THE POSITIVE INTENTION OF NEGATIVE INTENTION
"There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing."
Now that you know more about how to assume Positive Intention with other people, you need to understand how your internal defense system works. Then you can apply the practice of assuming Positive Intention with yourself. Once you understand the shortcomings of defending yourself you can take yourself to the next step of creating something positive. Assuming Positive Intention toward yourself is a major step toward leading a satisfying life.
Your body and mind are designed with a multitude of defense mechanisms to protect you from harm and danger. If you touch something hot, you pull your hand away. Likewise, if you cut yourself your body sends white blood cells to attack and dispose of the harmful bacteria that might infect you.
Neil Neimark, M.D., explains that when we experience excessive stress—whether from internal worry or external circumstance—a bodily reaction is triggered, called the "fight or flight" response. Originally discovered by the great Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon, this response is hard-wired into our brains and represents a genetic wisdom designed to protect us from bodily harm. The fight or flight triggers chemicals like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol to be released into your bloodstream. Your respiratory rate increases, your pupils dilate, your awareness intensifies. You become prepared physically and psychologically—for fight or flight.
We scan and search our environment, “looking for the enemy,” notes Dr. Neimark. “Since you tend to perceive everything in your environment as a possible threat to your survival your fear can be exaggerated and your thinking distorted. In our homes and offices, as civilized as you may appear, it is possible to feel threatened and often you may feel trapped, trying to control yourself while stewing inside.” If it seems like someone is harming you or about to harm you, your mind takes a stance to protect you from that negative impact. You will label that person as negative in an effort to create distance and/or safety.
There are a couple of flaws in the human mental defense system:
It is based on your perception of the other person’s intent, which may have nothing to do with their actual intention. You often will imagine or assume Negative Intention because this person is acting like someone else out of your past even though their intention may be totally different.
A defense system is based on avoiding something negative rather than creating a positive result or taking positive action.
The moment that you assume Negative Intention, you imagine a future of that person doing damage to you. This thought automatically creates a bad feeling regardless of whether or not that person will actually do any damage to you in the future. In this way you are inflicting that damage upon yourself.
Joe has strong assumptions and perceptions about Shirley. He thinks, “Oh, she is just out for herself and doesn’t care about me. I have to hunker down when I am around her.” Joe imagines Shirley will act in a way that will exclude him and possibly harm him in the future. This makes Joe feel bad about her, and he carries that bad feeling around to remind himself to keep protecting himself. The problem is that Joe has to experience that bad feeling every time he thinks about or is around Shirley. This may actually be worse than the damage that she might do if his imagined scenario were ever to come about. The defense mechanism is trying to protect but is actually hurting Joe. You cannot have a positive experience when you are in a defensive mode.
When you notice you are defending yourself:
- Stop for a moment and question your thoughts of Negative Intention. Ask yourself, "Do I really think this person is out to ruin me?"
- Identify the Positive Intention of your defense mechanism. Ask yourself, "What am I trying to protect myself from?"
- Substitute a positive way of thinking and acting. Ask, "What are some other ways I can think about this situation?"
In the above situation Joe may have had the experience that Shirley acted in a way that did not seem to take his interests into consideration. Upon reflection Joe understands that his defensiveness was a protective device. He just felt he was not being heard. Once he got that he could assume Positive Intention and replace the thought of, “Oh, she is just out for herself and doesn’t care about me,” with, “I can take care of my own interests.” This switch to Positive Intention in how he perceives the situation gives him many more options. For example, Joe can now enter into a dialogue with Shirley to discover her intentions rather than just assuming she is out for herself, or he could choose to change the situation altogether and look for other people to interact with where he has a natural affinity.
Frank was in a long-term relationship. In this relationship his partner was always grilling him about where he was and what he was doing every minute of the day. Underneath the questioning was a suspicion that he was having affairs with other people. Frank was annoyed by the constant barrage of questions and did not know what was fueling them until the end of the relationship. In his next relationship his partner started asking him about his whereabouts when they were not together. Frank automatically felt annoyed again, just as he had in the previous relationship. Frank did not realize that the new person was just curious about his life and not suspicious of anything at all. For months Frank carried a negative feeling about the new person’s questions that had nothing to do with the new relationship. It was not until Frank questioned his own internal defensive reaction that he realized that he was defending himself against mistrust and that what he really wanted was to have a trusting relationship. Then he was able to approach his partner from a positive place when asking about her intention.
Neil F. Neimark, M.D., www.TheBodySoulConnection.com, 2010