I’m a believer in the popular “we attract what we are” philosophy, but so often it is used in a way that often becomes unintentionally shaming, and in my opinion- false. For instance, think of how people have told you that if you’ve attracted a negative event or person, like a narcissist into your life, then you must also possess some parallel negative quality or vibration, or the universe is teaching you some important lesson.
Beware, rant ahead…
I do agree with the sayings that caution us about the content of our thoughts and the direction of our energy such as: ”What we focus on expands” and “Watch your thoughts because they become things.”
However, sometimes the most well-intentioned mental health professionals, gurus or even family members can unwittingly use the power of positivity mantra or the law of attraction principle in a way that can be experienced by many as minimizing, shaming and invalidating, often silencing the expression of legitimate frustrations or disappointment.
Wielded as an absolute, the saying, “we attract what we are” insinuates if someone attracts a manipulator into their life, they too must be manipulative or possess some parallel quality that is defective.
This is where I find the danger lies when painting with an absolute brush of positivity or law of attraction. This is also where we may need to consider other popular principles and idioms such as: “Opposites attract” or my favorite, “Shit happens.” But still, the “opposites attract” way of thinking doesn’t completely redirect the finger of shame and fault.
Maybe, there isn’t always a lesson you need to learn disguised in every bad experience. Maybe, there isn’t always a personal defect that is unearthed in every misfortune or disappointment.
Sure, when you have a resilient and introspective spirit you’ll instinctively always look for the silver lining or the lesson in every negative circumstance. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, quite the opposite.
In fact, studies indicate that the trait of resilience is the number one predictor of how quickly a person will recover from a tragedy, failure or some disappointment in their life.
What I am saying is that maybe we are fine just the way we are. When bad things happen it doesn’t always have to be our fault. Sometimes there’s no explanation, no lesson, no defect to correct. Perhaps, maybe life is just unfair. Maybe, bad things happen to good people. Maybe, some people, through no credit of their own, are just luckier than others. Maybe, things are just sucky at times. Maybe, we’re human and when we fall on hard times or things don’t go our way, it’s okay and even healthy to sit and bitch about the injustice of it all for a minute or two.
There’s nothing wrong with complaining and expressing frustration, sadness or disappointment. These emotions are natural. We have the capacity to express frustration and complain about our present circumstances while simultaneously moving beyond them. We don’t have to choose between the two. We can honor our truth and vent our frustrations, moan, groan, cry, whine and even get mad while we also dig ourselves out of the hole because at least we’re still digging, right?
Complaining about our unwanted and undeserved circumstances doesn’t invite more of them into our lives like the attraction and positivity mantras suggest. Although wallowing in our troubles is a different story because when we wallow we’re singularly focused and stagnant. And when we’re singularly focused and stagnant there’s little possibility of change. And even if something were to change, our singular focus might blind us to even noticing it.
So, maybe then when life throws us lemons or rains on our parade, we need to not rush into the pursuit of positivity or immediately clutch onto the law of attraction for explanations. Instead, we should embrace a more accepting, empathetic and non-judgmental view of ourselves and others. One that doesn’t automatically assume we are always somehow responsible or in control of inviting or expelling our own misfortune. And perhaps, even more importantly, we need to accept that sometimes our only control in life is to let go of thinking we have so much control.
My rant was inspired by a post I read on Facebook suggesting that people who are experiencing a negative situation should quit complaining and they might learn something. While it’s true we can usually learn more from tough times than easy ones, it got me thinking about why it is that every struggle or disappointment always needs to point to a personal defect?
Why can’t an individual who is struggling with a problem complain about the real challenges they’re facing without being invalidated, defective or in need of some personal growth?
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert.