Reality Check: When Positive Thinking Meets External Control

Last post, I suggested that positive thinking can be helpful, but with a caveat—to be effective, it needs to be paired with positive action.
So, if positive thinking is good, then shouldn’t everybody get on board? You know, “Turn that frown upside-down,” etc.
It can be easy to mistake positive thinking for another behaviour, and that behaviour deserves some scrutiny.
For example, have you ever told someone that they must think positively (because you are sure you know what’s best for them)? That’s referred to as “external control” in choice theory, and it can put a chill over even a great relationship.
Annie has received bad medical news. While there is room for hope, no one can be certain of the outcome. Annie is understandably concerned, angry, and frightened.
Annie’s friend has suggested that Annie “must” think positively. The implied message is that if the disease progresses, it could be because Annie hasn’t truly believed; she hasn’t been positive enough. This is not a helpful message to give to your friend!
Attempting to coerce someone into thinking positively is as much external control as criticizing or blaming them. No matter the form of external control, the likely result is that the relationship will suffer. Is that the outcome that you want?
Offering encouragement to a person with a health issue is a loving human action. Letting them know that you are thinking of them, praying for them, and supporting them in whatever way they wish is helpful for the relationship.
However, demanding that a person put on a bright face on their situation is an attempt at external control. If someone gets bad news and if they don’t want to think positively about it, that is their choice.
Threatening, or even suggesting, that a bad outcome will result unless they buy into your belief in positive thinking strikes me as cruel, indeed!
I’m certainly not advocating negative thinking around health issues or anything else. Far from it. Thinking positively and optimistically, in concert with other actions, won’t hurt and may even help.
Besides, you can think as positively as you want about your friend’s outcome. Go ahead. Set an example; your hope and optimism about the situation may be helpful and inspirational for them.
Thinking positively yourself, however, is quite different from telling someone, “You have to think positively.” Even if you truly believe this, how well does it work when you tell other people what they have to do?
Using a positive approach in your own life is a wonderful way to lead by example. It can be satisfying to combine planning, preparation, and action with the positive belief that you are resilient enough to handle whatever comes your way.
It can be a wonderful gift to let your friend know that using this positive approach is satisfying and helpful in your own life.
However, telling them that they must do the same is likely to be one of those gifts that will never get used!
Have you ever seen positive thinking linked to external control?

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