Having a positive attitude can make a
HUGE difference in the quality of your life.
- Greater energy with less stress
- Better health and longer life
- Greater feelings of well-being
- Higher levels of success
It’s all good, right? Well, for all the good a positive outlook can have on YOUR life, it can potentially hurt others.
Yep, it’s true. In fact, MY positive attitude nearly ruined my marriage (although I couldn’t see it at the time).
It’s that serious.
Read on to learn what many (most?) people are unwittingly doing to damage their personal relationships at home, work and school.
How a Positive Perspective Can Help You
Author Chuck Swindoll once remarked, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
That single truth – how you respond to circumstances – has been empirically proven to be a difference maker in how your life turns out… for good or for bad.
One of the secret powers of having a positive attitude is your ability to choose how you interpret a situation. A situation can be viewed in a lot of different ways.
For example, let’s say you are in a large, crowded room and you see someone you know across the room looking your way. You wave and smile at them… yet they look away. What just happened there?
Did they see you and have a negative reaction inside, causing them to look away?
Or were they looking in your general direction, or past you, but did not necessarily see you? Maybe someone near them called their name and they looked in that direction (away from you).
Although we can’t be 100% sure why something like this happened, our tendency is to assume the worst, take things personally and feed our fears, self-pity and other negative outlooks.
The Power of Reframing
By intentionally reframing the situation, you can more easily continue moving forward and not get bogged down by self-focused negativity. In fact, you can even experience a good result just by reframing the situation.
For example, there are countless stories of people who experience a difficult situation beyond their control (like getting laid off, or having cancer). They could have reacted to the situation with self-pity, it’s not fair, why me (which would be very understandable).
Instead, they choose to see the good or hopeful results the situation will bring out in their lives.
Case in point: Composer Quincy Jones nearly died from an unexpected health complication. The condition forced him to change many things in his life and even give up some things that he loved.
But, rather than wallowing in a “Why me? Now life sucks” perspective, he chose to see the situation as a sort of an eye-opening blessing, a wakeup call, helping him see with greater clarity and appreciation what’s really important to him.
In fact, with these new eyes people like Quincy Jones are able to see that every day is alive with possibilities that they can savor and enjoy. It is like they were living in a black and white 2-dimentional world, but now it is in 3-D living color.
Yes, having an intentional positive attitude and approach to life can make life MUCH better.
But, what works for you isn’t always a welcomed perspective by others. I learned this the hard way. ☹
How a “Positive” Perspective Can Hurt Others
When someone starts to tell you about a difficult situation they experienced, what are they needing right then?
Here’s what they DON’T want or need: to hear how they aren’t looking at things correctly (and need to see things from a more positive perspective).
For example, an upset friend tells you, “My boss just reprimanded me in front of my co-workers. I was so humiliated!”
In our attempt to make them feel better (or reduce the pain of the situation), we often attempt to give them an alternate perspective from which to see the events.
“Maybe your boss was having a bad day and it wasn’t a personal attack on your abilities…”
That perspective may very well be true, and you may personally use that type of reframing to make it less about you and to lessen the pain of the boss’ words.
But it is telling the hurting person that they aren’t seeing the situation properly, or what they are feeling is wrong or incomplete and needs to be reinterpreted.
What they need to hear at that moment is that feeling what they are feeling is totally understandable in that situation.
The sentiment is: “If I [were you and] had experienced what you experienced, I would have felt what you felt. You are not wrong to feel what you feel.”
Maybe later the alternate perspective can be received. But not when they are bleeding and looking for some understanding and support.
How My Reframing Approach Shut Down My Wife
I thought a light bulb would come on and she would suddenly see her situation from this “alternate” point of view. Then, she would say “you know, you’re right…that’s true. That is a helpful way to see the situation… thanks!”
Instead of helping her, my comment just shut her down and made her less willing to share her pain and opinions with me. Who really wants to be told they are wrong for the way they are feeling in that moment?
It communicated to her that I wasn’t listening to her heart, that I was unable or unwilling to step into her world and be with her and try to understand what she was experiencing.
Positive intentions don’t always lead to positive outcomes.
Doing the wrong thing, even with the right motives,
still results in a bad outcome.
What I was doing was a form of “fixing” someone when fixing them wasn’t what they needed in that moment.
I think guys are particularly bad at listening without wearing their fix-it hat. Maybe that is how we are wired. I know I have to force myself to take the hat off… and just tune into the other person’s experience.
Here’s what research confirms: if you really want to help the other person… start by empathetically listening and validating the experience of the other person.
In fact, relationship researcher John Gottman has confirmed that validation is one of the most important skills practiced in healthy, thriving relationships… and is mostly missing in the ones that struggle.
Author Michael Sorensen rightly says validation is the most powerful relationship skill you were never taught. Yep.
When I learned about the power and importance of validating the other person’s feelings (and began to practice it in my marriage), the change in the relationship was significant.
What My Daughter Told Me About My ‘Helpful’ Comments
This “reframing” perspective negatively impacted my children, too.
I remember a time when one of my daughters was sharing a frustration she was going through. Instead of validating her feelings, I thought that if she could just see that the current situation is temporary, she would feel differently about it.
So I said “remember… this too shall pass.” Her response? “I HATE it when you say that… it is so unhelpful.”
Apparently I had used that pithy (but unhelpful) insight on her before. ☹
What she needed from me in that moment was not a different (better!) perspective. She needed me to enter into her world of pain with understanding, empathy and validation.
Bottom line: reframing a situation into a more positive light may work for you, but it will harm rather than help your relationships.
How to Get Better at Validation
Below is a link to an article that shows you step-by-step what to say (or NOT say) to another person that will help them feel heard, understood and accepted. It offers great insight on the power of empathy to validate others.
The amazing thing about empathy and validation is it can influence ALL your relationships (even work, school, professional, neighborhood).
Do you want to improve and deepen your relationships… especially those most important to you?
Then learn how to first give people what they really need (empathy and validation).
It has made a HUGE difference in my world.
Describe a time when someone tried to reframe a situation for you, and how it made you feel.