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The Power of Negative Thinking

shutterstock_141901189Sometimes a little Eeyore can save you a whole lotta heartache.  Here’s how you can turn that frown into a force for good.

Just a little personal anecdote: My daughter’s had some significant delays, particularly in speech (at age 2, she was already a year behind in terms of producing language.)  As a highly verbal person myself, this was a blow.  Sometimes I felt scared, sometimes I just plain felt down.

Recently, at age 2 1/2, she had an incredible language surge and I’m optimistic she’ll actually catch up to her peers fairly soon.  But it was after having intensive interventions.  If I had been engaging only in positive thinking, I might not have been as tenacious about getting her services; I might have just said, “It’ll all turn out okay, she’ll catch up.”

My point is, negativity–when properly channeled–spurs action.  Positivity alone can often lull us into complacency and inaction.

Now, how do you use your negativity to its best advantage?

1)  Acknowledge that your negativity has a basis in your present reality.  But realize that it is present, and not necessarily future.

As in, “Right now, things are not as I want them to be.”  It might even be, “At this moment, things really suck.”  Acknowledging that is the first step, rather than pretending otherwise.

Negativity can keep us out of denial, if used properly.

2)  Allow yourself a time-limited wallow.

It might be 15 minutes; it might be a day or two.  It depends on your circumstances, and your own internal processes.

The point is, you’re giving yourself permission; that keeps things within your control, instead of letting the negativity overrun your life.

It also respects your negative emotions themselves.  They’re happening for a reason, after all: Sometimes lousy stuff happens to us, and in order to move forward, we get to admit that.  Otherwise, we’re merely papering over what we know to be true.  Long-term, that’s not particularly healthy coping.

3)  Take stock of what you can do.

In the case I described above, I could research developmental delays and ensure that my daughter received proper services.  The sense that I was doing all I could, that I was not powerless, was very helpful for me.

Sometimes reading about people in similar circumstances lets you choose the right course of action.  Who’s got time to reinvent the wheel?  Plus, you might find some support that makes you feel authentically positive (as opposed to fake-positive.)  Sometimes what’s positive is the community you find around a negative experience.

But there are times where there’s nothing to be done.  You simply have to wait and hope.  To arrive at a place of acceptance, though, I believe you have to be real with yourself.  You have to embrace your negative emotions until they teach you what you need to learn.

There’s also something to the fact that if you accept that things might not turn out as you want, in the time frame you want, then you can be pleasantly surprised.  I had prepared myself for the idea that my daughter likely had apraxia (she was showing all the signs of a severe speech disorder  that requires many years of intensive therapy), so when it turned out that she was only delayed, I was over the moon.  For me, it’s better to anticipate a lot of work and then find out you don’t have to do it, rather than expecting things to be smooth and easy and having to reorient to the opposite.

But you have to see what works for you.  Starting from a place of honesty is a great way to gain self-knowledge.  Forcing yourself into positivity is not.

Frowning face image available from Shutterstock.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). The Power of Negative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 25 Jul 2014
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