The power of positive emotions and thinking
As a psychotherapist I work everyday with clients who struggle with issues from anxiety, to depression to low self-esteem. While I do not think we can heal these issues just by thinking differently, I do believe that the way we think about things affects how we experience the world, our emotional states, and our relationships. The therapeutic process requires an emotional understanding of ourselves on an experiential level which must be connected with an analytic understanding of ourselves in order for change to occur. As part of this process focusing on our thoughts and how they impact on our emotions is central to a healing process.
I first experienced this when working with eating disordered clients who live with an internal dialogue that is oppressively negative. For example, they might say to themselves, “I am so stupid” or “I am so fat” and while they are saying this they may begin to feel as if they have a heavy boulder sitting on top of them. If however, I suggest they try to change their internal dialogue and say “ I am enough” or “all is well” they often have a different experience of themselves, even if it is only temporary. To begin, their body posture changes and they sit up straight. They also report that they feel more positive and calm inside. If you try this as an experiment you will see how your thoughts can change your mood and even your physical experience of yourself.
This idea that our thoughts shape us has been explored and extensively written about by well-known author and health guru Louise Hay. She explores the relationships between our thoughts, our emotions and the impact they have on our health. In her book Heal Your Body, she makes direct correlations between illnesses, their probable causes and how we can affect them with positive affirmations. To some this may seem trite or even improbable but research continues to support the fact that the way we think impacts on our lives which ultimately impacts our quality of life and mental wellbeing.
In 2011, American researcher B. L. Frederickson’s published a study showing that positive and negative emotions impact on the physical, social, and creative dimensions of human development. She created a study whereby subjects would either experience a positive type of emotion or a negative one. Once these emotions had been aroused in the subjects she measured their ability to solve problems. The subjects who had positive emotions were more able to solve problems showing that the positive emotional experience opened up their thinking. The opposite occurred for those who had a negative emotion aroused because their ability to solve problems became limited since their mind had become more focused and narrow.
At the end of her study she offers several methods one can use to move through negative emotional states in order to access the power of positive emotions and thinking. She suggests that through meditation, writing and play, you can transform a negative emotional state into something positive in order to gain access to the power of your positive ways of thinking and being. This is good news for all of us since these are tools that are readily available. As I begin the New Year 2016, I will be looking for ways to help my clients access the power of their emotion and thoughts by using some of these tools: positive affirmations, meditation, writing and play, as part of their healing process.
As an artist, educator and therapist I have to honour of being with people when they are vulnerable and open. I love the process of "being with them" especially when they make a discovery. This happens in therapy, as they make art and even when we're just sitting around sharing the everyday details of our lives.