I’ve been having some interesting conversations regarding positive thinking lately. If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that I post a lot of positive pictures and musings, many of which are specifically mean for people with Aspergers (and/or transgender people, as both these communities are where I focus my advocacy efforts.)
While the positive pictures and thoughts I post are not the sum total of what I do by any means, I enjoy posting them because they are meant to be mini-shots of inspiration. My hope is that people will look at these things and begin to feel that they can overcome whatever issues Aspergers is contributing to in their lives and live positive lives. I want to encourage both people with Aspergers and people who know and Love someone with Aspergers. Encouragement is what I’m all about.
The reason I’m bringing this up tonight is that I’ve noticed that several people in the Aspergers/autism community are confused about the purpose of my message or have been concerned that I believe things that I emphatically don’t believe. Things like, you can pray away autism, or all you have to do is smile and pretend to be happy. I’ve even had a few people tell me that I’ve had an easy life and don’t have enough consideration for those who have a harder time.
So I wanted to clarify a few things as well as suggest some ways that people with Aspergers can use positive thinking to improve their lives.
What Positive Thinking Is and Isn’t
I’d like to begin by clarifying what positive thinking is and isn’t, at least how I use the term. Your mileage may vary as always.
First of all, I believe being positive is only one part of an overall strategy for success in your life as a person with Aspergers. I do not advocate certain things that I personally think are unhealthy:
- Ignoring your deep feelings because they are painful and “negative.” Some people with Aspergers seem to think that positive thinking = never having a negative thought. I’m not one of them. I believe, first of all, that emotions are a source of information. We Aspies Love data and tangible, concrete things. I think of emotions as another type of data. Just as you can read a book and learn some new ideas from it, if you can learn to listen to your emotions, you can get additional data into a situation. That’s why I believe it’s important to honour the presence of your emotions–even the negative ones. Even anger and pain and fear can give you important information. The thing is, though, that emotions aren’t 100 percent reliable. Sometimes they can distort facts, which is why we can’t always do what our feelings tell us to do. However, they always have a message for us. Always. So basically I think we need to acknowledge emotions and process them. It’s only by experiencing negative emotions that we can get to a state of true positivity. So, no, I emphatically do NOT believe that being positive means blocking negative emotions out of consciousness or pretending they don’t exist.
- Positivity is only part of the whole. I mentioned this a little earlier, but I want to expand on it. It’s not enough, in my opinion, just to dream. That’s a trap I’ve fallen into before. I’ve gotten busy dreaming and hoping and waiting and expecting… and that’s only half the equation. You have to put action behind your dreams or they’ll just stay dreams, as I’m learning the hard way. My lack of action over the past month has led to me being in a very negative financial situation that I am now working hard to correct. My positive attitude will help me correct it–but I have to take corrective action if I hope to succeed. Positivity and focusing on the outcome you want can influence you to take the action you need to. But you can’t forget to act if you want to succeed.
- I don’t believe that positive thinking by itself cures any disease, condition, disability, etc. I find it a little strange that anyone would think that I believe positive thinking can make a person with autism neurotypical, considering my strong stance that autism is not a disability or a thing to be cured in the first place. But let me reiterate it in case any people with autism are waiting hopefully for the day where they wake up neurotypical or any parents are waiting for the day when their children become “normal.” Autism is a difference in the brain and is not a tragedy, disability, or thing to be mourned or changed. I don’t believe in praying away autism any more than I believe in praying away being gay or transgender. Positive thinking can help you embrace yourself as a person with Aspergers and even be proud of who you are. It cannot make you into someone who you are not and I would never want anyone to try to change themselves into someone else.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s what I think a positive attitude can do in your life. (As an aside, I’m speaking from experience here. I’ve been on the edge of suicide and fortunately never gone further than wishing I could cut out the male part of me to be who everyone expected me to be. The past year has felt like rehabilitation. I’ve learned to let go of a lot of negative thought patterns that were limiting me and keeping me depressed.) I think a positive attitude can help you tap into all of your strength and bravery so that you can do things you didn’t think you could do. I think we all have a part of us that is unbreakable and undefeatable and we need to find that determination in ourselves and then we can do anything. I think different things inspire us to be that undefeatable person. Right now, I’m listening to the Captain Jack theme from the Torchwood soundtrack over and over to give me strength. Captain Jack literally represents the unbreakable to me because he is immortal and cannot die no matter how much he is attacked. I think each of us can find our own symbols to inspire the feeling of unbreakability within us.
Developing Positivity if You Have Aspergers
For me, one of the reasons positive thinking was so hard initially was because my mind tends to be obsessive. I think of it sometimes as like one of those old records people used to have before CD’s; the needle gets stuck in certain grooves and I think the same things over and over, and when someone moves the needle, I think new thoughts over and over.
This tendency towards obsessive thinking can work both for and against us as people with Aspergers. If we get into a negative thought pattern, it can quickly spiral into depression, despair and inability to believe things will ever get better. Positive thinkers can also get into trouble because of obsessive thinking. I got so “stuck” on thinking about my future as a professional speaker that for a while I neglected my present career and lost quite a bit of income that I needed.
So all that said, here are some do’s and don’t's when it comes to positive thinking.
DO recite and repeat affirmations that speak to you. It helps me to find visual representations of my affirmations. I like to take pictures that speak to me and add some text to them to remind myself of the life I am working to create. I have a couple of symbols that crop up over and over thanks to my obsessive mind. Besides Captain Jack, you’ll find a lot of birds in the graphics I use to help myself stay positive because birds represent freedom to me. I also have lots of pictures of New York because that’s where I want to live.
DON’T repeat affirmations when there’s action you need to take. This is where it gets tricky because you want to believe your affirmations are true so that you’ll take action to manifest what you want in your life, but you don’t want to start seeing your affirmations as “magic.” When there’s something you can do to improve your situation, you can’t just sit still repeating your affirmations. You won’t get anywhere that way.
DO surround yourself with positive people who support your dreams. I believe that emotions are energy, and that negative energy attracts negative energy, while positive energy attracts positive energy. So if all the people around you are always negative, complaining, etc., you will tend to be negative and complaining too! Make sure you have a circle of Loving, positive people around you so that you can all motivate each other.
DON’T throw out everyone in your life who is not perfectly positive. I think Aspergers tends to make us perfectionist oriented. I sometimes get irritated with some of the people around me because they don’t automatically take responsibility for their actions or continue to have some negative thought patterns. It can be tough to figure out when to excise someone from your life (or at least distance yourself from them!) and when to just be patient. I try to keep in mind that I wasn’t born totally positive–I had to work hard on myself to get to a positive mindset, and I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if my support system had gotten angry at me when I didn’t quite get it yet. Remember too that there is a middle ground. You can distance yourself from some people without totally cutting them out of your lives.
DO express positivity outwards. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost inside ourselves. We might think positive things about someone else that we don’t express or direct all our energy towards positive achievement in our own lives. This sometimes makes other people think that we only care about ourselves. I know that for me, I have to push myself to say what I’m thinking a little more and not keep it all inside. Make sure you don’t keep it secret how much you Love other people. They need your energy just as much as you do.
DON’T express positive feelings hoping to get something in return. Some people are very calculated with their positivity. They purposely say something positive to someone thinking that it’ll get them something. Please don’t do this. When people are “purposely positive” like this, it feels a lot like manipulation. I don’t like being around people who are like that. I want to be around people who are genuine and honest about their emotions.
My Personal Experience
Right now, as I’ve mentioned, I’m going through a negative financial situation. I’ve relapsed a little into depression over the past month because I’ve been so impatient. I want to build my reputation and my career as a public speaker immediately. I think all of that is Aspergers-related to a degree, though the fact that it’s easier for my brain to get stuck in negative thought patterns than other people’s doesn’t excuse me from responsibility for my actions at all.
Anyway, depression spiraled out of control last month and I was only happy when I was doing things like working on my website and preparing for my big Toastmasters speech on suicide prevention. Pretty soon, I wasn’t making nearly enough money. As a result, I’m now regrouping and climbing out of a financial hole. I have to have my rent in by Friday at 10 AM. The next day is my birthday. I really didn’t want to be spending the week before my birthday scrambling to get my rent together.
Now, the solution to all this wasn’t to think more positively. I’d done quite a lot of positive thinking–about where my new career was going–without taking action to sustain myself. So, as you see, positive thinking was only part of the story here. I am staying positive and confident that I will turn this situation around, but I am also taking action towards resolving the problem–both the temporary problem with rent and the permanent problem of being in a financial hole.
As you know, I work with an amazing life coach, and what she did the other day was help me take responsibility for my choices and create a plan to get out of financial trouble. Staying positive while I go through this process is important because I have a fair amount of guilt and shame over having gotten to this point and some anxiety about the situation too. And honestly I feel like I’m in financial rehab now because I’m working so hard on changing my habits and my thought processes.
So I’m taking all the advice I just wrote above and applying it to my situation. I’m using my affirmations to help myself believe that I am turning things around and I’m taking action to do just that. I’ve downloaded a gadget called Focus Booster that helps me stay focused by allowing me to work in 25 minute spurts, and I’m planning one day at a time to move ahead in my career while resolving this situation.
Positive thinking is important. There’s no doubt that your attitude helps you overcome things and be the person you were meant to be (or help your child be the person he or she was meant to be). Just don’t go overboard and don’t view the whole world as positive thinkers or evil people and you’ll get where you want to go.
I’m available as both a coach and a motivational speaker for the Aspergers community! Contact me via my website or email me to make an appointment.