When Positive Attitude Goes Negative

Is it possible to turn the phrase “have a positive attitude” into a negative?

A positive attitude is better for you than a negative attitude. You would be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees with that statement. It’s just common sense. But it is possible to twist that concept into something harmful.

There is someone in my life who is newly diagnosed with a condition that will require follow-up care for the rest of her life, and may or may not lead to some disability. She is a person who generally has a positive outlook on life, strong of will and of character, but she already feels the pressure to maintain a positive attitude for those around her.

“I don’t want to be a hero,” she told me. “I don’t want to have to put on a happy face all the time to please everyone else.”

My own positive attitude comes naturally. Not that I don’t have my moments, like when my mutinous body will not cooperate and my patience wears thin, but I usually manage to keep those moments private and short-lived.

Thinking back to my own example, I wonder if, by keeping my bad moments private, I have contributed to the pressure to keep up appearances and if by putting my best face forward, I’ve given the impression that I’m always full of sunshine and roses.

Sometimes the positive attitude patrol functions as a guilt trip in disguise. Are they really promoting a positive attitude in the best interest of someone else… or is it a lopsided attempt to protect themselves from having to deal with someone else’s disease or disability? Keep up the positive attitude because I can’t deal with your problems. Do people with health concerns have a responsibility to people around them… to protect them from dealing with the uncomfortable?

I told my friend that it’s perfectly acceptable to feel bad sometimes and there will be days when a good cry is good therapy. It is not her burden to comfort those who would witness her pain. One can have an overall positive attitude and still occasionally experience feelings of anger and sadness. Such moments are natural human responses to the stresses in our lives. When diagnosed with illness, we are not magically immune to other problems. Life does go on and we still have to deal with all the usual trials and tribulations. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. We should not have to mask those legitimate emotions behind a false positive persona.

When is the concept of positive attitude a negative thing? When it is used as a form of denial, implies blame, or imparts guilt.

As for me, let it be known now… I have moments when no matter how hard I try, I cannot fight the frustration. So I acknowledge it, deal with it, and purge it. It’s not particularly pleasant, so I generally get myself back on track rather quickly. It is what it is. Now it’s time to get on with it. Upbeat is far more productive.

The trick is to not to wallow and let the negatives gain the upper hand, but to deal with them honestly in order to progress in a positive manner. A positive attitude is a good thing, a healthy thing — if it is genuine.

If someone in your life has a medical problem, giving that positive attitude advice can put up road blocks to honesty on their part. It gives the impression that expression of true feelings is neither encouraged nor welcome.

If you really want to be a friend, don’t expect a hero. Allow them to speak freely about their fears, anger, and insecurities. Acknowledge their reality. Be the friend who truly lends a shoulder to lean on in times of crisis. Your comfort and support will help them work through the negative feelings and draw them toward the truly positive.

The day after our initial conversation, my friend called to ask how I’m doing. She thought perhaps I was feeling down about her condition. Like I said, she’s strong of will and strong of character. She’s going to be just fine.


Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C8 years ago


Elaine Dixon
Elaine Dixon9 years ago

always have a problem in trying to stay positive seems like every time I have a handle of it something comes along and destroys it...

Valentina Sarateanu

I was very sure before reading the comments that positivity helps you when life comes that side which doesn't please you (which doesn't mean it is bad, but just life, i.e. neuter). But reading the comments, I am not so sure any longer. I don't know how I could explain to some of the readers like Deborah or Nicole to keep positive. Can anyone? This would be a real challenge - not to stay positive when you already are - but to help people like them see the bright side again. I'd like to be able to do that.

Ainsley Chalmers
Ainsley Chalmers9 years ago

lots of unpleasant things can happen in life. not many of us dodge these bullets. death comes to all of us sooner or later. i lost a wife to cancer age 48 and a son died prematurely. but through it all i know God is with me and is a friend who will never leave me or forsake me. He is my strength in whom i trust. so if you are suffering or feel low give your heart to Jesus Christ. He will give you the peace and joy and strength to see it through. i did in my 40th year-best thing i ever did.just be yourself with Jesus as he loves you just as you are.

Rachel R.
Rachel L9 years ago

"When is the concept of positive attitude a negative thing? When it is used as a form of denial, implies blame, or imparts guilt."
very true.

Ms. JL M9 years ago

This is a GREAT article and so, so important that it be said!

I have had a hard life and suffer intermittently from both depression AND one of those undiagnosed pain/fatigue things. I got sick a long time ago of the "chin up" comments and have purged a lot of people from my life because of that attitude. I'm grateful for the genuine friends I do have.

It is normal and healthy to experience and express the full range of human emotion. To hold any of it in or bury it causes physical stress, which only makes any illness worse.

Great, great article!

Julie A.
Alex D9 years ago

Good comment Naga.

Naga Choegyal
Naga Choegyal9 years ago

Others forbid the expression of true feeling because it triggers repressed feelings that they are in denial about within them selves...they project those unacknowledged feelings back and that magnifies what they percieve as unreasonable and a bad attitude. We live in a house of mirrors as told by St Paul: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1Cor:13
only Love can save us.

Deborah D.
Past Member 9 years ago

I am suffering from PTST from serving 2 tours in Desert Storm and being sexually abused from the time I was 5yrs. old up until I was 11yrs. old. I withnessed my mother shot herself in the head and commit suicide and the CPS take my Father off to Prison and then seperate the 4 of us children from one another. I am also terminally ill at 52yrs.of age and live in an assisted living facility with a bunch of Elderly and dying patients. I am the youngest here. Death is all around me! I do however TRY to get out every now and then as I have to for my sanity's sake.I don't have many friends anymore. It seems that people don't know how to be around others who are terminally ill. I cannot have a bad day around them and they don't allow me to have one. I feel as though if I am going to continue to have any visitors at all..that I have to put on a happy face all of the time or I won't have ANY visitors, and damn - you know, sometimes I just get lonely. I used to have lots of friends - or so I thought, but you find out who you real friends are when you find out that you are sick. I have about 5 that come and visit but even with those, I don't dare talk about being depressed or down or my treatments or anything like that. I have to keep it all bottled up inside. I feel alone in this world. If it wasn't for my Care2 friends and my dog...I'd go crazy! My computer has become my best friend and my dog. At least I can count on it being there when I want it to be and someone will respond.

Connie W.
Connie W9 years ago

This is an interesting article and very true! I, too, seem to have a naturally positive attitude, but sometimes I have a bad moment, or a bad day. Sometimes, crying is the best therapy you can do for yourself.