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Dr Hallowell ADHD and mental and cognitive health

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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

The Power of Negative Thinking/Feeling

I’ve been thinking lately about how much time people spend in negative places emotionally.  The power of positive thinking is so well demonstrated that it has become a cliche.  However, negative thinking and feeling are just as powerful, if not more so, only in a destructive way.  Negative feelings are inescapable, because life is full of pain.  But I have observed over and over again the happiest, healthiest people are not those who are lucky enough to avoid most of life’s worst moments, but those who can, no matter what, find something else to celebrate and be glad about.  We can’t deny or avoid the hard times.  But we can, even in the midst of hard times, seek out and then dwell upon someone or something we love in our lives.

As I deal with my prostate cancer, it has been truly inspirational to me to feel the tremendous support I’ve received from so many, many people.  Their support doesn’t take the cancer away, but it surely does stoke me up with positive energy, thoughts, and feelings.  I guess what I’m saying is that no matter how hard times are, if you open yourself up to it, positive energy is out there for you.  We’re all in this thing called life together, and we all suffer certain pain.  But we can be there for one another, no matter what.  Being there for each other is the best antidote I know of to life’s pain.  —

What does this have to do with ADD, you might be asking yourself?  Just that so much of life with ADD can be saturated with negative thoughts and feelings. It can be saturated with pessimism, fear, and shame—all quite well based in reality and truly negative events.  But, as much as those painful events can’t be removed from our lives, we can work with one another to lift each other’s burdens.  And we can discover that doing this is actually magical.  When I was in the Dana Farber Hospital last week planning my treatment, a young woman came by offering books and magazines she had on a pushcart.  Even though I didn’t need a book or magazine, just seeing her made me feel like crying tears of joy.  How awesome this young woman, likely a volunteer, was making her rounds through the hospital.  It was as if she were an itinerant preacher.  And then this morning, when I was in church, a woman I barely know came up to me, gave me a kiss on my cheek, and said, “I know you’ll be fine.”  Again, I had to blink back tears.  —  Whether you’re dealing with ADD, cancer, the loss of a job, or just a bad day, keep in mind that none of us has to be alone.  Open up, and you’ll find company.

8 Responses to “The Power of Negative Thinking/Feeling”

  1. Andrea Gargiulo says:

    So glad to hear that the hospital volunteer made a difference to you. My pet therapy dog, Paolo, and I visit the patients at Mass General, and I always feel that it brings as much positive energy to us as it does to those who are feeling physically or mentally down. I wish that more hospitals would institute this program—a great way to connect with people even when they have retreated to a place deep within themselves. Recently we visited a dying man who missed his dog. There was complete silence yet complete connection as he lay there, petting Paolo, thinking his own thoughts.

  2. Roxann says:

    Even though these positive moments can be frequent and have a healing quality to people, what does one do with someone who struggles with a feeling of impending doom. This has plagued him for years, off and on, sometimes intense, and other times not so much. He is on no medications, and is in his 70’s. I tell him he has said this for years, his reply is, “this is different.” Any suggestions?

  3. Sherry Trotta says:

    Savor those moments of the healthcare worker on your way back to health!

    Close family friends in Grosse Pointe (I see you are heading there soon) who’s dad, in his 70’s and twins, 45 yrs old all survived prostate Cancer recently. The University of Michigan is studying them to try to help find a cure.

    WIshing you a speedy recovery!


  4. Diane says:

    Thanks Dr. Hallowell for all your supportive thoughts and optimism you have shared with your books and video counselling. I hope all the people you have helped will extend you the same kindness, support and uplifting thoughts you have shown the public. Keep positive and speedy good health to you.

  5. Deb says:

    I found your blog quite by accident this morning…or more likely it was an “act of God.” I was reading my daily devotional from Bob Gass Ministries and in his discussing the topic of resiliency, he mentioned you. So here I am.

    I am particularly interested in a statement that you made in The Power of Negative Thinking/Feeling: “…Just that so much of life with ADD can be saturated with negative thoughts and feelings. It can be saturated with pessimism, fear, and shame—all quite well based in reality and truly negative events…” So are you saying that a “negative perspective on life” can be common in those with ADD? The reason why I ask is that I have an adult daughter who was diagnosed with ADD in high school. She is the most brilliant, creative, funny, and functional person that I know. BUT…she has this bent of always returning to the negative and I must constantly “talk her down from the ledge” and reassure her. Any comment? Advise?

  6. Tessa Foris says:

    Dear Ned,
    I sure agree, and I’m glad that you have found comfort and joy in unexpected places.
    Thank goodness for the kindnesses of ordinary (extraordinary) people!

    Psst I think you’re one of those people too.


  7. Andy says:

    I can attest to the negative thinking issue as it pertains to ADD. I was diagnosed with ADD last year at the age of 41 and spent my entire life being told that I was lazy and useless. After a lifetime of exhibiting behavior that completely validated these notions, I began to dismiss myself prior to doing ANYTHING. I can’t do that, I’ll never finish. I just don’t have the intelligence to do that. I always let people down. I can’t be depended on. The list goes on, way on. Interestingly, I was a self taught musician, artist, and writer. Of course, I never made anything out of it. But I always had moments (still do) when I would notice that I could produce these creative power surges without any effort. These were followed by the inflating excitement of making something out of them, perpetually popped by the needle of negative thinking. Summarily, my overall self assessment was that I was crap.

    After the liberation of the diagnosis and the assistance of medication, things are generally better. But the negativity is like a bad roommate that you are forced to live with, and they won’t ever move out. I find myself constantly negotiating with myself and make concessions and live with it. The toughest thing for me is that although I can sense my potential better, I have responsibility to my wife and two young kids and I can’t just throw caution to the wind and go for it. Then I start thinking about how great it would have been if I figured this out twenty, or even thirty, hell even one year sooner would have been better. Then I get pissed, then I realize that there is nothing I can do about it. Negativity. I think about it every day.

    Yes, negativity is powerful to say the least. It is ever present, like mold waiting for darkness and lack of ventilation. The trick is keeping the light and air coming through, and that is not always easy.

  8. Dee Luther says:

    Dear Dr. Hallowell:

    I just read about you dealing with prostate cancer – I had no idea. I do hope you are improving and that your treatment isn’t wiping you out too badly. Your article on the power of positive thinking is so very true. Thank you for being you and helping so many – you are truly a beacon in a sometimes unforgiving world. :-)

    You diagnosed me back in 1994, and I have been following your website for the last few years, more so over the past several months. You have always been a big help to me. I recently took a workshop in Sudbury with Robin Roman Wright and thought about making an appointment to visit with you. Don’t know if you have returned to work but I will call and make that appointment.

    I am channelling positive energy in your direction. Continued best wishes on your recovery.

    Dee Luther

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