Being Positive!

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Many of the adults, children and families I had worked with were incredibly good at being negative. They were quick to find fault focussing primarily on what may be incorrect, expressed consistently negative opinions, complained frequently and were very demanding or aggressive. They were particularly weak at giving praise and positive reinforcement. These clients had a history of growing up in hurtful environments that lacked positive role models. They never learned how to be positive. When I treated unruly, angry or depressed children it was essential to include the parents and teach everyone positive skills.

In my previous blog entries I have been focussing on the concept that how we interpret life events will have the utmost importance in how we feel and behave. Being able to make rational sense of our experiences in our current upside down world, will also have long lasting effects on our country's future.

It is important to be mindful that it is the little things in life that have a major impact on our daily feelings. In my practice I employed a teaching approach to help others solve problems. I went from just talking or griping about issues to teaching new ways of thinking and developing important new skills. To that point, teaching positivity was instrumental in helping my clients.

During my sessions with either adults or children, whether individual, family or group sessions, I would begin with positive drills. Learning to give compliments was a good place to start. Particularly with a family or group session, I would start by asking each person to go around the room and say something positive to each member. It was amazing to notice how thirsty everyone was to hear a nice comment about them. Children or parents were asked to find something nice to say about each other, such as I like your shirt, haircut, smile, hat, you made a great play or sang nicely, etc. It could also be thanking someone for doing a good deed such as taking turns or helping with homework or chores. Parents were instructed to find five nice comments to make each day to say to their children. Hugs and kisses were required for younger kids. Spouses were also asked to give at least five complimentary comments to each other daily.

One of my favorite drills I employed would be to find positive uses out of discarded items. I would start by taking an object from the trash and challenge the adults or children to creatively find 10–20 positive comments to make regarding the object. For example, try taking a used paper cup and try to see something good or useful about it rather than seeing it as just trash. Everyone takes a turn adding to the list. This drill worked well with either individual,family or group/meeting sessions.

It is particularly important to note that effort is required in establishing any new skill. Daily practice and role modeling is more effective than just telling the child or adult to be nicer. I also gave out signs to post around the house or office with messages to be a positive person.

Some individuals struggled to express positivity. Their insecurities about acceptance and approval were like exposed nerves that often signalled them to retreat or attack. These clients were so guarded and hide behind their negative walls afraid to let go. Their bad feelings were so totally dominant that they suppressed being able to even feel any positivity. I found that teaching letting go and having fun became a precursor to becoming more positive.

These individuals depended on rigid structure in order to judge or predict their behavioral responses. They found spontaneity or flexible thinking to be more anxiety provoking. The goal was to move from highly structured to spontaneity. To accomplish desensitization and reducing inhibitions, I often employed playing word games.

I would begin with a somewhat structured basic word association game moving to random words as they developed. Then we progressed to less structured nonsense words such as bebo, neta or geka goo. We would go back and forth becoming more comfortable talking nonsense gibberish. Indeed from a developmental perspective, our expressive language after all began with nonsense gibberish. In a sense, I regressed with my clients to an earlier psycho- social developmental level. The next stage involved nonsense conversations with emotional tones to express meanings. We would pretend to be from a foreign country or space aliens and talk in nonsense gibberish words expressing a feeling message from just verbal gestures and tone.

At times we would practice what is the emotional meaning being expressed through gibberish. Can you tell what I am feeling? Ugh ma chu cha! or Ugh ma chu cha? As comfort levels improved, we would practice this in either our individual, group or family sessions. Sometimes we the left the office and walked around the building talking gibberish as people were passing by, sounding just like people who may be speaking a foreign language around us.

Silly acting drills were also used to develop skills. Improvisation was extremely helpful. I would take a random item in the office such as my desk name plate, and we would act out, without sounds, what this item could be if used in another way. We would duel until we ran out of possibilities, then repeating it with another random item.

Another favorite silly acting drill was to take an object and bring it to life. I called this animism. What would the object say and feel if it could talk? Try pretending to be an apple feeling a worm eating it from the inside or a light bulb that was left on too long, a baseball being pitched and hit, and my favorite, a tissue in a box discovering its purpose in life. We would challenge each other to be spontaneous and act out a request made by each other. No prep just go with it. At other times we would play Charades for Dummies which was quick and easy.

With my child and adolescent clients, letting go of boundaries and improvising games led us to office balloon volleyball, baseball with rolled up paper and hands for bats or the silly Olympics. In group therapy teens loved to play out scenes from the Whose Line Is It television show or characters and events in history. Trivia games combined with basketball or darts were ways of bringing divergent interests together.

Learning to be yourself and comfortable with expression developed into self-confidence and social growth and positive self-interest. Ig nee papo ig ma!

As you can discern from my previous blog entries, I like to draw parallels from family therapy to how our country functions. Our country is a large family. The current societal and health stressors point out the need for very strong positive leadership. We have become a country that too often starts negative and often gets stuck there drifting further away from positivity. Some of our leaders and citizens find changing very threatening. Walls go up fueled by hateful or prejudicial ideology. Our negative leaders perpetuate these biases. The result is one extremely angry family/country.

Gestures of positivity start small and can grow into a movement. I had addressed this issue in my first blog with regard to the choice of person we could become. A positive and supportive white blood cell or a sickening virus person. The task of wearing a mask is a good example to highlight this choice. My yoga training has taught me to smile at people when we pass each other. The smile is a brief moment to positively acknowledge another person’s existence. This helps to bring down the walls. Wearing a mask makes this task more of a challenge. Trying to notice someone and send positivity can still happen. Now I wave at others and say hello through my mask. Secondly and very importantly, wearing a mask is a positive statement that I care about my fellow citizens. It should not be a sign of insult as some of our highest leaders imply.

Everyday there can be so many small acts that you can do for yourself and others to be a positive person. I am overwhelmed by the amount of positivity that people are trying to send out during these stressful times. We must continue these efforts especially in the face of such weak minded negative leaders. Engaging in open non-threatening dialogue with those with opposing viewpoints is also necessary to bring defensive walls down. We must find that spirit of adventure and positive direction to guide us rather than follow the path of meanness that divides us.

Let’s look for the good in others to find the good in ourselves.

Dr Mike

Clinical psychologist 45 years in practice. Worked with children and adults. Love nature, hiking, photography and drums. Retired living in DC.

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