What if I told you we have all gas lighted our Self at least once in life…if not all the time?
I have another question - Have you ever practiced gratitude or tried to be positive when things were truly terrible in your life? Did changing a few thoughts sprinkled with optimism ultimately change your real life situation? I think I can answer this one for all of us, and I am a huge offender of this practice, too: No, we can not lie to our Self and say everything is alright when our life might very well be a raging dumpster fire.
Remember the pandemic lockdown? Millions of us were stuck in emotional, financial, or mental limbo for many months if not at least 1 year.. No matter how hard we tried to stay positive, we were truly getting nowhere with our repetitive positive thoughts inside our locked down disinfected home. We all struggled to find a way out of what seemed like an eternal waiting moment and I say this in solidarity not in weakness.
I’m not saying this to piss anyone off, I am saying this to be scientifically factual and to help a lot of people - you can not pray away problems.
You have to go towards problems, face them head on, and take care of them.
Thoughts and prayers are like a football coach, they rev you up and get you ready for the next thing you have to face in your life. They get you going, and what this really means, is that they get your nervous system activated which gets you going towards that thing.
We can not lie to our Self nor practice false gratitude in hopes of rewriting our real life story.
We CAN rewrite our neurology AKA neural circuits to better write our life story moving forward.
If life is not good, then we will not feel good.
Emotions are signals; you can mask the symptom but not the root problem. Faking your emotions won't make them go away.
Psychologist Carl Jung said it best, "What you resist not only persists but will grow in size."
When we tell our Self life is good, and it is actually not good, then we are dysregulating our nervous system and creating greater issues in our life. Potentially deep issues. When we lie to our self and live in that chosen lie, we can become mentally, emotionally, and/or physically ill. We look around and say WTF I don’t like this, but I can’t let everyone know how much I screwed up my life.
Shame ties us to our current life and can make it hard for forward motion even though the one thing we want the most when carrying shame is to get it off our back. Motivation can be an absent mother f*cker when we need her the most. We can create a deep and negative loop in our internal system, our nervous system, that prevents us from achieving the things we want and need for a better life. Our neural chemicals are wired in ways that could serve us better, if we get aligned with our needs. Sometimes, when we are far from our needs for too long this can lead to depression and exacerbate other areas of mental health. When I feel shame, and when I am not actually okay with what is going on in my life, my OCD becomes monumental and the super nagging negative thought patterns try to consume me. The rumination distracts me for hours during the day and keeps me awake for hours every night. I fidget more. I am always incredibly anxious. I am uneasy on the inside because so much on the outside is messed up and I can’t actually be okay and/or thankful for it.
For so many years I struggled with alopecia, which is a serious hair loss and balding autoimmune disorder associated with stress and behaviors typically deriving from anxiety and OCD. I thought I was going to be a baby bald woman for the rest of my life. My twenties were an immense struggle not only with my mental health, but with my physical health as well. I was deeply depressed and eventually chose to be in an extremely toxic and abusive relationship with a drug-dealing compulsive lying alcoholic. I stopped believing in my self and what life could offer. Obviously, this decision, whether conscious or not, only made my entire life worse. My emotional and mental state had never been lower. I remember even wishing I was back in one of the many chaotic living situations my mother dragged me through as a child; I found my self wishing for and creating preference for my childhood traumas over my chosen adult relationship traumas. That’s how f*ed up I let my life get and I just kept saying “everything is fine.”
I was miserable and constantly considering leaving earth, but told every person in my life I was okay. Everything was fine. My mind and body were outrageously uncomfortable and I chose to sit with it everyday rather than do something about it. And what I really mean about doing something about it, is that I chose to not do anything different everyday. Everyday I chose the same life, the same narrative, the same self beliefs, the same feelings. I drank, I smoked, I stayed up late partying; I tried to numb my self created pain for years rather than face my needs head on and start living a higher life
In this miserable lower level life I chose to play on repeat, I also chose to tell my Self that everything is okay.
Did everything sound okay?
So many times I can recall drowning in sorrow, hopelessness, and deep seated depression and telling my Self “everything is okay '' and doing the positivity and gratitude practices I see all over social media. On Instagram alone, over 135 million #goodvibes posts are telling us to stay positive. Stay positive for what? And, how do we stay positive when the fact of the matter is that a lot of what is going on just is not positive?
A positivity practice I would do when sad was step outside during the day. My face salty tear streaked and swollen from being upset, I would have the sun fall on my face and tell my Self “this life is beautiful, I am beautiful, tomorrow will be a better day.” I didn’t know then that we absolutely can not lie to our nervous system.
I now know that those practices do not work and can be deeply dangerous to our wellbeing.
False gratitude and toxic positivity are detrimental. They are not helpful practices especially if struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
I will say it before and I will shout it again - we can not lie to our Self.
Relationships, finances, friendships, your self beliefs and esteem, career, hobbies…..Think about this: if they are not actually within your Boundaries and Standards, then they likely do not meet your needs. Yes, that is how we know our needs are being met, by identifying and totally honoring both our boundaries as well as our standards. This is our lane. These are aligned with our life vision and self beliefs. It can be assumed things outside of your lane and outside of your aligned needs are not to be thankful for and should not be in your life long term. Get to know your boundaries and standards and never let them go.
If you want help defining your life vision, self belief, and boundaries feel free to get the 2 FREE lifestyle success courses on the website.
Remember, the more we let into our life that is outside of our needs (and likely just within our wants) then the more we allow distance to come in-between our needs and our Self. Desires and immediate wants are like roadblocks to your better long term life. Your choices can keep your lane clear or always under construction.
Remaining clear and true with our needs AKA boundaries and standards is almost like an organic and naturally occurring guarantee that we are going in the right direction in life.
Another massive indicator if we are on the right path and within our lane of needs, is if we feel fundamentally comfortable. I am not talking uber amazing or feeling great all the time, I am referring to our natural state of being content and if our nervous system is regulated. Anxiety, inability to sleep sufficiently, substance use and abuse, and spending hours in front of a non-work screen are indicators we are misaligned and dysregulated. Check in with your habits to see if they are aligned with your needs. If you’d like more clarity on habit, habit formation, and what the f* is controlling us please check out podcast 6 which is all about being in control, leveraging neural chemicals, and all things habits, behaviors, choices.
Now that we have established what our lane is and how to know if we are meeting our needs or not, let’s clear up the following terms: gratitude and positivity. More so, toxic positivity.
Having a positive mindset is a life tool we can choose to apply. Meaning, it is something we choose to do in life as part of our behaviors, which can become a habit or personality trait. We can tell our self to think a certain way and adopt that thought process. Mindset can make or break who we are and how we feel about life. Many people that lack ambition and motivation have adopted a fixed mindset. Chicken or egg on the following that I hypothesize: depression can amplify a fixed mindset and/or a fixed mindset can amplify depression. It’s crucial to our wellbeing that we control our mindset and maintain awareness. I will always urge each one of us to adopt an adaptive growth mindset.
Gratitude is a feeling and state of being. Gratitude can activate and cultivate neural circuitry that can further regulate our internal state. I am going to very briefly relay the science about gratitude, but just know that it is a seriously researched practice and state of being. It can activate us for great change.
Practicing gratitude just once a week can lead to a long-lasting impact on our well-being.
A regular gratitude practice can provide resilience to trauma. It can provide a reframing and resilience to prior traumatic experiences. It can buffer people against the negative physiological effects and psychological effects of earlier trauma. It can also inoculate people in many ways to any traumas that might arrive later in life. It is a life tool that can be applied to amplify our life. Powerful.
Gratitude can allow our nervous system to shift into a parasympathetic state. This allows our nervous system to rest. On a day-to-day basis, many of us are stuck in a sympathetic state or a state of stress, also known as "fight or flight." Therefore, we need to put our bodies into a more restful and relaxed state daily. A gratitude practice can be a catalyst into this parasympathetic state.
Gratitude can also activate the hypothalamus, a structure at the base of our brain. This activation can promote deeper sleep, improved metabolic function, and can unregulate the immune system by lowering cortisol and boosting an antibody blood protein called IgA. Having lower cortisol levels and sufficient sleep often leads to lower inflammation levels in the body, which is beneficial to both the body and the brain.
The neural chemical, the anti-inflammatory, and the neural circuit mechanisms that gratitude can invoke are equally on par with some of the effects of pharmacology and other things that we think of as more potent forms of self-intervention. So if we are of the mindset that a gratitude practice is spiritual and will not amount to anything, get your bearings people because the research data significantly points to the fact that a gratitude practice is a very potent approach to steering our mental, emotional, and physical health in positive directions and those effects are very long-lasting if not for an entire lifetime.
A lot of people agree that we need a gratitude practice, but we have to put work into it.
If we are practicing false gratitude, then we are receiving the opposite effects aforementioned.
Are you starting to see how false gratitude and toxic positivity can dysregulate our nervous system?
Our well being is determined by our thoughts and feelings that are established by our beliefs about the world. What we see, we believe. What we believe, we feel. What we feel, further strengthens our beliefs.
We can accomplish being in a more relaxed state by shifting the way the fear and defense networks in our brain actually function.
If we are in a negative head space or defensive, then gratitude can not be present. There is a see-saw internal process from our defensive side to our gratitude side. We can not be simultaneously anxious and grateful, for example.
Pro Social Behavior & Mindset
Gratitude is called a pro social behavior or pro-social mindset.
To be clear, we can be grateful for something without it involving somebody else; pro social does not always mean with other people.
Prosocial behaviors are any behavior or motive thinking that allow us to be more effective in interactions with other people including our Self. There are actually neural circuits in the brain that are specifically wired for prosocial thoughts and behaviors. These are very different areas of the brain than for defensive behaviors.
Pro social circuits light up in the brain and defensive behaviors are antagonized or reduced when prosocial circuits are active. So rather than shutting down or moving away from something because we are being defensive / in a defensive state of being, when we are practicing gratitude we are more open and of forward motion. Remember, we are in the relaxed parasympathetic state and not the fight/flight state of arousal.
Because defensive circuits are designed to keep us safe, psychologically and physically safe, they are more robust and are actually stronger to drive our behavior more easily. Biology made us alert creatures and so these mechanisms are strong inside of us.
This may be why a lot of us deal with, suffer with, and/or entirely live with anxiety. We are perpetually trying to safeguard our Self in maladaptive ways throughout defensive mechanisms and one of those ways is by being over alert and over analytical of our experiences. When we are hyper focused within the present moment, but with concern and awareness toward what is not good, then we are eliminating the capacity and space for gratitude to exist and come through. We can’t be okay or thankful when we are anxious or alert. Obviously, when gratitude cannot exist and come through then the things in which we are grateful for cannot exist and come through to our reality. Our reality is consumed by negative thought patterns, shame loops, rumination, and overly analytical ideas of people, places, and/or things.
The thing about our brain and evolution is that our mind and body have done an exceptional job at making sure that we survive every day. But now that we live in modern times, I neurologically philosophize that our mind and body, through evolution, has not caught up to the fact that now we need to thrive as cognitive creatures. No longer do we have to strive for survival in this technologically advanced world where everything that we want as well as need is literally a click away or around the block. Our nervous system is set up to be much more wired toward things that are not good and dangerous and looming and this includes darkness. Did you know? We have far more neurons to process darkness than we do for light. Why do you think this is? It's because there's a lot more danger that lurks in the dark and that can come toward us when it is dark around us. We have less need for the ability to process light because much more things are visible within light. I know this first hand, as someone that lives with CPTSD, I am terrified to close my eyes at night. It has taken me 2 decades to work through that fear and reduce my autonomic response to it as to sleep better.
Tying this all together within our modern world. Think about how much not good in the world is illuminated. Think about how much we highlight everyday on social media. We are interacting with all these things around us and assuming that they are safe and comfortable and good for us because they are illuminated and there is not any immediate biological danger attached to them. Unfortunately there's a lot of danger in the modern world. There is a lot of danger attached to most things we are subjected to everyday, we just don't consciously realize it. It is far more psychological within the mind.
What we do everyday has a direct impact on how we feel as well as what is going on in our day to day life. What we read and see and watch everyday directly impacts our internal well being. Not only that, but what we experience everyday directly determines the quality of our sleep, the quality of our skin, the quality of our health, and the quality of our relationships and so on.
Biological evolution apparently has not caught up to the fact that neurologically we need stronger mechanisms in place because now we are putting ourselves in danger through our modernized choices, especially with technology. We are in cognitive danger. Our mental health needs to be better protected, and there is a lot we can do to help our mind and body achieve better functioning.
What does this have to do with gratitude?
What does this have to do with toxic positivity?
This directly has to do with the fact that we might be unintentionally but deeply hurting our Self everyday by looking around and saying this is okay. This is all right. I have some money. I have some friends. There's nothing inherently terrible going on in my life. “Think about the starving children in Africa. Think about the child labor workers in China.” We minimize our feelings and our modernized problems. Not only that, but we tell ourselves everything is okay and fine, and therefore we are practicing false gratitude and implementing toxic positivity whether we mean to or not. The damage is done as soon as we bat our eyes and put on a fake smile.
Toxic positivity and false gratitude will absolutely dysregulate your nervous system and therefore you will experience mental, emotional or physical illness.
I made countless choices, especially throughout my twenties, that resulted in me living a lower level life. I was sick and vomiting all the time; nausea began to consume my life after 2 years of intensely going against my needs. This was when I realized I needed to close down my retail, end my abusive relationship, move out of Wisconsin, and discontinue drinking alcohol every evening to knock me out from my sh*tty reality.
It is deeply important that not only we become aware, but every day we appropriately utilize the power of gratitude as well as the immense implications that reside in every single choice and behavior we choose to do. When gratitude practices are performed repeatedly, one can actually shift their neural circuits such that the see-saw of prosocial behaviors and defensive behaviors can actually start to tilt. We can strengthen pro-social circuits as defensive circuits become more quiet. Pro social begins to dominate, and our physical and mental characteristics are enhanced by default. Over time, we don't have to constantly be in the practice of gratitude (trying to be happy). In other words, we can teach our Self to activate this parasympathetic mode of being as well as feel truly positive going towards our needs while living life each day.
To be clear, gratitude is a mindset tool and can be used to strengthen our nervous system regulation.
Real quick neuroscience: Neuromodulators are chemicals released in the brain and body that change the activity of other neural circuits. Make certain areas more likely to be active and other areas less likely.
The main modulator for gratitude is serotonin.
Real quick neuroscience again: One piece of neurology that sets context and meaning to our experience is our medial prefrontal cortex. This involves our planning, thinking, and evaluating experiences (past, present, future).
When we do anything, it can actually be healthy for us because we want to do it or because we know the health benefits from doing it. It is not healthy to do something when we do not want to AKA its certainly not healthy when we live a life that does not work for us.
Our medial prefrontal cortex controls other areas of the brain such as the hypothalamus and positively impacts the neurochemicals released into our system.
When we deliberately make a choice, such as jump in ice bath, we are deciding to put our self through discomfort and research shows it provides a positive impact on dopamine, anti-inflammatory markers, immune system, etc. Not the same if pushed in or insisted.
Motivation + desire = discomfort can create great change.
So, we can do things in life that are uncomfortable and still be totally aligned with our needs.
The path to a better life and better feelings is not always a clean and clear fast lane; usually there are many roadblocks and challenges along the way as we putt along.
When I set out to be a successful online and retail business owner at the age of 23, I had to feel a lot of immediate pain (from dopamine, usually) in order to get what I needed and reach my goals. I had to say No to a lot of immediate pleasures like going out clubbing or weekend gatherings. Parts of my body wanted to be instantly rewarded with fun, but many other parts of my higher level mind knew that I would be far more content and happy if I stuck to my long term needs. I had a life vision and I stuck to it. I was immensely happy, healthy, and satisfied during the first few years of running my business because even though I made a lot of pleasure-related sacrifices I was living an aligned life and therefore my nervous system was happy.
Amazing research information:
When a mouse is choosing to run on a wheel, they are happy.
When a mouse is running not by choice, they are uncomfortable and frustrated.
The neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex are complicated but they change how we feel about experiences based on if we chose to do it or were forced to do it. Same goes for if we are forcing our Self to live a certain life.
This part of our brain is somehow able to adjust the activity of other neural circuits. They take neural circuits that just do whatever they want, are reflexive, and place a context onto them. Gratitude is a mindset that activates the prefrontal cortex and in doing so, sets the context of our experience such that you can derive tremendous health benefits.
When we frame a choice to our needs it has a positive health effect.
We cannot be injured or in physical pain and tell our Self that it is good for us and it will not hurt.
We cannot lie to our Self. Not from emotional pain, physical pain, or cognitive pain.
When we lie to our Self that something is good when it is not good that is toxic positivity.
Toxic positivity is a very serious matter. It is damage we are doing to our Self. Deep damage that can potentially take years to undo. This podcast exists in hopes to halt low level decision making before it creates a negative impact in your life. Learn from my mistakes, I mean it.
The root cause of this serious matter: Toxic positivity involves dismissing negative emotions and responding to distress with false reassurances rather than empathy. It comes from feeling uncomfortable with negative emotions. It is often well-intentioned but can cause alienation and a feeling of disconnection.
Life is suffering. No amount of positive thinking exercises will change this truth.” The antidote to toxic positivity is “tragic optimism,” a phrase coined by the existential-humanistic psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
In the context of mental health, toxic positivity can pose a serious threat to emotional stability. Just like substance use turns into abuse when it begins to interfere with other parts of your life, positivity can become toxic when it is forcefully used to downplay, delegitimize or undervalue negative emotions.
Toxic positivity is a form of self gas lighting.
Brightsiding is a subcategory of gaslighting, which you probably know about by now. Often it is a toxically positive and a well-meaning attempt to offer comfort. This is a toxic and unhealthy phenomenon where someone insists that, no matter your situation, you look for some kind of positive.
While cultivating a positive mind-set is a powerful coping mechanism, toxic positivity stems from the idea that the best or only way to cope with a bad situation is to put a positive spin on it and not dwell on the negative. Life is an array of every type of feeling and experience - how dangerous it is for us to shut down vast parts of who we are and how we function. We have become ashamed of negative emotions and what we call our shadow side. Alas, without darkness there can not be light. We need all the parts of our Self.
Research by Brené Brown shows that the energy source of shame is silence, secrecy, and judgment. When we bottle our emotions, shame is usually in the driver's seat. The worst part? We usually don't realize we are experiencing it. Shame debilitates the human spirit – it's one of the most uncomfortable feelings you can feel. I have let shame shut me down for year of my life and close me off to the people that matter the most.
Okay, so how do we overcome and transcend toxic positivity and a false gratitude mindset?
One way to overcome toxic positivity is by learning to regulate emotions. We have to get real with our Self, and accept our feelings as they are. If we do not like our feelings, it is very likely we do not like the thing associated with the feelings. This is where you determine if that not-good-feeling-thing is within your lane. Toxic positivity can not reside within your lane, which are boundaries and standards.
Obviously, another way to overcome toxic positivity is to establish your boundaries and standards in life.
Alright, what are some sh*tty gratitude practice that do not work?
Writing, reciting, or thinking about what you are grateful for and then feeling it deeply.
As we now know this is a thought process that only works if life is good.
This is in actuality the beginning roadblocks to manifestation, which you can dive deep into that life changing science in the previous podcast or blog post.
Can activate you to do different things and create different outcomes, but will not change how you feel about the present because what is on paper is not also in reality.
Cold Bath or Chanting
Increases autonomic arousal and is a great momentary tool for switching internal gears.
Can deeply activate our self belief, which can motivate us toward goals.
Expressing thanks is not effective to shift pro-social circuits for anatomy and psychology.
Absolutely has to be reciprocal and not forced in any way.
Gratitude always has to be genuine between humans - what we tell our self has to be true.
Being thankful is a useful practice - we need to be aware of how we actually feel about our life though, because faking thanks will likely just make matters worse, at least inside of us.
Your mind might be reeling right now. You may be thinking here are plenty of realities where gratitude seems impossible.
What about if we have an undeniably sh*tty family and have to go to family gatherings?
What if I hate my job, but am told I am lucky to have it?
What if our trauma or PTSD tries to consume us everyday?
What if we struggle with putting down the liquor or other substances?
This is where we leverage our neural chemicals and take back control.
This is where we identify where dopamine is running the show inside of us and start saying No to our immediate desires and begin saying Yes to our long term needs. This is where the work can really hurt. And this is exactly where the greatest change takes place for each and every one of us.
Whether we are in a tight spot in life or just want to feel a bit better, it is always about our daily choices.
If you feel like life has gotten the best of you and you are out of control, please go toward rather than away from the life changing content shared in podcast 6 talking about behaviors, habits, personality, and overall control of life and feelings.
There is a lot more research on gratitude and how it can shape our life for the better.
I am going to share more of that work in upcoming episodes discussing trauma and PTSD / CPTSD as I believe a gratitude practice can rewire and readjust our nervous system in profound ways. You will also realize gratitude is indirectly yet deeply mentioned din the next podcast discussing Givers, Takers, and Matchers. What kind of person do you think you are?
Receiving gratitude is very potent and powerful when there is prefrontal activation from gratitude received.
It is always up to us! We always have control, even if it seems we have lost it. It never slips away from our grasp, it just may have slipped far from our perception.
If you want to learn even more, check out the blog, where you can also find recommended products and supporting links in each blog post. You can also enjoy 2 free lifestyle success courses as well as other options to upgrade your life.
All the best today beeb!
YOU GOT THIS