The Power of Negative Thinking

Rather than overcompensating by trying to eradicate negative thoughts, hypnotherapist Sonia Samtani shares how allowing space for negativity can ultimately allow you to gain control of your moods.
25 May 2022
Words by: Sonia Samtani

Do you really think it’s possible to think positive all the time, and never have a single negative thought cross your mind? For many people, the term “positive thinking” refers to the notion that we should think about “good things”, and be happy all the time. You might think that’s a tall order – and whilst a tall order is something that is difficult to achieve, this is something that’s actually unfeasible and completely impossible to do!

We will all have thoughts that are negative and full of doubts, along with thoughts that are hopeful and positive. The good and the bad are all a part of life. So, rather than feeling that we’ve failed when we have a negative thought, which prolongs our pessimism, it might be time to change our approach and give space to our negative thoughts. The irony is, that when we make space for fears and doubts, they no longer have power over us and become no more than a transient experience.

Woman standing against a column on a vast wall with a stark diagonal shadow, Approaching Shadow by Fan Ho
Photograph by Fan Ho, “Approaching Shadow”
“Thoughts by themselves are not good or bad. They are impulses of energy that get processed by our perceptive filter of judgment, and receive a charge that we place on them.”

Duality and Relativity

When we use the word “positive”, we usually refer to something being good or someone being optimistic. We don’t realise that all these concepts only make sense to us because we understand their antonym. We only know what good is if we compare it to bad, and we only understand positive thinking if we contrast it with negative thinking. So if you think about it, by wanting to think positive, you are inevitably calling into existence the concept of negative thinking. You cannot have the notion of positive existing on its own – it only makes sense for something to be positive in relation to something else. This is the nature of duality in the existence we live in.

Thoughts by themselves are not good or bad. They are impulses of energy that get processed by our perceptive filter of judgment, and receive a charge that we place on them. The purpose of our filters of judgment are to label and categorise our thoughts so we can understand our experiences. From the time we enter this existence as babies, we perceive the world through a process of identification and association; where we identify things and associate them with our pleasant or unpleasant experiences. By the time we are eight years old, we already have a fully developed perceptive filter and know how to categorise our experiences as good or bad. This means that judgment is a natural part of our evolution and helps us recognise healthy from unhealthy, safe from unsafe, and positive from negative. Why then, do we think it is possible for us to eradicate negativity altogether? Instead, perhaps we can see the value of negativity as a way to keep us safe, and to help us to appreciate the positive.

Abstract aerial photo of a body of water, half frosty and frozen, and half murky speckled with frozen air bubbles
Photograph by Jonathan Shadow

How to Embrace the Role of Negativity

If we can accept that we will continually have both positive and negative thoughts, and positive and negative experiences, we will be taking the first step towards conscious living. To live consciously means to live with awareness and acceptance: to be aware of the different aspects of life, and able to accept the good along with the bad and ugly. Once we do this, we can be at peace with both the ups and the downs of life, embrace duality, and move into acceptance rather than positive and negative thinking.

When people go into anxiety or depression, they are layering depressive thoughts on top of each other, and elongating the negative experience. Here’s a very common journey for people who have excessive negative thinking: you start by thinking that the worst may happen, which makes you feel scared. You then begin to think of what you can do to prevent it from happening, which makes you look at more angles for “the worst”, which then makes you feel more nervous. When the nervousness gets heightened, you can’t focus on other things, you start to blame yourself for not being calm or in control. Then, you may feel guilty and reprimand yourself for losing balance, and force yourself to think about something better. However, you may not be able to think positively at that moment, because you are too immersed in the negative thoughts, only to then blame yourself for not snapping out of it. Finally, you feel so helpless about the whole thing that you become resigned and enter into depression, or become restless and want to run away from it all.

To prevent this, sometimes all we need to do is to be OK with the worst-case scenario, and know that you can handle whatever comes your way. When you are anxious, you are already thinking about the worst-case scenario, and it’s too late to tell yourself to stop or not to think that way, because you already are. Instead, consider this: it’s much more useful to acknowledge that you are fearing the worst, and allow yourself to finish your thought process rather than shut it down. I have done this exercise with many people and it has proven to be far more effective than trying to tell people not to think negatively.

Black and white illustration of horizon with a large amorphous shape hovering above a tiny man gazing from below, by Alex Plechko
Artwork by Alex Plechko, “The Boundaries of Nothingness”

An Exercise to Try

If you are thinking about something you don’t want, then continue down that track as if you are playing the movie to the point where the worst is over; where you have dealt with it and you have come to a moment of calm. This Is indirectly telling yourself that you have the tools to deal with the worst, even if it does happen. Moreover, your awareness is not frozen in the crux of the worst moment; you have moved to a moment of calm, and you don’t have to think “what if” anymore, because you have already answered that question.

Once you have played out the worst-case scenario to arrive at a moment of calm, you can bring your awareness back to the present moment, and visit a different reality, where the best could happen, too. When you have experienced both, you will be neither overly pessimistic nor overly idealistic – you will be aware of both realities, and know you have the tools to deal with what comes your way.

“My key message is that when you do happen to have a negative thought, allow it to exist. Allow yourself to complete the experience of that thought…All these are transient experiences and all we need to do is to allow ourselves to feel them in order for them to pass.”

Key takeaways

My key message is that when you do happen to have a negative thought, allow it to exist. Allow yourself to complete the experience of that thought. It’s OK and perfectly normal to have fearful thoughts, but realise that you don’t have to get stuck in them. It is normal to feel scared, sad and angry – as well as happy. All these are transient experiences and all we need to do is to allow ourselves to feel them in order for them to pass.

To sum up I would say:

  • It’s not possible to eradicate negative thinking; allow it and make peace with it.

  • Accept that positive and negative are both a natural part of life’s experience.

  • When you have a negative thought, continue playing it until you reach a moment of calm, then come back to the present and think of what you do want.

  • Be responsible for your thoughts and know that you have the power to continue down that track, pause the track, or change the track. Use your discernment to make a powerful choice.

  • You can move from telling yourself to be positive, to allowing yourself to face all realities with acceptance, and trusting in your ability to handle what comes your way.