Most of us grew up hearing many messages from our families, school teachers or other kids that suggested we had a lot we should feel bad about; we heard about everything we did wrong and very little about what we did right. Our school work was covered with marks that pointed out everything we did wrong; our mistakes at home got the most attention; and the nearly all the most dramatic feelings we heard were about our failures. It’s not surprising then that after all the repetitions of the negative we often end up feeling we’re not very worthy of positive feedback.

Negativity narrows us. We tend to have a narrower range of emotions, less creativity, fewer social connections, have a harder time with self-insight and more. The effects of negativity go even further though, we tend to be more affected by illness, have less resilience and be more prone to responding to others negatively.

Many of my clients find that it is as hard as anything they’ve done to try to find the good in themselves. I ask them to appreciate themselves and they freeze. I ask them point out the positive changes, or where they’ve succeeded and I get blank stares and a, “This stuff is hard!”

After we’ve worked together for awhile my questions will begin to bring a pause and sometimes a big laugh – they have caught themselves in a negative, dead-end thought process. Recently, one of my clients explained just how hard it was for him to notice the positive. He said with a wry grin, “What you’re asking is just about as hard as giving myself a frontal lobotomy.” Awareness and humor are a transition point for many of my clients.

They start noticing and sharing a few things they are proud they did, or an aspect of their personality they like. They discover that when they look at themselves carefully there are many more positive things to report on than negative. The day they interrupt me to be sure I noticed a positive piece of growth or success in an area we’ve focused on, that’s the day they realize this positive stuff isn’t as bad as it seems; in fact, eventually, it’s no harder than eating an ice-cream cone on a hot day.

Therapy is about working to bring more joy and meaning into your life. If you’re ready for a transition or even assume you can’t change, give me a call and let’s find a way to discover the positives.

Szifra Birke

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