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‘Positive thinking’ and how it messes with death awareness and GRIEF

‘Positive thinking’ and how it messes with death awareness and G.R.I.E.F


You might have studied some books or courses on positive thinking, dipped your toe in or dived right in, or you may have come across ‘positive thinkers’.  But working with G.R.I.E.F and death awareness I have found positive thinking doesn’t help….if anything it gets in the way.

Positive thinking is to think only positive ‘good’ thoughts and block out, don’t allow, ignore, or stop having, negative ‘bad’ thoughts.  To most that might seem like a great idea.  Like a lovely place to be.  But there are definite negative repercussions to attempts at positive thinking, and grief and death awareness are strong examples.

How does it mess with G.R.I.E.F?

When I speak to positive thinkers about their G.R.I.E.F and the loved one that they lost they are a lot more likely to want to focus fully 100% on only the ‘good’ things of the person they’ve lost and only the good memories.  Also they tend to want to focus forward on the future, their goals and dreams, rather than look back at the pain.

There are 3 problems with this:

-Focusing only on the good of someone (and firstly you have to judge what the good and bad of them is) starts to change the picture of them…and starts to block your connection to them. In life you were around all of them – not just the bits you deemed good. And they were made up of all sorts of traits – not just the ones you deemed good. They had good and bad qualities, a light and a dark side.  To remember and honour only part of them (the good side) is to dishonour and forget part of them.  They were a whole person and in life they deserved to be loved just as they were. Why don’t they deserve it now?  The better you can remember them – all of them, the bad and good – the more honest your memory of them will be and the stronger your connection to them will be.

-Focusing on only the good memories is a problem for similar reasons to above. You block out memories – which is time you shared – with someone you love. You decide which memories are worthy of remembering and which aren’t – even though all of it, every last bit of it, played a part in your relationship and experience of them.  Also positive thinkers are more likely to want to block out an illness the person they loved suffered through if that is how they died, and the death as well.   Cancer, for example.  The problem here is that this is a part of their life, indeed a very important part, that you are negating and trying to block out of existence.  We celebrate the beginning of life……but the end of life is just as important a marker.  It is the closing of a book, the closing of a history.  And it deserves to be recognised and honoured, no matter how it happened.  Also by blocking all this out the positive thinker misses the opportunity to do what they could do best – find the good.  There is great beauty and meaning to be found in illness and death. That might sound ridiculous but it is often in terminal illness that people become closer, that egos drop away, love is shared, strength is uncovered, lessons are learned.  But if you won’t even look at any of that – if it’s being blocked out – then you won’t ever find any of the good and the beauty that lives there. And that is a tragedy.

-Looking forward and focusing only on the future is great….if you are doing it because you have a wonderful goal you are working towards. But if you are doing it as an avoidance technique then it’s time to re-examine it.  We are like hot-air balloons.  Look to the sky, see yourself in it, push forward as hard as you can….but if you are ignoring the ropes that are tying you to the ground and the sandbags that are weighing you down, thinking they’ll just go away, then think again. You won’t move at all.  In G.R.I.E.F if you choose only to focus on the future without stopping and paying some attention to what you have been through and what you are going through, you may think you have escaped all of that emotion and pain, but it will all be buried in you….and will find it’s way out at some time.  Don’t hide from the lessons life is trying to teach you (and sometimes ‘the future’ is the place you are choosing to hide’.)

How does positive thinking mess with grief awareness?

Often what goes on here is not real positive thinking, but fear.  Someone might choose never to think about their own future death, or never to consider the possibility that the loved one who is fighting a terminal illness might die.  And often this will be put down to ‘positive thinking’ – that by focusing only on what you want you can have it….and also that thinking about death might energetically attract it you.

Now I am a big believer in the power of your thoughts in attracting and creating what you want….but here is the problem with this when it comes to death awareness.  We are all going to die – there is no avoiding it.  Imagining that if you focus only on life then that is the only option is delusional and unrealistic…because death is unavoidable.  Whether now, in 10 years, in 50 years, or in a hundred years, death will be the end of this particular journey for each of us.  Avoiding thinking about that just creates fear, promotes fear, and spreads fear.  In the same frame of mind you might choose not to take out life insurance, health insurance, house insurance….but you do because you know these are all things that could happen and you need to prepare for, just in case. Well death isn’t a ‘could’ – it’s a guarantee.

And by avoiding even contemplating the death of a loved one for a second also means that if and when this happens you are nothing close to prepared, you probably won’t have fully let go into the type of beautiful conversations and necessary planning you could have had with them, and it can be a huge shock.


To truly heal, to move from pain and loss to Gratitude, Real connection, Inspiration, Empowerment, and Freedom, positive thinking is not the answer.   Honesty – real heart-opening honesty with yourself – and seeing both sides of the situation is what you need.  Yes there can be huge amounts of pain…but there is great beauty, learnings, and light to be found there too….if you are open to exploring it.

In fact positive thinking, before it does anything I’ve described above, first decides that death is a negative and bad thing. It isn’t. It is a natural part of the cycle of life.  As natural as birth.  All that begins ends too.  And to decide that the only thing we are guaranteed to do in life (ie. to die) is a bad, negative, unnatural thing and that we must avoid thinking about it at all costs is not a great or empowering stance to take.


As always I love to hear from you so feel free to comment below.






How-To-Be-Happy-Again May 26, 2012 at 2:34 pm

You’ve made very good points about remembering the person just as they really were. I’d like my memories to be accurate, and not become distorted, just because I’m only thinking positive of a loved one in my grief. Great article.

Jabe July 15, 2013 at 3:14 am

How do I find positivity in losing someone to suicide? Whenever I hear news about someone who died of an overdose or alcohol abuse, I get knocked down and feel hopeless. I used to be optimistic about life in general, but after my best friend had committed suicide, I can’t seem to bring my old enthusiastic self back.

Kristie West July 23, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Hi Jabe,
Just trying to be positive doesn’t work. Most who do that are just denying their negative feelings. The thing to know is that healing completely from the pain of a death in your life and shifting to gratitude doesn’t just happen. It is not a passive process (so time alone or endless talking about it or processing the same emotions over and over won’t ever provide this). It’s an active process. It takes work to get here. I take people thoroughly through a 9-step process and gratitude that takes the pain completely out of their bereavement. If this is something you would ever like to know a little more about then get in touch.

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