IF THE SHOE PINCHES, YOU MAY WANT TO KEEP WALKING – Marilyn Armstrong

I just read another post on the power of positive thinking. I was glad to hear one more time how I can conquer pain and make my problems go away by believing they will. Are blessings reserved only for those with a positive attitude? If you don’t smile, will the Powers-That-Be fail to love you?

I don’t think there’s a malevolent deity or evil destiny stalking me or anyone else. Life just is. It’s not omens and portents: it’s stuff that happens.

Positive thinking is not bad.  It’s just that positive thinkers have a way of forgetting how suffering people don’t necessarily want a pep talk. They want to be in less, preferably no, pain. They want love, comfort, and sympathy.

My suggestion? Listen. Find out what they want and do your best to give it to them. Your positivity may cure your problems and you are welcome to use it to make yourself feel better. Just don’t impose it on me or anyone else. Don’t force anyone to smile when they want to cry just so you can feel okay.

I’ve got a few problems that are hard to manage. I have bad days. I want to avoid dragging others down, but I have given up trying to make everyone else feel better by internalizing everything.

It’s unfair to tell people to relax, be happy, smile and that will make everything fine.

It’s not true.

Internalizing pain and sadness increase stress. In the long-term, swallowing your pains makes them worse. Don’t stop hoping or searching for help, but don’t assume that whatever you just read in a book or magazine article is sure to work for you. I personally think “positive thinking” is wildly overrated. No single solution, attitude, or way of thinking will fit most people, much less everyone.

It is said you cannot know anyone until you’ve walked in their moccasins and those moccasins can pinch something fierce.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

25 thoughts on “IF THE SHOE PINCHES, YOU MAY WANT TO KEEP WALKING – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. I think there can be a tendency to ‘blame the victim’ in some of the positive thinking folks which does harm, and is not actually doing the concept right. My belief is that positive thinking can genuinely improve things, to the extent that worry can be like experiencing the movie of your suffering more than once, which seems pointless, but as I have gotten older and things have gotten worse for me and others in many ways, compassion has entered more into it and the smugness of ‘just think positive’ has faded. My view is more than balance is healthy: to admit that yes, this leg hurts or I need money ASAP or holy crap have you tried aging lately?, and experience it, and then move on to the next thing is what the Buddhists call ‘liberation upon arising’. If it hurts again in a second, okay, but sometimes there can be beneficial things to distract someone from what exists–otherwise we go completely crazy and stay there. I found there is nothing like extreme irrevocable loss and suffering to make people have more compassion, gotta say, and nothing like lack of experience to make people tell others what will work for them–

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    1. I’m not against positive thinking, especially if it works — for YOU. It worked for me for quite a long time. Long enough to have a career, pain and all, though I’ve been disabled for at least 25 years. I didn’t let it stop me, mostly. But time marches on and what hurt in an almost manageable way 20 years ago hurts a lot more now. I can’t make the pain go away. Short of stronger and stronger narcotics, which I can’t and won’t do, there’s a lot of distraction (almost as good as positive thinking), keeping busy (definitely BETTER than positive thinking), finding things to laugh at … and taking pictures of birds.

      I have officially tried everything that my body can accept and have realized that what is, just is. I guess my version of positive thinking is learning to live with it as best as I can.

      The good news? There are a lot of people who ask “How are you?” and don’t care at all. It’s like another version of “hello” to them. They don’t want an answer. Plaster a big smile on your face and say “JUST FINE!” They will be happy and you will be no worse off.

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  2. Sometimes I think people waft that “power of positive thinking’ stuff around because the stench can be mighty and might kill them if they kept it to themselves. I’ve seen some odd things in regard to that power thing myself, but I hope to God I didn’t go about being smarmy and trying to shove it down everyone else’s pie hole. Might have been though, humans are not terribly self aware, despite our alleged superior brains.

    Playing devil’s advocate a bit: why don’t those who think the power of positive thinking is so much bullshit, just walk away from the squawker, turn off the TV, ignore the post that’s blatting about it? I’m thinking it’s the responsibility of both sides to try taking care of themselves in the way that suits them best.

    We worry far too much about what other people think or do, don’t we? Interesting thoughts on this Marilyn, thanks for sharing them! 🙂

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  3. I do. I walk away and I don’t come back. Yes, you can fix things by thought when whatever it is can be fixed that way. Some things CAN’T be fixed that way. If you had cancer, would you give positive thinking a try? No? I wonder why not.

    I believe in trying to remain in a positive frame of mind because it’s healthier than brooding on your problems, but I don’t think feeling good about myself will fix my broken sternum or cure my arthritis. And no, I will NOT spend time with such people. I will put up with them long enough to be polite, and then I leave and make sure I don’t bump into them again. Preferably EVER.

    Actually, this is why I refuse to go to church.

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  4. After a day with three conversations (phone) all concerning very seriously ill patients in a lot of pain, I consider myself very, very lucky… I too have my quite bad days but again, luckily, I’ve never been suffering to such an extent that I would have had your (and your readers) thoughts. When I ask How are you? I mean it and I’m offering to listen. I only give advice when asked for, never dishing it out when clearly not wanted or needed. I try to have an open heart and ear and genuinly had the impression up to this very moment that my ‘just listening to’ was a good thing for the ‘other’ person. Now I’m not so sure any more. What DO you want us, the outsider but compassionate and empathic ‘bystander’ to do? Ignore you? Have I misunderstood you?
    I have listened to my sister telling me for 35′ of her ‘development’ and I had to smile when, nearing the end of the call, she said: But now I have to leave you because I need to do some cleaning so that the flat is clean for my visitors for supper…. She’s near dead and needs to clean the flat for her visitors???? If I were in her place I couldn’t care less what my place looks like, I’d ask them to bring food and flowers, feed the cats (she has 4) and amuse me….. Another friend is being operated on Friday to come – she has a super attitude: I treat my body as my friend and I’m not going to rant about the cancer eating me up – but I sure as heck don’t like it to treat me that way! 😉 Very tongue in cheek. So what did we do? We laughed quite a lot, I told her funny moments of my life and we bonded anew over shared experiences we made a long time ago. I shall visit her next week when I’m in Switzerland. The 3rd call was just ‘listen and give moral support’ – this person will also have a surgical intervention and ‘we’ will just see how it goes.

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    1. Listening is fine. It’s the bad advice I would gladly skip. Mind you, some people do HAVE relevant advice — the right doctor to see, a medication that works better, a diet that might help. But “smile and everything will be fine” is just annoying.

      And laughter is absolutely the best choice of all.

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  5. Pain? What’s that? Surely, if I refuse to give it a name, it won’t exist anymore. I think I’ll also refuse to acknowledge aging, with its memory loss, stiffness, and weight gain, and financial hardship. Nothing but sunny days ahead!

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    1. I actually tried that and when I was young and there was only one pain — the back — it almost worked at least MOST of the time. It’s when I got older and suddenly there were a lot of other issues and my back was just the first of many that the magic failed. It’s never bad to try and keep busy enough to ignore it for long periods. It doesn’t go away, but sometimes, when you are deep in a book or a video game or something else, you feel okay because your brain is working elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s when you are trying to relax that it comes back and bites you.

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    1. My theory is simple: If you aren’t actually interested, don’t ask. Find something else to say, like “Good to see you,” or “How about this crazy weather, eh?” But “How are you?” is actually a question — except almost no one wants the answer. I’m sure half of them didn’t even realize it IS a question. It’s just something to say.

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