…but when we choose to retrain our focus self-ward, we gain wise insight and have access to our inner skills and gifts. 

Will we disconnect from our power from time to time? Yep, totally. We’re human.

But in every moment, we’re given a new opportunity to choose. 

This allows us to step out of the loop of codependency–what will other people do???

…and into our magical power. 

P.S.

Next month, my Jungian Spellcasting course, Enchant, opens for registration. 

If you want support and detailed guidance on how to do the inner work of uncovering your magical power and channelling it into radically effective spells, be sure to get on my mailing list.

You’ll be the first to know when doors open!