Tuesday, March 26, 2013
4 Things Pop Psychology Gets Wrong | Psychology Today
"Positive thinking can be helpful, but when not balanced by a realistic assessment of a person's situation, it can also be harmful. I've seen the harm it's done to people who live with chronic pain or illness. When they're repeatedly told that if they'd just think positively, they'd get better, they then blame themselves when that fails to happen. I think of it as the tyranny of positive thinking. ... people write to me every day saying it's such a relief to have found a book that doesn't just tell them that if they "think positively," everything will magically be better." - Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers.
* * *
I agree wholeheartedly with Toni. (You knew I would.)
Thinking happy thoughts not only doesn't make me healthy, but it doesn't magically bring food from the kitchen to the bed, or any of the other things that need to be done to keep me healthy.
"Fake it till you make it" was harmful. I pushed myself to keep my house clean myself until I literally collapsed. Was it worth a year in bed to have a spotless house that no one saw because no one ever came to visit? No, I don't think so.
Much of pop psychology is aimed at those who are depressed and fearful of change, not at those who have valid reasons for not getting up and doing. A friend who was a Psych major is no longer speaking to me because I wasn't willing to admit that all my problems could be solved by a good psychiatrist. Because I know that no psychiatrist in the world has the power to banish a virus from my body. If I loll in bed till noon, it's because my body demands it, not because I don't want to get up and do things. If I don't do the dishes after dinner, it's not because I'm engaged in psychological warfare with someone who can't sleep if the kitchen isn't spotless; it's because I'm exhausted from cooking dinner and have to rest.
When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. My friend doesn't have the medical training to understand what's going on in my body, so he recommends treatment for depression, because that's what it looks like to him. He could watch me laugh, flirt, giggle ... and still convince himself that my problem is depression and the laughter is just "putting on a happy face" out in public, not that I'm a happy person who happens to have a physical illness that causes me to run out of gas sooner than the average person.
And a few days of consistent laughing with friends didn't do a damn thing except run down my body to the point that I needed three hour naps to get back to baseline. Because my problem isn't that I'm not happy enough -- my problem is that I push a sick body beyond its limits, and sometimes those limits are so tight that fixing 3 healthy meals a day is too much.